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On the first page of most papers the authors are listed, as well as their affiliation and email address. The given email address is usually hosted by the university. Now this looks professional and everything, though it is not always a good long-term solution, as researchers join other universities and their email address does no longer work (after a while). In my field (physics/cosmology) I rarely see a different solution, but I thought maybe other fields might have found a better approach. What contact information can be provided that does not get outdated?

  • a link to a website that then relinks to an always up-to-date email address?
  • a personal email address?
  • researchgate profile
  • ?

Does anyone work in a field where there is a better solution widely used?

Thank you very much for your thoughts on this topic.

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    Some universities will permit the email addresses of former faculty to remain in place, probably by forwarding it to another. At one time Dartmouth College even did this for students, though I don't know if that continues. – Buffy Jan 3 at 13:35
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    Yes, that would be the ideal case. Columbia does this too (at least my email address still works after 7 years). :) – kalle Jan 3 at 20:08
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    If you were a student, the Alumni office wants to keep in contact. Often. Relentlessly. – Buffy Jan 3 at 20:10
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    Do you get a choice? In general, the format of the author's information (including affiliation and contact data) will be set by the publisher, all papers in a journal or conference proceedings will have the same style, it's not like they will allow one paper to put an email and another to put a researchgate link instead. – Peteris Jan 3 at 21:05
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    Don't use your main personal e-mail though, unless you want a ton of spam from predatory journals. – Tom Carpenter Jan 4 at 0:43
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I think this is a good question with only unsatisfactory answers. In short, I don't think you can bank on any method to identify a person (other than maybe the equivalent to a social security number) that is permanent. Neither professional nor personal email addresses are guaranteed to work forever, nor are professional sites like ResearchGate, LinkedIN, ...

Systems such as ORCID, where each researcher is assigned a unique identifier would work, but they will still require some time to gain broad acceptance. This way the paper could cite the ORCID and the researcher can make sure the profile (including contact info) stays current. This system would also make it easier to find publications authored by an individual (especial by somebody with a common last name such as Wang, Ngyen, Garcia, Smith, ...). Of course, there is no guarantee that the ORCID system will last either.

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    The last sentence is especially important. Any online system can be discontinued at any time. Who can say if it will last for the 40 or so years of a person's career. – Buffy Jan 3 at 13:06
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    While not a systematic solution, I do believe that the best practice for any researcher should be to leave an electronic trail of breadcrumbs. Google yourself and go to the key websites (LinkedIn, ReserachGate, Google Scholar, ...) and make sure you are not too hard to find and your contact info is up-to-date. That way others who are looking for you should be able to find you. – Mario Niepel Jan 3 at 13:24
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    @Buffy That does not apply only to online systems. Real-world addresses and phone numbers gets discontinued, too. – Federico Poloni Jan 3 at 21:14
  • @FedericoPoloni, of course, but usually a person has some control. Not so with "web services" which can simply disappear for some company's business reasons (Here's looking at you, Google.). – Buffy Jan 3 at 21:31
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    @Buffy I wish I had more control over whether my grant is renewed so I can stay at the university so my contact information stays correct. The point is that ORCID is likely to last longer than the vast majority of researcher appointments (and in my specific case, I will even lose the email address the day my contract ends). – carandraug Jan 4 at 21:53
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I would say it's more important to maintain a webpage with your current contact information. A reader can use a search engine to find you and get in touch, even if your website and contact info has changed over the years.

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    Just to mention ORCID is designed exactly for this purpose. – iBug Jan 4 at 15:01
  • This is easier for some more than others based on name. Those with very common names may have a more difficult time being found via search. – Michael Mior Jan 4 at 18:01
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    Be careful what details you list, unless you plan never to leave academia. Be aware this will be scraped by spammers. So unless the email address, and all addresses it'll ever forward to, have and will always have industrial-grade spam protection, and as for phone number, never put your cell; academics usually just put a landline, which is slowly falling out of practice. – smci Jan 5 at 6:34
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The desire to have a permanent way to address authors of a paper is understandable. However, as you ask for best practice: I do not think there is a best practice, just different practices. Using long lasting e-mail addresses is one option, hoping for people to link papers to e.g. their ORCID profile and keep it up to date is another.

But those options are based on the premise that authors want to be contacted about their work and/or that they should want to be contacted. I am not convinced that this must be the case. You could create an e-mail address when submitting a manuscript for publication (which might appear on the final paper) only for this purpose and discard it afterwards. You could publish something using a pseudonym. Under certain circumstances, such behavior is necessary and totally acceptable.

In this reasoning, it is up to the authors alone to determine how long it will be possible to contact them by information given in the paper. Finally, each paper must stand for itself as soon as all authors passed away, and it should be able to do so as soon as it is published.

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It's not for you to decide unfortunately. The journal decides, and if they're asking for an email address then you will have to supply one. You could use a personal email address (@gmail.com for example) if they don't object, however, as you can with ORCID IDs, ResearchGate profiles, and so on.

Many journals/publishers already support this kind of author identification, example, example.

On an individual level, the solution to this issue is to make yourself easily Google-able. If your name is Jane Doe for example you could make a website www.janedoephysics.com. You can keep an up-to-date email address on that website. If you include summaries of your work and link to all your arXiv papers, you should be easily Googleable even if you have a common name.

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Some professional organisations provide "lifetime" email aliases - for example, for physicists the Institute of Physics provides physics.org addresses. That's the solution I've been using for two decades now. The alias can be set to forward to whatever address you want. I think this also looks more professional/authoritative than a consumer webmail address. Note though that it's a long time since I checked the T's & C's; keeping this service might depend on paying the IoP subscription.

Answers to What email to use for corresponding author on publications when institution is not permanent? and E-mail address to use in publications also mention the ACM (computing), AMS (maths) and IEEE (electrical & electronic engineering) as providing such e-mail redirectors. I prefer this option to, say, Gmail as it suggests a long-term commitment to the field on your part, whereas a Gmail address can be disposable (indeed, I associate Gmail with throwaway addresses used by spammers).

Contrary to what some have said: my experience is that you can't trust institutions, especially after you leave. My last university randomly locked my email access without warning, wouldn't set up forwarding, and hasn't passed on snail mail either. (And by the time you find out they're a bad 'un, it's too late.)

The other option is a unique identifier, such as OrcID, though quite how they will pan out in reality remains to be seen. Bear in mind that even if the OrcID organisation disappeared overnight, a web search for the identifier will still come up with material that includes your contact details, so it's worth embedding it in your (relevant) social media profiles.

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  • I didn't even know that physics.org does this. I'll check it out, thank you for mentioning it! Also, your last point is a good one! – kalle Jan 5 at 10:23
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Approaching this problem from the other end I found that a lot of papers have at least one coauthor who is already a tenured faculty member. These very rarely change their institution and hence there email addresses tend to stay valid for a long time.

Some journals also ask for a corresponding author (that is not necessarily the same as the first author if that is relevant in your field). This would usually be the one with the email address with the longest live expectancy regardless of how much they contributed to the paper.

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    The last sentence is not necessarily true. In some fields, the corresponding author is the PI of the work and there is some reputation gained from being corresponding author, so it regularly is a matter of argument. – Snijderfrey Jan 3 at 20:36
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    In others, the corresponding author is just the unlucky one who gets to use the interface. – Azor Ahai -him- Jan 3 at 21:47
  • @Snijderfrey I guess it depends on the field. My experience is from maths. There is no concept of first author and being corresponding author is just the potential for some extra bureaucracy. – quarague Jan 4 at 8:42
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    One of the authors having access to an open access agreement with the publisher if they are corresponding author could also be a reason to select this author as the corresponding author. – Earthliŋ Jan 4 at 17:31
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    Er, is there confusion between "author to whom correspondence should be addressed" and "corresponding author", the latter being the one that handled the journal submission process i.e. the correspondence with the journal editor? – Lou Knee Jan 4 at 23:56
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Just ask your institution whether they can provide a stable email address. Many institutions provide you with several email addresses. One of these may be stable: when you leave, emails sent to it will be forwarded to you new institution. The stable address is not always the main address, so it is worth checking in advance.

Three of the four institutions I have been affiliated with propose this.

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The university work at provides an email forwarding service they promise will never be cleaned. It's not the prettiest email, but it does work, and you can forward it to any other email you want. My guess is several other universities offer this as it's a minimal cost and fixes this kind of issue.

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  • But how do you manage this long-term, as you move through postdocs? If you have ten such aliases do you redirect them all for every new gig? Or daisy-chain them and hope that not one of them fails? – Lou Knee Jan 6 at 22:33

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