Why build a website to archive your research?

I work with a lot of people who seem intrigued by this website and generally think it’s a good thing. But for those who feel like maintaining a website would be either too much work or a waste of time, I want to offer some thoughts why I think this is a valuable tool for any grad student, researcher, teacher, programmer, or professor.

I previously documented several reasons why I built this website, but here are several general reasons I think other researchers should build a strong web presence:

  • Make it easy for people to contact you. If I meet someone at a conference, I want them to be able to find me in two clicks. My website is a consolidated, one-stop resource for any information you could want about me, with everything nicely indexed and searchable. There is probably no better way to consolidate your CV and make it accessible.

  • Make it simple for people to follow your work. There are some researchers whose work is so relevant to my own that I want to read every journal article they produce, or at least know about it. With the right infrastructure, people can subscribe to your publications and get automatic updates whenever you release something new. See Lemire’s article Toward Author-Centric Science.

  • Disseminate information quickly and openly. You may not be willing to post drafts of scholarly publications, but having an infrastructure to communicate what you’re working on and how it’s going is a very valuable tool for others working on similar problems.The easier your work is to access, the easier it is for others to benefit from it, apply it, build upon, cite it, etc. Pre-production copies of articles, presentations, and code can be disseminated to interested parties ahead of the sluggish publication cycle. See my post on open scholarship.

  • Streamline literature review. Sometimes, you encounter an intriguing new researcher. I can search for their publications in a database, but it is orders of magnitude easier if that author maintains a website where you can download their papers, all from one place. Great examples of this in civil/structural engineering (my field) include Zdenek Bazant, Frank Vecchio, and Reginald DesRoches. [On a related note, some papers are nearly impossible to locate. I recently had to track down a paper from an obscure conference from the early 1990s. Our library didn’t have the proceedings, yet I couldn’t ignore this paper because it was cited by several other key papers in my area. With a comprehensive website, that author could have saved me hours.]

  • Teach and influence others. I have benefited greatly from researchers who have taken the time to write about how to do great research. I’m thinking of people like Daniel Lemire, John D. Cook, Terence Tao, Matt Might, Matt Welsh, Michael Nielsen, John Regehr, Rob J. Hyndman, and many others (these are links to some of my favorite posts each has written). I view these researchers as mentors, although we’ve never met. They have built strong influence in academia through their web presence, providing a strong supplement to their traditional academic contributions. Why not share the valuable insights you’ve gathered along the way with others?

  • Infrastructure for hosting various things I occasionally need to document or share. There are all kinds of queries and topics I regularly deal with in my life, either from friends, students, etc. It’s nice to have an online infrastructure to host files, my latest software or DIY hack, or write up a response that others can read. Examples on this site include my articles about how to succeed in engineering courses and why engineers should consider a master’s degree, two questions that come up often with my undergrad students.

I’m sure there are many more reasons in support of an academic web presence as well as some negative, but this is a start. In a separate post, I cover step-by-step how to implement a site like this one (something I am asked all the time).

You can read more about me, follow me on Twitter, subscribe to this blog by RSS or email, and find many more posts in the archives.