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The Evolution of Academic Success: from “Publish or Perish” to “Visible or Vanish”

It used to be that scientists like ourselves put our minds to task, spent countless hours in our labs, and finally, after many long nights hunched at our desks, we’d publish our work for the world to see. Getting published was our highest ideal.

We waved the banner of “Publish or Perish,” and hoped to count ourselves among the lucky few.

But today, the idea that we must publish or perish is misleading. It implies that if we simply publish our body of work, then we’ve done our jobs as scientists. Mission accomplished, right?

Wrong. And here’s why. . .

Let me ask you this: what good is it to have the original Mona Lisa if you’re going to hide it beneath your bed?

All right, maybe we shouldn’t compare our research to the genius of da Vinci, but my point still stands. No matter how brilliant our research is, it’s useless if it doesn’t get seen. Our aim is to get our paper into all the right hands so that we might positively impact the world in which we live.

So, to address this, there’s a new model in town. A model that opens up a world of new possibilities, allows us to finally measure and reward the true impact of our research, and actually enhances the traditional research output metrics.

That’s right. . . we are going from “Publish or Perish” to “Visible or Vanish.” That is, if our research isn’t visible, we simply vanish.

Does Visible or vanish replace the publish or perish mantra?

The era of “Publish or Perish”

For the past few decades, academia has been running on the fumes of “Publish or Perish,” an attitude that’s kept many of us researchers in our labs late at night, or hunched over our computers in the bleary-eyed mornings.

Still today, academics work tirelessly to increase their h-index, a metric that measures the number of papers we’ve published and how many times our papers have been cited. For better or worse, the h-index acts as a one-point comparison between individuals, allowing potential funders to instantly see just how “well” we’re performing in our chosen field.

But the drive to publish has resulted in more and more papers being released. And today, there are an estimated 2.5 million new papers published every year. With so much new information being released, it’s not surprising that many papers go uncited or, sadly, even unread.

The real problem is, not all scientists feel the h-index is an accurate portrayal of their contributions, with some of us even disheartened to see our hard work distilled into a single figure. Nevertheless, many well-meaning scientists continue on this hard-worn path (hamster wheel?) to increase this once career-defining metric.

But. . . we no longer have to subject ourselves to the tactics of yesterday.

There are new tools available to measure a researcher’s impact. This means we no longer have to live and die by the h-index. There’s hope for us yet.

The Future of “Visible or Vanish”

Many of us feel it’s time to embrace the new philosophy of visible or vanish.

This modern method of measuring true impact is supported by the development of measurement tools like Altmetric. Altmetric measures how often journal articles, as well as other scholarly content (such as datasets), are mentioned, talked about, and used around the world.

Altmetric is now incorporated into the websites of researchers, institutional repositories, and journal websites. This comprehensive tool monitors blogs, news and social media for mentions, and it shares any peer-reviewed paper.

In a nutshell, Altmetric records the dissemination, influence and impact of our work beyond academia. This is something we have never been able to track or quantify, and these metrics offer great insight into the impact researchers are really having. And because of this, Altmetric is here to stay. So why not learn how to boost your Altmetric score.

Another tool called Impactstory allows us to capture the online “buzz” of our research on social media networks like Twitter, as well as reputable news outlets. Impactstory creates a profile that measures reach, with the creators describing it as “Google Scholar for your research's online reach.”

With new tools like Altmetric and Impactstory, it won’t be long before funding bodies will want to see evidence of our reach. Whether it’s these tools or something else, we’ll need to learn how to best leverage available technology to demonstrate a broad online impact.

But that’s not the only reason we should adopt the mantra of “get visible or vanish.”

The Changing Face of Academia

Academia is moving in the right direction with more and more scientists putting in an honest effort to disseminate their research to the general public.

And it’s win-win. Society benefits with a much-needed understanding of, and discussion on, evidence-based knowledge. And meanwhile, scientists continue to discover how rewarding it can be to truly engage with the public.

This is about opening the dialogue and bridging the gap between our complex, scientific world, and everyday life. This is about helping the everyday person function in the modern world that is so pervaded by science.

The new “Visible or Vanish” model may be in its early days, but it’s unfolding before our very eyes. What will you do to embrace it?

Check out our FREE Visible or Vanish course to unleash your impact and be visible.


Dr Tullio Rossi


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