Recently, the great Dave Whynes retired from the University of Nottingham after 40 years of service. I will probably be his last PhD student. Over the years, Dave has nurtured many budding health economists who have gone on to achieve great things. It’s natural for those people to venerate Dave and his work and to want to ensure that current and future health economists are also able to learn from Dave’s teachings.
Chances are that your prof doesn’t have much of an online presence. Here I’m going to set out a few easy ways in which you can help ensure that future generations of researchers are able to see a particular academic’s contributions, and understand where they fit within the field. It’s also kind of a to-do list for myself, to which you can all contribute. The focus is on how you might do this for an [health] economics professor, but much of it applies to other fields.
1. Create and maintain Wikipedia coverage
Wikipedia is the go-to reference point for digital natives. It aims to be “the sum of human knowledge”. Despite this lofty purpose, not everyone should have a Wikipedia article about them. Simply having been a good professor is not sufficient. Wikipedia has specific notability criteria for academics to help you figure this out. Being highly cited is usually enough.
At the time of writing there is no Wikipedia page for David K. Whynes, but I will create it. If you’re going to add your prof, an important step is to have a look around Wikipedia to see which other articles might link back to the one you will create. In relation to this it is also important to maintain a Wikidata item and you could even add relevant images to Wikimedia Commons.
In some cases you might also like to create or maintain articles relating to your professor’s research, such as specific theories or named objects.
2. Add to bibliographic databases
The main output of most academics is their writing. There are now a number of publicly editable databases or wiki-style websites for books. See if your prof has an author page on Goodreads. Dave does. The same goes for Open Library. On both sites you can edit author pages to make sure all the information is accurate and up to date.
The sites also allow you to create editions of books that are not yet listed, so dig out that dusty old first edition and add its data to Goodreads and Open Library. You can do the same on the relatively new websites BookBrainz and Bibliogs. In fact, you could even add journal articles to Bibliogs if you wanted to start a major project.
If you want to go a step further and make your prof’s papers more accessible to non-experts, you can write open access summaries for them on AcaWiki.
3. Become an academic genealogist
Professors and their students are like parents and their children; there is an academic genealogy to be explored. You can create family trees to identify lineage and ancestry. There are a growing number of websites to support this. People from all fields can use PhDTree, and most fields can participate in The Academic Family Tree. If you’re an economist then you can also contribute to the RePEc Genealogy.
Photo credit: Judy van der Velden (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)