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Outside the Lab Training and education

Navigating Digital Scholarship and Professional Growth

In the ever-evolving landscape of modern academia, scholarly contributions now extend beyond traditional avenues. Social media and digital engagement are very much on the rise – certainly not hindered by a world in lock down in the COVID-19 years. Pathologists, recognizing the transformative influence of digital scholarship, are increasingly using new and emerging platforms to expand their knowledge, connect globally, build reputations, and stay informed about the latest developments in their field.

Historically, in academia, digital scholarship has been viewed as a peripheral interest rather than a significant contribution – a pathway to traditional scholarship rather than a distinct form in its own right. But there is a growing recognition of its significance, with efforts to blend it seamlessly with traditional scholarship. New-in-practice pathologists are urged to embrace this transformative shift, particularly within the framework of promotion and tenure expectations. It can help guide their career trajectory, ensure job stability, and provide access to crucial resources. 

Accepting digital scholarship in promotion and tenure dossiers demands an acknowledgment of its intellectual rigor, impact, and significance. To actively participate in this shift and showcase the impact of digital scholarship, managing metrics associated with online presence is key. So how can pathologists optimize their online footprint, ensuring their digital efforts contribute meaningfully to scholarly impact?

Understanding digital scholarship

Digital scholarship involves employing digital tools, technologies, and platforms for research, data analysis, archiving, and the online dissemination of scholarly work across diverse academic fields. It encompasses a broad spectrum of activities aimed at leveraging the potential of digital resources in academic pursuits.  

The domains traditionally linked with digital scholarship encompass digital humanities, digital sciences, digital social sciences, digital art, and data science. However, all academic disciplines actively use digital materials, tools, and methodologies to construct scholarly work. In fact, digital scholarship transcends disciplinary boundaries and fosters multidisciplinary collaboration. Just as the internet transformed access to data and information, today’s digital scholarship tools significantly amplify our capacity to share and collaborate.

Computers, along with other digital tools and software are crucial for all aspects of the academic tripartite mission, encompassing education of healthcare professionals, innovative biomedical and clinical research, and the delivery of top-tier patient care. Since these are already routine practices in daily workflow, it makes sense to take a more intentional, thoughtful, and critical approach to understanding the capabilities the digital realm can afford us with scholarship. 

Digital scholarship adds a layer to scholarly endeavors that traditional analog approaches struggle to support effectively. This extension greatly expands the scope of scholarly pursuits, fostering a more creative exploration of research goals and facilitating more uniquely designed outcomes. Given that humans are inherently attracted to novelty, presenting research in innovative ways can also stimulate increased curiosity and interest. As noted, digital scholarship tools and platforms naturally lend themselves to collaborative initiatives, making them ideal for projects and community engagement.

Integrating digital scholarship

There are numerous ways digital scholarship can be incorporated into research, teaching, and publication. Creativity and innovation are a hallmark of digital scholarship; opportunities abound to build on these ideas and create your own pathway. Below, we present four practical approaches for weaving digital scholarship into both individual research endeavors and collaborative networking efforts.

1. Diverse metrics for scholarly impact and effective metrics management

  • Track traditional citation counts on platforms like PubMed and Scopus to gauge academic influence and recognition within the scholarly community.
  • Use alternative metrics to monitor the online visibility of your research; track mentions, shares, and discussions on social media, news outlets, blogs, and other online platforms (for example, ResearchGate, X, LinkedIn, PlumX).
  • Use visualization tools or graphics to represent metrics (including likes, shares, reposts, reach, engagement rate, followers).

2. Real-time collaboration and interactive engagement with peers

  • Connect with other researchers beyond your usual established network – across diverse departments and geographies, including those you may have never have met in person – to write and publish papers, articles, or books.
  • Actively engage in collaborative platforms, such as ResearchGate, ORCID, or LinkedIn, to connect with peers, share expertise, and contribute to discussions.

3. Innovative educational approaches

  • Develop e-learning in the form of online courses, webinars, or interactive tutorials. This pursuit not only enhances your role as an educator but also contributes to the advancement of medical knowledge, aligning with the evolving landscape of medical education.
  • Create and curate digital archives or repositories that store and provide access to research data, documents, and multimedia materials.
  • Participate in (or organize!) virtual conferences and webinars, leveraging digital platforms to facilitate scholarly discussions and knowledge exchange.

4. Integrate feedback

  • Recognize that active engagement on various platforms requires time and effort – and then strive for a balance between the quantity of metrics and the quality of research. Prioritize impactful contributions over sheer volume.
  • Periodically analyze the documented metrics to identify trends, patterns, and areas for improvement. 
  • Acknowledge and celebrate achievements, recognizing milestones and positive feedback received from the academic community, collaborators, or other stakeholders.
  • Encourage constructive feedback from the research community and help promote a supportive environment where researchers can learn from one another.

As the trend towards digital scholarship grows, mastering the tools and skills needed to succeed will become increasingly important. Embracing continuous exploration and adaptability is essential in this dynamic landscape. By integrating all strategies, new-in-practice pathologists can effectively turn their digital work into scholarship, thus contributing more robustly to the academic and professional community.

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About the Authors
Katrina Collins

Assistant Professor of Clinical Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis, IN

Xiaoyin “Sara” Jiang

Associate Professor of Pathology, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC

Nicole Riddle

Associate Professor of Pathology, University of South Florida College of Medicine, Tampa, FL

Adam L. Booth

Assistant Professor of Pathology, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO, USA

Mirian Ramirez

Research Metrics Librarian, Ruth Lily Medical Library, Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis, IN

Laura Torbeck

Professor of Surgery, PhD Educator and Vice Chair of Professional Development for the Department of Surgery, Assistant Dean for Faculty Affairs and Professional Development, Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis, IN

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