It's not clear why the gender difference exists, but the lower visibility of women can have a range of negative effects....from perpetuating the idea that women cannot be successful in science...to discouraging girls and young women from envisioning a career in science. In the past, women in science were overlooked or actively excluded by authors of textbooks, organizers of science conferences, and editors of journals. Because such platforms were controlled by others, women had no voice in promoting their contributions to science and little recourse when their work was overlooked. Even today, major science journals discriminate against women, although apparently not consciously (see this surprising admission by the editors at Nature published 4 days ago).
Today, we have many options and opportunities to show how women are contributing to science. The internet has helped to put us on equal footing with male colleagues in having a voice in describing our contributions to science. We should take advantage of it, not shy away. Various efforts are in fact underway to encourage more women in science to improve their online visibility...from editing Wikipedia articles to establishing blogs chronicling their experiences in science.
Some may be reluctant, thinking that they need IT skills to create an online presence. However, it's ridiculously easy to set up a scientific profile on a networking site, a blog, or a personal website where you can showcase your publications, your ongoing science projects, and your research group. If you've got a Facebook page, you already have the know-how to set up a profile on ResearchGate, Google Scholar Citations, or similar sites.
In the last post, I described Google Scholar Citations as one place to establish an online profile. In this post, I'll focus on ResearchGate, which is designed like a social networking site....for scientists. Their website claims over 2.2 million members. On their homepage, the interactive piechart indicates that medicine and biology have the most members and the most publications. To see how the site works, you are forced to create an account. So, I'll give you a brief tour that will give you a peek inside without having to sign up.
Once you log into ResearchGate, it automatically identifies publications that you've authored and asks you to check off those that are yours. Once it identifies you, ResearchGate then searches for other pubs as well as the full-text files and uploads them if available. You can add a photo and other information to your profile. Your main contributions page will look like the screenshot below (using the top-cited ecologist from the previous post as an example):
At the top of the page is your "RG Score", which is calculated "based on how other researchers interact with your content, how often, and who they are. The higher their score, the more yours will increase." Selecting the RG Score will take you to a page with additional analytics of your interactions and how you compare to other ResearchGate members.
Below the profile are two tabs: contributions and info. Your publications are listed under the contributions tab. To the right is a running tally of total publications and numbers of articles, books, book chapters, conference proceedings, and other items. Below that is a listing of followers and people you are following. Your co-authors are also listed at the bottom of the page.
Selecting the pub title or the document image will open up another page (below) where additional information is presented about that article, including the abstract, full-text article (if available), datasets, additional text files, and media. You can upload a pdf of your published article...if you have permission to do so. ResearchGate seems to add these automatically if they are available somewhere on the internet. On my profile, I've additionally uploaded "research briefs" (described previously) for each publication; these can be viewed full-screen online or downloaded (and you can see on your analytics page how many times your pubs are viewed or downloaded).
Topics for discussion are listed under the Info tab; here, people can ask questions and discuss topics. There are general topics such as "climate change" and "botany", which thousands of people are following, but you can add specialized topics of interest to you. Anyone can post a question, and others reply, providing, in some cases, links to relevant articles or simply their opinion. You can see examples of questions in the screenshot below.
Another option is that members can start a "project" with "benches", which allows you invite others to share files and post comments...this would be convenient for a research group with members scattered around the world.
Overall, I found ResearchGate easy to navigate and to upload and organize my publications and supporting materials. If you prefer your profile to be private and only interact with a select set of colleagues, you can do this by changing the privacy settings. ResearchGate differs from Google Scholar Citations in that it quantifies a scientist's reputation based on a combination of factors, including publications (and their impact factor) as well as how many others are following that scientist and their interactions with others with high RG scores. This aspect is interesting because it means that someone with fewer pubs or lower-impact pubs, e.g., early career folks, can raise their RG score by being more social and networking with colleagues, something that women often excel at. If you're already skilled at socializing on Facebook, then you'll likely be at an advantage here. Several of my colleagues have profiles on ResearchGate, and from what I can tell, the site has a more equal representation of women (about 48 % according to this reference) compared to Google Scholar Citations. I also like the option of uploading full-text articles, media, and datasets to share with others as well as a way to track views of your profile or pubs.
On the downside, ResearchGate does not fully explain how they calculate the RG Score (or the contribution "total impact")...at least I couldn't find it. Also, the emphasis on ranking scientific standing promotes competitiveness, which is can be off-putting, especially to women. ResearchGate also has been criticized for sending spam to members' coauthors (inviting them to join). You are also encouraged to invite your co-authors to join. But that's how Facebook and other social networking sites attract members; all you have to do is ignore the invitation if you receive one and don't want to join. If any of your co-authors has a profile and articles in ResearchGate, however, then you're already in their system, and anyone searching for your name will likely find a page listing some of your publications.
One additional worry might be that such sites will end up being another online time-sink (as Facebook is for some). I suppose that might be a possibility, but it doesn't seem likely (for me at least). One could choose to establish a profile on a site like ResearchGate and only periodically visit to add new publications, much like updating a CV. But for those who like to socialize or want to expand their professional network, this type of site might be a good option.
In addition to ResearchGate, there are other science networking sites such as linkedin.com, and epernicus.com. Some people have profiles on multiple sites, which increases their overall visibility. Of course, there are other ways to increase the online visibility of women in science. In coming posts, I'll talk a bit about those and my experiences with them.