What is a researcher ID and why do you need one? Do you need a way to count your publications, or their citations, or just collect them in one place? Publications are a major measurement of a researcher’s output, and your name as the author of a publication is how you claim credit for it. But if you change your name, have a common or commonly misspelled name, or move between countries with different name-order conventions, it can be difficult for anyone but you to keep track of your publications using your name alone.

I am lucky to have an uncommon name and to work in a small field with an excellent bibliographic system, NASA ADS, so it is easy to find all of my publications. (That list has a few from my presumed-far-distant cousin Patrick Barmby with whom I hope to write a paper someday, just for the fun of it.) But things are not so easy for my colleague Peter Brown for whom a search on the same bibliographic system returns papers by at least 3 different people. And then there are the two people named Alan William Harris who both study asteroids.

The idea of a researcher ID is to resolve the ambiguity of names, the same way that digital object identifiers uniquely identify documents. For documents, DOIs seem to be the standard; for names, things have not yet settled to a standard. There are nice descriptions of the various options here and here. The 3 most used seem to be:

Which one you use probably depends on what journals you publish in: for me, ORCID is more useful because it’s better-integrated with NASA ADS. I also like the idea that it’s “open” and run by a non-profit, not beholden to any one publisher. My ORCID page has links to all my papers, which were pretty straightforward to add (instructions here).

In my view a big advantage of using a researcher ID like ORCID is that it’s an automatic way to collect and link publication information that doesn’t necessarily rely on access to a commercial database like Web of Science, or a non-commercial one like PubMed which doesn’t cover all fields. I look forward to seeing how it gets adopted and grows in the future: the ORCID website says that research funders are starting to adopt the use of ORCID to track applicants and their publications. I’m hopeful that someday it might replace the major pain that is the Canadian Common CV although I’m not holding my breath there.

If you are just starting a research career, I think it’s worth looking into researcher IDs now – they will hopefully save you lots of time in the future. If you’re an experienced researcher, you probably have more publications to keep track of, so it’s worth your time too. Have fun claiming your name!