Pure Romance

Online staff profile pages; now there’s a thing. These are the company webpages where pictures, role descriptions and other information about an organisation’s staff are listed for public view. At the corporate level these pages will tell you interesting things like that Jennie from finance has had 14 years’ experience “looking after our accounts” (14 famished, desolate years, Jennie?) or that Nigel is currently “responsible for all aspects of human resources in our Derby office (including Barrow on Trent)”. What you cannot tell from the profile pictures is if Jenny and Nigel really hate one another, or whether both have been steadily climbing the corporate ladder while fostering a mutually undeclared love that will explode into romance at the team building away day at Kedleston Hall. I have fun imagining such things…

In academia, the platforms for these profiles are increasingly becoming dominated by a few big players. At the institutions I have been involved with in my career that platform has been Pure. Pure is an Elsevier product, part of its “Research Intelligence Solutions”. There’s a thriving user community with two day conferences in places like Baltimore, Berlin and, er… Blackburn, for networking and sharing best practice (…yeah, I bet that’s what they get up to). The Elsevier website boasts that, “there are over 200 Pure implementations… [and] more than 160,000 researcher profiles”. There’s also, “A complete CRIS for managing REF submissions”. This is a fast-moving industry so you don’t have to put up with just the torso any more, you get all of CRIS these days.


Pure is in essence a repository for research accomplishments like publications, grants and typically includes a brief bio. Some advice on the bio – keep it short and write in the first person. Writing in the third person makes you sound like a footballer struggling in a post match interview, “Joey Barton’s not bigger than Burnley” (says Joey Barton, accurately). Institutions can tailor the format of the webpage – the King’s one is especially ugly – and things like publications and grant lists are populated from central databases, but within that academics can choose what goes up and write a lot of the textual content. So if, for example, you are choosing to list all your conference presentations and keynotes (and I reckon I have over 300 of those) you’re asking your reader to do a lot of scrolling.

Pure does some entertaining things. For instance the “graph of relations” is fun, if ultimately a little incestuous. It’s rather like the “Who’s had Who?” associations graphic feature in the student magazine I edited while I was an undergraduate at Oxford. (That feature was, on reflection, misjudged, and an invasion of privacy as well as factually incorrect for at least one of my “associations”… I wish to apologise publicly now for that. But in my defence it wasn’t me who produced it and, at the time, I had only marginally more editorial experience than George Osbourne.)

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Then we have the photo. Ah… the photo. How do we wish our physical form to be projected to the world and to our colleagues? Clever (yes, certainly), good-looking (yes, probably), staring thoughtfully into the middle distance (maybe), sitting in an armchair, holding a cocktail glass and grinning like an imbecile (no)? Pure, in some respects, is akin to an academic online dating site, albeit one where the image projected is even more subtly prone to exaggeration and embellishment than regular dating sites.

With online dating sites (I imagine, I’d never do it) one would like to think people are at least hoping for a longish term, meaningful relationship. For that to happen with Pure you’ll need to move beyond the photo and look at the serious credentials like H-index and grant income. Do you really want to contemplate the prospect of an interdisciplinary collaboration with someone who lists contributing to a drive-time phone-in on Four Counties Radio as the highlight of their “activities”? Actually, maybe, yes, if they’re fun and interesting… that’s the problem with online profiles – you’re only really getting the image people feel they ought to project and in reality humans are far, far more complex and interesting than that. Or maybe I am finally the wrong side of a generational shift in research and relationships? Who knows? Who cares?

Lastly, there’s the facility to add a CV in Pure. Few take this up and it’s obvious why not: it’s a clear signal you are on the market and either pretty desperate or not getting the attention you feel you deserve from your current beau (employer). Posting your full CV on Pure is a little like turning up at a dinner party and making a show of throwing your car keys into a bowl in the middle of the table, in full view of your partner, before anyone’s had the chance to start gushing over the amuse-bouche. It is over-disclosing, more than a little vulgar, and seems certain to attract the wrong sort of attention. Better, I think, to leave the CV on the shelf rather than ending up on it yourself.