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Evaluating Performance in Academia Through Altmetrics

Clayton BinghamWith only approximately 2 out of 10 individuals with Ph.D.’s employed in their field of study, higher education institutions are not awarding tenure simply because they don’t have to (1). Regardless of how you feel about tenure, one thing is sure: consistent with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s push for “Performance Pay”, academics will be more rigorously evaluated based on their performance. (2)

Traditionally, performance evaluations consisted primarily of a consideration of credentials, number of refereed publications, and a rudimentary estimate of the impact those publications have had. (3) Credentials, publications, and citations can take years to accrue; do they truly reflect the quality of work being done?

Considerations of other factors of performance are quickly catching on. Aside from teaching evaluations “altmetrics” are the most notable of these.(4)

Sec. of Education Arne Duncan's push for "Performance Pay" is leading to Universities using altmetrics as a hiring and firing tool.
Sec. of Education Arne Duncan’s push for “Performance Pay” is leading to Universities using altmetrics as a hiring and firing tool.

What are Altmetrics?

It may take a lifetime to be important but it certainly doesn’t take long to do important work. Altmetrics is a new effort to evaluate the social importance of academic work. Stephen Curry puts it clearly by stating that altmetrics is a measure of what is “exchanged during coffee breaks at academic conferences.” (5)

Technology has taken much of the social buzz from the conference and put it online. Altmetrics captures this buzz from many sources including: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Mendeley, CiteULike, Wikipedia, and many others.

The politics of our education budget may appear to victimize educators. Sec. Duncan and the White House are adamant that Federal dollars will not be put to waste on those who fail to perform; consequently, university and institution administrators are now taking a serious look at altmetrics as a hiring and firing tool.

How do I keep Altmetrics from hurting me?

If you play your cards right, altmetrics can be a huge tool in getting noticed and getting or keeping an academic job. There are several new services that help you keep track of your altmetrics and a few new platforms which actually provide you with tools to improve them. (6)(7)

In order to improve altmetrics an academic must be her or his own publicist online, engage in social media, and design research works to be engaging. It is not necessary for ecologists to be as popular as particle physicists, but it may be important for ecologists to inspire more community interaction that other ecologists.

Altmetrics is only the latest in a long and steady movement toward empowering researchers to take care of their own public relations. Many flinch at the thought of a scientist popularizing their work for their own sake, but think of what might have been if Mendel or Copernicus had the web tools we have today.


Clayton Bingham is a researcher, leading a team in building an open and public research and collaboration platform called LitRoost.  Designed to cut the time it takes to do a comprehensive literature search in half and finding superior collaborators for users.  Intending to turn discovery portals into the candy shops they should be. Contact Clayton Bingham @LitRoost (Twitter) or Clayton@LitRoost.net (email).

Clayton Bingham is a researcher, leading a team in building an open and public research and collaboration platform called LitRoost. Designed to cut the time it takes to do a comprehensive literature search in half and finding superior collaborators for users. Intending to turn discovery portals into the candy shops they should be.

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