Professor i marinbiologi, Åbo Akademi

Professoriblogissa otetaan kantaa yliopistojen ja tutkimuslaitosten ajankohtaisiin asioihin.


Diamonds are for ever - but e-mail addresses aren't

One thing that has long puzzled me about our increasingly corporate university world is how we are forced to surrender our e-mail addresses the moment we move on to another institution, another career or even just to retirement. The few exceptions that are granted need to be authorized by a senior official on the basis of a carefully reasoned justification, and are usually given only for a limited period. Thus, when serving as an institute director, I remember having to confirm such requests annually to the IT service, for scholars far more distinguished than myself, and feeling very embarrassed about the fact that they were forced to apply humbly for what should be an automatic privilege.

Given that our universities seem to place such importance on quoting exactly correct departmental names and postal addresses on our publications, on using those dreadfully dull institutional poster and slide-show templates, and on showering approved versions of corporate logos all over the place, it seems very odd that our historic affiliations are terminated so abruptly. We are treated like football players or coaches who transfer to another team, and whose historic links are best erased as quickly as possible, in case anyone should be tempted to switch their own loyalties, follow in their footsteps or, god forbid, might actually try to contact them. Our addresses also change in this way when institutions fuse, split up or rename themselves, as seems increasingly common nowadays.

With the trend towards the use of ORCID IDs as our primary identifiers, there is an obvious case to be made for us all to be given lifetime e-mail addresses, which could, for example, just be our ORCID ID ORCID enables 1016 individual identities, enough for everyone on the planet to be recognized as a scholar and even suffer identity theft a million times over before we run out of numbers. Names could still appear in our address books, and might even change with time as people move through life, but their address would never change, and their age, gender, ethnicity, nationality, affiliation or any other mark of association would remain invisible and irrelevant. ORCID already allows us to post current and alternative e-mail addresses on its own website, so the problem of actually having to trace someone by old-fashioned detective work should become less and less of a burden. But some issues can still arise where people forget their ORCID login details and their old institutional email address is no longer in use. And our old publications will forever carry addresses that are defunct. 

Most journals now expect us to retain or even deposit all data relevant to a publication for a minimum period, e.g. 10 years, so as to answer any relevant enquiries, or validate claims made in the paper that may be questioned. Or even just to assist with procuring materials that we used or generated. All publications should therefore be accompanied by an enduring e-mail address. If our universities will not supply one, the next best option is to create one ourselves. Although this typically requires a small set-up and/or annual renewal fee paid personally, it means we can always be contacted easily by a colleague, whether as a supplier of advice, materials, copies of old publications still not in the public domain, recommendations on trainees or colleagues who worked with us, or as a potential peer-reviewer, speaker or anything else relevant to our academic work, whether spanning 40 days or 40 years. 

This is already a live issue for me, since I will be forced to retire from my university position less than 2 years from now. So, in anticipation of that fateful day, I have acquired such an address myself and have already posted it on my ORCID page. I will be able to continue using it for any professional purpose after I demit employment from Tampere University or whatever it will be called in the future. And I won't have to ask permission from anyone else to use it.