The new Research Portal makes it easier to look up Tilburg University scholars and to see what they are working on. But it strongly emphasizes quantity.
Optically, the new research portal that was launched earlier this month is a big improvement. It also makes the Tilburg University’s academic structures more transparent. Visitors of the portal are first greeted with a series of numbers. At the time of writing, the portal’s home page shows that 2.096 scientists are affiliated to the university, and the total publication count is 89.272.
Academics also have their own profile page, showing contact information, prizes and academic interests. This profile details which co-authors someone has collaborated with in the last five years and in which countries those co-authors are based. Each academic has been given a fingerprint, outlining what he or she is working on in key words. In addition, the profile page links to associated scientists.
The new research portal seems to place a strong emphasis on quantity. Nuna Zekic, assistant professor in labor law, noticed that the profile pages prominently display the number of publications produced by an academic. “What is the added value of that?” In addition, a bar chart shows a researcher’s publication rate over the years. That has never been a secret, since the year of publication is always mentioned, but a researcher’s publication rate was never depicted in a chart. “Why would you make that so apparent?”
Scientists may become inclined to compare bar charts, or the impression might arise that someone is not publishing enough. In reality, Zekic points out, a year without publications could be the result of illness, pregnancy or care tasks. Still, it will cause a gap in a researcher’s bar chart. “Some researchers don’t like the chart,” project manager Jola Prinsen says. “It’s true that it should be about quality, not quantity. Unfortunately it’s not possible to disable the charts, but the charts do show whether someone has been doing research for years or whether someone is a junior researcher.”
As important as the numbers may seem, they are not always correct. A point of criticism often heard by Prinsen is that dissertations are listed under the PhD supervisor’s research output. The actual number of publications produced by a professor who supervises PhD projects can therefore be distorted. This becomes evident when looking at the profile page of methodology professor Jelte Wicherts, for instance. According to the portal, Wicherts has produced 107 publications.
Six of those publications are dissertations — his own, and those of five PhD candidates Wicherts supervised. These dissertations also appear in Wicherts’ list of publications: the second and third publication on the list are dissertations written by PhD candidates. “That’s not right,” Prinsen says. “We have reported this issue to the provider, who agreed to fix the problem.”
Academics who only have educational tasks benefit less from the new page, because they don’t have as much to show. This is something Nuna Zekic noticed as well. Other than a short description, the page only displays a hyperlink to courses given by the academic. Some wonder why they have such a profile page at all. “It’s a scientific profile page,” Prinsen says. “They are scientists too, and they can distinguish themselves by what it is they find important in education, for instance.”
Another reason the numbers are distorted is that only publications produced at Tilburg University were previously entered in the university’s research output registration system Pure. As a result, only three publications by rector Emile Aarts were shown in the new portal on 18 October, which has now been updated to 49. In the portal of the Technical University of Eindhoven, Aarts has a list of 310 publications. In addition, the new portal includes all kinds of publications written by Tilburg University researchers, such as opinion pieces published in newspapers. “It would be nice if you would be able categorize or filter publications based on their nature,” Prinsen says.
The new portal is not yet without flaws. The university found a suitable research portal in 2014, which could be customized to its specific purposes. But when the provider announced the launch of a standardized portal, university policy required to opt for this standardized product, that also sufficed. Standard products require less maintenance and are cheaper. However, inconveniences can be impossible or difficult to eliminate from a standard product. For instance, academic prizes are listed alphabetically in the new research portal, and media contributions are sorted by relevance while it remains unclear how their relevance is determined.
What others are working on
The new portal offers possibilities to view whether other academics are working on related topics. “I can imagine this has an added value. Now we often don’t know what our colleagues at other faculties are working on,” legal scholar Nuna Zekic says. One way to do this is by looking at similar profiles, although Zekic is surprised to find economist Lans Bovenberg among her own similar profiles. In turn, Zekic is not listed on Bovenberg’s list of similar profiles, which would make sense according to Prinsen. She has no explanation for this, and it remains unclear how the algorithm works. “I’m going to ask the provider.”
Another way to find out what other scholars ars doing is by looking at their fingerprint, consisting of English key words. This gives an overview of what academics are working on. “But for legal scholars it’s a less convenient tool,” Zekic says. They often publish on the national legal system in the Dutch language.
“These researchers will either not have a fingerprint at all, or one that doesn’t give an accurate view of what they’re working on,” project manager Prinsen says. Not because the university is indifferent towards these researchers and their work, but because the system works with English vocabulary lists. “Researchers can improve their fingerprint by adding an additional English title for the publications they register in Pure, and by entering English summaries. They can also disable certain key words or the fingerprint altogether. It’s up to researchers to decide whether that’s worth their effort.”
The strongest asset of the portal is that it automatically uploads nearly all information from Pure and My Employee Portal, which makes it easy for academics to create a comprehensive profile page that gives other researchers or funding organizations a detailed impression of their work. Much more so than previously. That’s a big plus, Prinsen says, since “scientists already have so much they have to do.”
ORCiD and metrics
Jola Prinsen recommends researchers to create an ORCiD (Open Researcher and Contributor iD) account. This is a unique user ID which is increasingly required for the submission of publications and grant applications. In addition, the identification tool increases the reliability of alternative metrics used in the new research portal. Because the university has no license for Scopus, an expensive citation database, the citation rate of a publication is not shown in the portal. It does show the performance of the publication on blogs, in tweets and in news articles. “This already gives you a taste of how a publication is being received.”
The academic profile pages are in English. They are intended for an academic audience, such as funding organizations and other scholars. The WebWijs pages will continue to be available for a broader audience, both in English and in Dutch. Later this year, the WebWijs pages will be replaced for all university staff. Instead, all staff members will have a popular profile page.