Metricize Me!

Academia is in the middle of a quantification revolution.  If you are a professor or academic researcher, you have, by now, undoubtedly encountered any number of web platforms that offer scores or stats or metrics to inform you of your worth.  For instance, on one research platform, I have an “RG” score of 23.72.  This is an all-encompassing summary of nearly 20 years of contributions to my scholarly discipline.  I use it all the time to let my colleagues, neighbors, and friends know that I am, indeed, a very important professor.  I tell them my score, and they say “Ahhhh, that’s impressive!”  “Right?” I reply.  We all nod and smile knowingly.  Several platforms let me (and anyone else who cares to look) know how many times my contributions have been viewed, downloaded, or cited, purportedly measuring the “impact” of my work.  No matter that these kinds of indicators can be gamed, or that they favor more easily accessible items.

Truth be told, I’m a bit exhausted by all of this metricizing.  It’s being done TO me. I typically don’t have a say.  These data points may or may not be accessible to my peers, my employer, or the general public.  Sometimes it is clear, and sometimes I simply have to assume, that there are transactions going on behind the scenes where I am being purchased as a row in a database. Although I don’t yet feel that these metrics are being used for or against me in any meaningful way, the point is that many platforms created for the academic workforce are intentionally striving for that outcome.  Their creators believe that these metrics should mean something consequential.

Three years ago, I decided to take matters into my own hands.  What I desired in a platform didn’t exist.  I wanted an online space to manage my whole professional self.  A space where I could centralize selected resources related to my research, teaching, and service work, provide guidance and insight about their application, and set parameters around who could access these items and how they could be used.  I wanted to be able to talk about my research and other academic experiences, as well as invite feedback on my work and develop connections outside of my limited individual network.  Most importantly, I wanted to be at the reigns of my presence on such a platform, free to promote myself and my work in ways that made sense to me, and without concern that I was being algorithmically measured.

As I’ve written about elsewhere, Prof2Prof is a platform for elevating a broad range of intellectual contributions to academia, higher education, and society.  This is accomplished by placing the central focus on the individual academic, who maintains control over decisions about what to share, with whom, and under what conditions.  And yes, soon, there will also be metrics available that provide the user, and only the user, with information on resource views and downloads, among other things, all of which can be employed as that individual sees fit.  No presumption is made about how to measure the impact of someone else’s research and teaching scholarship.  As an academic, I know how to tell that story about my own work, and what constitutes the most useful collection of indicators for others to consider. Because impact takes on many different forms, I don't believe its assessment can be standardized, or worse yet, packaged into a single number.  It is complex and nuanced, intertwined with service work and activities that may not be glorified or even recognized in the metricsphere, let alone bundled into a score of 23.72.

Author: Kristen Slack, PhD

https://www.prof2prof.com/users/kristen-s-slack

Photo: @ sdCrea (numbers added)

Silhouette of a person's head with random numbers scattered within it.