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What does your site do?

The site mainly accepts academic project ideas for publication, and then requests reviews from professors. Where submitted, reviews are published alongside the idea and on the reviewer's profile, or failure to submit the review is recorded. By publishing reviews, we wish to highlight researchers who seriously engage with student ideas, and foster a more open scientific culture.

Because of the high degree of fragmentation and specialization at graduate level, only a handful of researchers exist that can reasonably be expected to be able to comment competently on a project idea, indeed, might be said to have a moral imperative to do so. Hence, each send request is validated by a team of 3 crowd-sourced moderators, who do not know each other (they are also responsible for retrieving the professor's e-mail address). This crowd-sourced arbitration system also intervenes at several other stages in the process flow, to ensure that our website stays a civilized place.

The best way to familiarize yourself with our publishing method is the demo-site. For convenience, the whole process is summarized in the following diagram:


A PowerPoint-presentation is also available as introduction, please have a look.

Can't I just e-mail professors on my own?

Obviously, you can, but empirical evidence suggests that your e-mails will receive no or only dismissive answers. While arguably a small independent website is not going to incentivize professors in the same way as (say) cash-flushed blue chip companies out to rewrite university curricula, we believe that your chances will still be slightly higher as a result of using our site. The main advantages (for you and the professors) may be summarized as follows:

Can't someone steal my idea if I publish it on your site?

In general, we believe that the risk of someone stealing an idea is much higher if you keep it to yourself, because publication at least helps you prove that you were the first and only inventor (academic ethos with its citation duty should then do the rest). For commercially valuable ideas, you might want to consider filing for a patent (typically, a US provisional patent) before publishing on our page, however, keep in mind that publishing your idea will at least prevent anyone else from filing a patent, a strategy known as 'defensive publishing' in legal parlance (not patenting the idea and keeping it to yourself, on the other hand, is not recommended)

In general, myphdidea.org is intended for ideas that have a significant scientific component. Because of the aforementioned high fragmentation of the scientific landscape, anyhow only a handful of people can be expected to have the competencies to realize your project, which should constitute a certain degree of protection in its own right. Finally, keep in mind that stealing is a form of flattery, that it is better that your project gets stolen and realized than if you keep it to yourself and nothing happens, and that the patent system mainly exists to protect corporate monopolies and the revenue streams of rentier capitalists but is of little use to those whose pockets aren't deep enough to pay lawyers' salaries.

In order to prove that you were the first and only inventor, documents you upload as part of your campaign are time-stamped by a trusted third party. As a double precaution, you might also want to upload your files to an external service such as creativdepot.at or registeredcommons.org that implement similar technology.

How are you different from any other open access journal?

We focus exclusively on Ideas rather than results, the assumption being that your proposal is early stage, and restrict submission to students. The body of student members is knit together in a 'virtual economy' that is supposed to make them participate in our crowd-sourced moderator system. In a standard post-publication peer review journal, requesting reviews will be handled by the editors, while crowd-sourcing takes its place here. This should allow the site to serve a potentially wider range of scientific interests, and provide a more accurate check on compatibility between ideas and researchers. Hence, we can record null-answers to review requests, to discourage professors from just ignoring student proposals. Finally, we allow and encourage anonymity, both for moderators and authors, so you don't have to fear reprisals if we see ourselves forced to criticize the professor's response etiquette.

How do you make sure that the student moderators cannot collude among each other?

Currently, the minimum condition is that all the moderators must hail from 3 different universities (4 if you count the idea's author), and no interactions between moderators are possible. In addition, each task is only distributed to 20 randomly chosen candidates, which should assure an increasing degree of fragmentation as user numbers grow (after 2 weeks, the task is proposed to anyone holding less than a maximum number of proposals). Short timed exclusive offers to more senior site members are also employed. Improving the fragmentation capabilities of the underlying social networking engine without compromising good proximity of scientific interests might be an interesting problem for a research project.

Why are you making such a big fuss about keeping campaigns anonymous?

Anonymity can help get more objective opinions (both by moderators and professors) e.g. not influenced by whether you went to a big-name university. Mostly, however, we are afraid that moderators and campaign owners might start getting chummy on facebook, or that moderators might even try to blackmail fellow students in exchange for good grades (conversely, campaign owners might try to bribe moderators). Hence, our site essentially proposes a mini-bureaucracy for formalizing personal interactions, which hopefully alleviates these problems. Professors, on the other hand, can by default see an author's identity once contacted, because the review they are asked to contribute is not anonymous either.

Uploaded pdf-files should contain your name and affiliation on the front page. They should then be anonymized by drawing a box over the relevant section of the front page, using the pdf editing tool on our page (originals can be restored at any time). Manually omitting your name from the pdfs is not recommended, because your documents get timestamped and you cannot reinstate your name afterwards.

If site members can't talk to each other, why would they join your social network?

While we connect authors with student editors in a sense, we do so anonymously, and do not allow communication between them beyond approval/disapproval judgments. Thus, we do not like being called a social network, which are all who-said-something and not about what-was-said. Instead of expanding your circle of casual aquaintances, deepening engagement with our cause should be your objective in joining, though we can't reward you with a lot of recognition for doing so.

While we do rely on volunteers, and the anonymity requirement limits the amount of public credit we can give them, more pragmatically, we have implemented a virtual economy whereby students who want to publish ideas and send them to professors have to shell out a bit of virtual currency. Currency is earned by working as a moderator and looking at other peoples' ideas. At present, (virtual) prices are still rather low, because we hope that volunteers will bridge the divide, but we might have to raise them eventually (but we will never charge real money for this website!).

Are students really competent to judge research project proposals?

Are citizens really competent to judge their politicians? We believe that our site serves to advance the democratic ideal in academia. Without engaged citizens (read: students) and a free press (this site!) that pushes for transparency and keeps the dignitaries higher up the hierarchy in check, academia is bound to fail just like government. Which, indeed, it mostly does.

How do I find a good project idea?

Obviously, a lot here depends on your subject of study, and on personal style. However, one thing which is certain is that the professors, while not smarter, are a lot more knowledgeable about their subjects than you, so don't think about trying to beat them at their own game. Look for underdeveloped niche areas where there are not a lot of publications yet, the barrier to entry is lower and it will be much easier to be creative! Also, keep yourself aware of adjacent disciplines, something which is easier when you are still at Master level than once you have decided to go down a particular route. If your subject is applied science, study applications, monitor and track future trends (that's what investors do!) and don't neglect to read 1-2 general interest magazines also. Often, creativity comes more easily when you are not presented with a perfectly formalized context but are just given an aim but no other constraints, which is why impulses towards new science can also stem from applications.

Assuming that you know your subject well, a project proposal from its initial inception should take 2-3 months (part-time) to write. However, it can well happen that the problem you decided to attack has already got a solution.

I have submitted an idea/review/feature, how do I edit it?

Site policy is that material that has been published once remains visible and cannot be altered, the aim being to ensure that people think twice about what they post (we reserve the right to remove anything grossly inappropriate). Since project ideas in particular tend to evolve, it is possible to upload updated versions, though older material remains accessible (the same is not possible for reviews and features). We eventually may refine on that scheme by offering e.g. better previewing capability, but we intend for the basic policy to remain in place.

Since publication is irreversible, we recommend that you familiarize yourself with site functionalities using the demo-site before posting anything, to avoid missteps.

I graduated a while ago and now I've got a project idea, can I use your site?

Yes! Indeed, the pressure at university can be such that many will not have the leisure to start thinking more creatively until after graduation. In order to register, you need to find 3 people who are still at university (i.e. students from lower years with an institutional e-mail) and who are willing to sponsor you. You then use the 'Guest' account option on the left, register and receive a codeword, which you should send to the 3 students in question. Note that each student can only sponsor one guest, so for 100 student accounts, only 50 guests at most can become site members.

What is an ORCID?

ORCID is a unique identification code we use in the hope of preventing information about researchers from getting distributed among multiple profiles. Since there are a number of competing systems, many profiles are empty, and finding out whether an ORCID belongs to a particular researcher can be tricky, but we try to provide a number of incentives and penalties for getting our users there.

Often, even if an ORCID profile is empty, there is a link to one of the other systems:

I'm a researcher, I recently got an ORCID but I cannot login!

Only ORCIDs created before the site went live are featured by default, so there is no automatic synchronization between the ORCID database and ours. This is because we are worried that students might create fake ORCID profiles and forward review requests to them. If you want to have your ORCID added to our registry, you can however contact 3 existing members from a recognized university (use above searchbar to find members), who can issue invites to you. Next time you use ORCID login, a profile will then be created for you.

I'm a researcher, I don't seem to be able to edit my publications?

Publications, where they appear, are more given in the spirit of helping to identify the researcher than because we want to divert attention to that publication. myphdidea.org is a platform where you are supposed to advertise your love for students and new ideas, not your love for your own ideas. Plenty of other social networks, on the other hand, will be happy to serve your needs we believe.

I'm a researcher, I got a bad grade what should I do now?

You should subscribe to the site newsfeed and keep your eyes open for any PhD idea that seems interesting. If you sign in with your researcher account, you can contact any student, who will then be automatically authorized to request a review from you. However, unless you are genuinely intending to sign up the student in question for a PhD, please be prompt in delivering your review, because you will otherwise prevent the student from contacting anyone else.

In addition, there is also a popular vote option for every review, so students and other researchers can show solidarity in case they disagree with your grade. We try to make sure that all new members not only belong to a recognized institution (we use institutional mail for that), but are also at the right level of studies (typically, Master), and that their identity is not fake. Ideally, the student should furnish a link to a webpage on the institution's server, with a view towards establishing that e.g. the mail address pp281@psu.edu belongs to "Peter Parker" and not "Pepper Potts". Luckily, many universities use more explicit notation schemes (e.g. peter.parker@psu.edu) so the necessity is mostly not there.

Concerning level (and subject) of study, the preferred method of verification is also using an annuary record (where available), but students can upload other supporting evidence, such as (an excerpt from their) transcripts or a letter from the Dean. At least one among either the link or the document should contain substantial information, but in any case, using an authentic identity is a sine qua non (note however that publishing on the website can always be done anonymously).

What technologies was your website built on?

The publication database used is the Open Citation Corpus (OCC), a non-commercial alternative to google scholar (internally, this part of the database runs on OpenLink Virtuoso). Researcher profiles are from ORCID, and institutions from GRID.

Why is your website not open source?

It is! The code is not very pretty, but nevertheless, you can find the files below:

Can you add feature X to your website?

Suggestions are welcome but likely, no, unless it's either a very minor alteration or you can find money somewhere to pay for it (if your idea is any good, we will happily write you an official endorsement with which to approach wealthy donors!). Alternatively, you can use the above source code to make the change yourself.