The quality of articles in Wikipedia has grown tremendously in the last few years. A "good article" requires a big list of necessities, including coherence, readability, comprehensiveness and credible references. As such contributing technical articles requires academic merit, good explaining skills and mastery of the subject.

  • How much value is being accorded to doctorates' contributions to Wikipedia during faculty recruitment?
  • Since, on paper, a Wikipedia article should exposit an article lucidly to a (relative) fresher in the field, can Wikipedia contributions be taken as a partial measure of one's teaching abilities?
  • How effectively could one list his/her Wikipedia contributions?
  • 3
    I doubt you can claim authorship on wikipedia articles, since the point is that they are community edited. However, Scholarpedia is a good analogue to wikipedia (in fact using MediaWiki) that retains authorship. – Artem Kaznatcheev Jul 26 '12 at 1:03
  • 6
    Authorship in the traditional sense, no; significant contributions, yes. Every Wikipedia article has a public edit history, which describes exactly who contributed exactly what. – JeffE Jul 26 '12 at 13:10
up vote 14 down vote accepted

Contributions to Wikipedia (or Stack Exchange) are best viewed as community service. Like other kinds of community service, significant and sustained contributions can have a positive effect on hiring and promotion decisions. The effect is not likely to be major, unless maybe your outreach efforts rival Neil DeGrasse Tyson's, but it won't be zero.

Edit: I have to agree with Anonymous Mathematician's warning. Significant community service of any kind is best offered after tenure. Unfortunately, some people view significant service (or teaching) accomplishments as prima facie evidence of a lack of research focus. (Indeed, the case that I'm familiar with was a post-tenure promotion.)

I have never heard of any weight given to contributing to Wikipedia for any aspects of academic evaluation. I personally wouldn't attach any weight to it either, especially given that many articles have a long history of edits and figuring out exactly who contributed what can be difficult.

If you want to include this on your CV or similar, I would mention it under "Misc." or "Other" or something like that. If you have made significant contributions to other similar sites (e.g. stackoverflow) I would put that into the same paragraph. I would definitely avoid trying to make it appear as one of the major things you have done. Wikipedia is regarded rather suspiciously in general because it can be an unreliable source. While contributing to it could be a bonus, it won't be a significant one.

  • 5
    I have heard of significant weight being given to Wikipedia in at least one fairly recent promotion case; the person in question has a long history of significant contributions, recognized repeatedly by the Wikipedia community itself. – JeffE Jul 26 '12 at 0:11
  • Wikipedia as an unreliable source is a mindset problem. From the time adequate references were made compulsory for good articles, I can sense a significant improvement in the overall reliability. – Bravo Jul 26 '12 at 3:47
  • 1
    @JeffE, that's interesting. Could you give some more detail on what kind of promotion it was and how Wikipedia contributions were relevant? – Lars Kotthoff Jul 26 '12 at 7:56
  • @LarsKotthoff Here's a blog post about such a case. May well be the one that JeffE had heard about. – Daniel Mietchen Mar 18 '15 at 2:31

As an addendum to Lars's answer above, academics place a high value on peer-reviewed literature and professional activities (book chapters, conference proceedings, invited talks, professional workshops you've taught). Non-professional activities, such as being cited in the popular press and appearances on TV and radio shows are nice, but usually aren't big factors... such invitations are only given to those who are big in their field, which itself comes from professional activities and publications, so they're not needed to make a judgement. Personal activities such as volunteering in your community are simply measures of your character. Blog postings and Wikipedia editing would fall in that category for the reasons he states.

One area not mentioned is being the maintainer of a popular analysis/experimental package used by researchers (e.g., MNE, FieldTrip, SPM, or Psychtoolbox; there are hundreds of others in different fields). These activities will be looked upon as being a contributing member of the community, and are nice to demonstrate, but ultimately have a small weight in the final decision.

There are definitely cases where Wikipedia contributions have helped someone's academic career (like this one). However, I think it's exceedingly rare at major research universities.

Once you have tenure, it's worth looking into this. Then your department is already stuck with you, and they are likely to be somewhat more flexible in evaluation. For example, full professor promotions can be quite a bit less rigorous than tenure cases, and they are sometimes approached from a perspective of "Professor X has been a good departmental citizen and put in their time. We want them to be promoted to full professor eventually, so what basis can we find for justifying the promotion?" (This can happen even in departments that would never consider approaching a tenure decision that way. The big difference is that people who don't get tenure leave, while people who are stuck as associate professors may hang around the department feeling bitter for decades.) If you've done some unusual community service, then that might be when the university decides to recognize it.

However, I'd be wary of doing more than briefly mentioning Wikipedia before tenure. It's just not respected or valued by many professors, so the downside is greater than the upside. A lot of hiring isn't based on totaling up some sort of abstract value for the different parts of the application. Instead, it's based on an overall feeling you create of being a desirable colleague. If anyone rolls their eyes and wonders why you waste your time on something, then that will actually hurt your chances. If 20% of the department reacts this way, you've got a real problem.

  • Once you have tenure, that is, never. – Stefano Borini Jul 27 '12 at 9:35
  • @StefanoBorini: It's not exactly never, but getting academic credit for contributions to Wikipedia won't be a relevant short-term issue for most people. I don't think it's realistic to expect it will help with getting a faculty job or getting tenure. (Maybe it should, but that would require changing academia, which is itself a long-term project.) – Anonymous Mathematician Jul 27 '12 at 12:01
  • What I am saying is that tenured positions are becoming the exception, rather than the norm. Academia works mostly on disposable scientists. – Stefano Borini Jul 27 '12 at 12:28

I agree with Lars: contributions to Wikipedia will receive zero weight. It may even hurt you if you try and emphasize this too heavily on your CV, because it will suggest that you are attempting to compensate for lack of more traditional accomplishments.

If you want to get credit for expository writing, write survey articles, and try and get them published, or at least post them on arxiv. Survey articles also won't count very heavily as "publications", but will certainly count towards evaluating your skills as an expositor. A good survey article in a field lacking in one may accumulate many citations as well.

  • 3
    I disagree; see my comment above. ε may be close to zero, but it's not zero. – JeffE Jul 26 '12 at 0:12
  • you can also post them to wikipedia-like sources like Scholarpedia. I agree with @JeffE that they are unlikely to give you zero or negative weight. – Artem Kaznatcheev Jul 26 '12 at 1:21
  • We may disagree on the 0 vs ε, but I'm upvoting just for the second sentence (it seems like compensating for lack of other achievements). – Federico Poloni Dec 22 '14 at 7:45

Your Answer

 

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.