Altmetric Blog

Altmetric at the University of Sussex – An interview with Sahar Abuelbasher

Josh Clark, 9th January 2020

Keeping track of the quality of your institution’s research is essential, but gathering a complete picture of the response to your publications can be challenging.

In this interview, we speak to Sahar Abuelbasher, Research Metrics Analyst at the University of Sussex. Sahar is responsible for reporting on the performance of Sussex’s research using a range of metrics and presenting her insights so that they can be practically applied to improve the University’s research strategy.

Sahar tells us about how she uses Altmetric data and tools within her role at Sussex, how it has helped improve their research promotions and how she’s using altmetrics to analyze the barriers facing Africa’s academics.

Read on to find out more:


Please, can you introduce yourself and tell us about how you use altmetrics?

Yes certainly. I am Sahar Abuelbashar, and I am the Research Metrics Analyst at the University of Sussex. I have been in the post for nearly 4 years, and primarily, I provide high-level expertise on the use of bibliometrics, altmetrics and other related research performance indicators for the understanding and assessment of the quality of the University’s research. 


What do altmetrics tell you about research published by the University of Sussex that other metrics aren’t able to? 

As an institution, the University of Sussex is multi-disciplinary, and home to one of the world’s leading centers of research on science, technology and innovation policy and management – Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU). We do extremely well in the Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences disciplines. In the last REF (2014) Sussex History was the highest rated in the UK for the quality of its research outputs; 84% of the University’s research impact in Psychology was rated as the top possible grade, 4*; and Geography had the most 4*-rated research impact of any Geography submission across the UK. In recent world rankings, we have been placed the number in the world for Development Studies. 

Leading up to the REF, as a UK institution, we need to provide evidence to support our impact case studies. One way to do this is, is including research related metric data to tell a story. However, as experts, we also know that some metrics aren’t robust enough for some subject areas, but altmetrics data improves this. By tracking the discussions surrounding our research outputs instantly through social media, news, and policy documents, we can track our research outputs beyond the academic sphere. 


Can you tell us how altmetrics are used to inform research strategy at the University of Sussex?

In addition to using the data as evidence to supporting our impact, we do report on news and policy documents mentions to our research committee. Altmetrics data has also been very instrumental in supporting our research communication strategy, through news mentions. 

More recently, we have started to use it to support our newest podcast series Impacted, where in episode 3, Professor Dave Goulson’s research into the impact of pesticides on bumblebees has been widely cited in the media, leading governments to take action to better protect insects.


How do you see the role of altmetrics evolving within the University of Sussex?

At Sussex, we are not really interested in aggregated counts, but rather focusing on beyond the numbers to produce stories of our research. So increasing the usage of altmetrics data to support our research strategy, and research communications strategy is a project that I am looking to push in the coming year. I am also hoping to work more closely with academics, in particular, those within Arts and Humanities disciplines to support their research activities. Diving deeper into the social media mentions such as tweets is another project I am looking at evolving in the future – mainly to assess the level of public engagement of our research by looking at the content of the tweets.


You recently presented at the 6:AM conference about your work looking at the challenges for Africa’s scholarly community and the barriers they face when trying to publish their work. Can you tell us about this project and how altmetrics were used?

Absolutely. I recently teamed up with Dr. Innocent Awasom (Texas Tech University)Dr. Justine Germo Nzweundji (IMPM, Cameroon), and Dr. Ngozi Ukachi (University of Lagos, Nigeria) on a research project focusing on addressing equity within Africa’s scholarly communication ecosystem. We argue that factors such as political instability, economic sanctions, and lingua francas pose a significant challenge, impacting on the dissemination and visibility of African scholarly outputs. The project is ongoing, but thus far we have carried out a pilot study, where we presented our findings at the 6:AM conference in Sterling.

One of our aims was to get a sense of the level of ‘local’ engagement of African’s research, as one of our augments is that the lingua francas of African countries has an impact – almost all of the African countries speak more than 1 language, with Nigeria speaking the most at 525

For the initial pilot study, we only looked at the number of mentions by country by mention type. The country-level was determined as ‘local’, and we only focused on Tweets and Facebook posts to assess engagement beyond academia, news mentions as it translates science to society, and policy documents to assess local government’s scientific engagement.


Can you give us a preview of your next project?

Soon we will be publishing our findings of the Africa scholarly communication project. In the 2nd phase of the project, we are looking to identify and partner with more collaborators across the region to run a survey on researchers working within the selected African countries. In terms of altmetrics data, we want to study the tweets more, by looking at their content to assess what is being discussed. 


If you’re in the UK and are keen to see how altmetrics can help with the REF, why not consider joining the Altmetric REF Working Group!


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