Research done more collaboratively with LiveLabSpace

Ask any researcher and he/she will tell you that you cannot do much without collaborations. Often, academic collaborations will start after meeting someone at a conference, or perhaps because you know someone down the hall with the right expertise. This type of ad hoc interactions limits the size of the collaborative networks that researchers engage with often rather small. And with less diversity of expertise and opinions, investigators (and especially the younger ones) are more likely to start less ambitious and risky projects.

Citizen science platforms where anyone can join to help with research projects have been gaining traction over the past few years. But the same approach could be also applied to scientific projects opened by researchers for other researchers. This way, ambitious research questions could be formulated by research groups big and small or even directly by research funders and industry and welcome contributions from the international scientific community. Anyone with proper accreditation or references could then contribute to the project and get proper recognition for solving part of the questions.

This year, Simon Bond has released LiveLabSpace, an online platform that could help start tackling this exact problem. LiveLabSpace is a cloud-based platform that helps manage collaborative research projects. Through its friendly graphic interface, project managers can define various research questions and tasks that need to be addressed. Then, every collaborator can upload data, write descriptions and comments about their results and the results of others. Of course, the projects do not necessarily need to be made public. Private projects can make good sense for the large-scale international project that already counts many participants or project with sensitive confidential information.

Other platforms like the Open Science Framework are also attempts at bringing scientists to collaborate on a common virtual space. But what is the difference between these platforms and an electronic lab notebook (ELN)? In my opinion, ELNs and collaborative research platforms are not so different and will eventually merge into unique platforms. At this time, tools such LiveLabSpace put the focus on project management, providing the information you need to track the history of the project, to get an overview of the results, and take appropriate decisions to drive the project forward. At this time, these collaborative platforms do not truly allow to go into the detail of single experiments like ELN can.

I have not met anyone in my academic network using such tools yet. My guess is that user-friendliness is a key issue. It is, however, much more common for users to recreate their own equivalent cloud-based workspace using a combination of tools, such as share cloud storage space (Google Drive, Dropbox…) combined with collaborative writing tools (Word online, Google docs, Overleaf) and communication tools (Skype, Hangout, Slack…). Obviously, these have their limitations and an integrated system dedicated to scientific projects could potentially make a much better option. For instance by standardizing the tools used by the collaborators and making it easy to open projects to external contributors. Let’s see how LiveLabSpace does! You can start now with free public projects without needing to register. And feel free to provide feedback to its creator.

Community-driven discovery of scientific tools with LabWorm

Labworm_logoThere is now a vast ecosystem of digital resources for researchers at our disposal. Digital tools for researchers, science blogs, and databases are a few examples of how the digital revolution can help researchers be more efficient on a daily basis. With this wealth of resources, it is can be easy for researchers to get lost and miss out on important trends. For instance, which blog can help me understand a problem I have been pondering about for days, or what tool can make me write papers with my colleagues across the globe?

Sorting out the the digital resources for researchers is of course not an easy task. Here at Connected Researchers, we manually curate a list of tools, selecting only those specifically designed with researchers in mind. Another approach is to crowdsource this effort, relying on a community to both find and sort interesting resources. Reddit and others have proven the power of such an approach.

Tool Profile Page on LabwormLabWorm is a platform to discover and share digital resources for researchers. The platform is based around a community of tool users (researchers) and the tool developers. Each tool or
resource has it own profile page, with a short description and links to the website and other related resources. There is also a space for discussion, where you can give feedback about your experience or ask questions to other users and the tool developers. LabWorm allows you to up-vote those you like, create collections that you can share with your colleagues, and discuss the tools directly on the site.

There are several ways you will discover new tools on LabWorm.

  1. Every week, LabWorm highlights 5 top voted tools, helping you discover a new tools that your colleagues find useful.
  2.  Similar tools are indicated on tool profile pages. For instance at the bottom of Authorea’s profile page (a collaborative writing platform), two other tools appear. Overleaf, one of Authorea’s direct competitors, and Paperpile, the reference manager for google docs.
  3. Personalized recommendations. Based on the tools in your collection and on your upvotes, LabWorm finds other tools you might be interested in.
  4. Browse by categories and use the search bar. LabWorm sorts the tools by categories and associates tags to each tool, which allows you to search by keywords.
  5. Browse the collections of others. Other LabWorm users have collected their favorite tool and are sharing their collection with you.

Labworm_Screeenshot_1

LabWorm’s social-orientated features and crowdsourcing approach has the potential to quickly curate a large number of researchers’ favorite tools. It could come as a great complement to sites and blogs such as Connected Researchers, which are focused on raising awareness around digital tools for researchers by listing them and placing them in the context of the every day life of a researcher.

Going beyond impact factor to evaluate researchers with Profeza

ProfezaFor many reasons, journal impact factor and number of publications are not good metrics to assess the quality of a researcher’s work. But regardless of their increasingly bad reputations, these metrics are nearly invariably used to take decisions about recruitments of researchers, their promotions, and funding their projects. The obvious reason why nothing has changed over the years is because there are no other easy way to judge the quality of a researcher and his or her work.

We ask a lot of researchers. They must be great at scientific reasoning and have bright insights but also be able to properly communicate with their teams, with the scientific community, with the general public, and with industrial partners. They also need to be able to network and work within teams, to manage projects and people, to teach, and to write skillfully in a language that is often not their own. It is easy to see that we would need a multitude of alternative metrics to properly evaluate the various aspects of the day-to-day work of researchers. 

Profeza is a young startup that would like to provide decision makers a better overview of the work of researchers. It has launched a social journal that allows researchers to showcase the divers aspects of their work by sharing the rational of experimental design, the failed hypotheses, as well as raw data, repeat data, and supporting data that would otherwise often go unpublished. For Profeza, each scientific article is only the tip of the iceberg, standing on a immense amount of work. 

Profeza’s interface is simple and clear. First, find the publications you authored through Profeza’s search engine. Profeza’s is currently using the Pubmed database and is thus better optimized for researchers in the biomedical fields. Then in three steps you are prompted to add information to the publication:

1. Select the publication you wish to add information to.

Share contributions2. Describe your contribution to the paper and invite other authors that may not be in the author list but should get recognition for their involvement in the work.

What contribution

3. Add information. You can add text and files containing the details about the rational of design, failed hypotheses, raw data, repeat and supporting data. This is a great way to help others in your field by tell them about your failures or negative results.

Additional data

The end result is a personalized page for each article containing the additional data and information. The page gives a better picture of the work that went into the publication and provides an insight in the short term impact of the articles by displaying altmetric data. 

I think Profeza is addressing a real problem head-on. The success will of course depend on the willingness of researchers to spend time formatting and entering the information and datasets. But if institutions are willing to play along, then the incentives would be in place and a more adapted evaluation system could emerge. These are still the early days. Profeza was founded in 2014 and expects to roll out new functionalities in the near future.

Also check out this well-crafted video from Profeza which gives a nice background on journal impact factors and the problems associated with them.

SJfinder gets a serious update

SJFinder logoA group of scientists and technologists from Stanford University (US) and KU Leuven (Belgium) launched SJFinder in 2013 to help researchers find the right journal to publish in based on the title and abstract of their manuscript. Since then a number of new functionalities have been added to the site. The idea is to offer a collection of tools to researchers to give them more control over their networking and communication. 

Rate Journal SJFinder

Rate journals on SJFinder

Beyond the journal suggestions, SJFinder now also allow you to rate journals based on their reading and submission experiences. In an ideal world, submission would be chosen not on impact factor, but 1) on the traditional readership of the journal (if any) and 2) on the quality of the service provided by the publisher (i.e smoothness of peer review process, delay from submission to online availability, metrics on article, promotion of article).

SJFinder also helps you discover the literature, like other tools out there. In this case the simplicity of the user interface is especially appealing. Simply click on the fields that most interest you, and SJFinder will generate a list of the latest papers in that field. You can also subscribe by journal, but I personally think there something nice about exploring the literature by field and not by journal. Perhaps it is because it makes me less journal-biased and make it more likely to stumble upon interesting works and concepts.

map SJFinder

Find labs by exploring a map on SJFinder

To help you find new collaborations and showcase your work, SJFinder rolled out two other functionalities. First, an interactive map helps you find research labs anywhere in the world. You can brows the labs by research fields, location, or by keyword, and explore the map. You can also easily add your own labs to the directory. The benefit of having a world-wide database of lab displayed on a map is pretty clear to me. I would use it to find new local collaborations. Sometime a hallway is enough to separate groups that would otherwise collaborate wonderfully. Or to find laboratories that I could easily go visit while at a conference.

And second, SJFinder launched a drag-and-drop website builder to let you build a website for your lab. This will makes it possible for the many researchers with limited resources of time and capital to create a website and showcase their work. It might sound almost old fashioned, but in my mind a website is a must for any research group. This, along with other similar tools, are great way to get started at building your online presence.

Outsourcing experiments made easy thanks to Science Exchange

SE_Logo_LargeScience Exchange is an online platform to find the best contract research organization (CRO) to help you in your experiments.

Why Science Exchange?

Science is an increasingly collaborative endeavor. The problems tackled by today’s researchers require a variety of expertise, skills, and scientific equipment. Although large research institutions usually find the necessary collaborations and technical platforms, smaller labs can struggle to find the expertise or instruments they need.

Several online platforms are now trying to connect researchers to their peers and to experts of all sorts to facilitate collaborations (to learn more, go to the Digital Tools for Researchers list). Science Exchange is one of these platforms. Founded in 2011, it connects researchers with research service providers and an impressive selection of over 1000 assays. The service providers range from core facilities of academic institutions to startups and biotech companies.

I need help on an experiment, how does this work?

Simply start by searching the type of service you are looking for. Say I want to analyze a protein sample by Western Blot, but am not equipped in my lab. The search “Western blot” returns over 30 service providers, with various prices, number of positive reviews,  and time to delivery.

ScienceExchange search

A list of providers that offer Western Blot analysis services.

Click on the providers’ storefront and you’ll find all the info you need to make the right choice: a description of the company or lab, the type of service offered, the number of services previously performed, and reviews of previous users. Select a few that seem to fit your needs and ask for a quote. You can then directly communicate with the provider to get the order through and arrange the logistical details.

Science Exchange Storefront

The Science Exchange storefront, you will find all the information you need to choose the right provider, including ratings and reviews from previous users.

Science Exchange is democratizing outsourcing in academia by acting as a facilitator. They take care of the painstaking steps involved in such collaborations. This includes helping you find the service you need, setting a price, and helping with the financial transaction so you don’t have to deal with the billing department of each provider you work with.

Turning your lab into a CRO?

Science Exchange welcomes private and academic labs to join them by opening a storefront. This model is quite common for private company, used to retail storefronts such as ebay and amazon. But for academic labs this could be a game changer. At no cost, the lab can showcase its expertise to researchers around the world, and offer services for a fee. The labs increase their national and international visibility and get an extra revenue stream.

Academic labs are still far from the virtual biotech model, but many academic labs do see value in outsourcing part of their work instead of doing it themselves or looking for more traditional forms of collaborations. For instance, the choice of outsourcing is often valid for the one time experiments that require outside expertise, or when complex ISO standards need to be followed.

With the increase in outsourcing, research institutions and funding agencies need to realize that an increasing part of research will now be contracted out of labs. Academic labs in particular will have to design policies that accommodate the mismatch between the teaching mission of many research institutions and the race for research results of the highest quality. Outsourcing experiments could mean fewer opportunities for PhD student to learn new techniques. And acting as a provider could mean spending more time doing out-of-context science for others instead of being creative on their own. But it could also give students a great feeling of productivity and an insight of the business side of scientific research.

In the meantime, Science Exchange is growing. It is listing US-based service providers only but do have long-term international intentions.

Publish and Network on the ScienceOpen plateform

Screen Shot 2014-01-22 at 9.30.33 PMA quick note to say I’m adding ScienceOpen in the list of online tools for researcher.

The platform qualifies itself as a “Research and Publishing Network”. It is an open access publisher, inviting members of the ScienceOpen network to  review submitted papers.  ScienceOpen then opens it up to all researchers with a ORCID and has at least five publication to further comment on the article after publication. At the moment it is referencing over 1,000,000 open access articles from various open access databases. ScienceOpen also included a networking component, to share papers, open discussion groups and collaborate with other researchers.

ScienceOpen is a start-up company based in Berlin (Germany) and Boston (USA). Learn more about ScienceOpen here.

 

Scholrly goes live – search and connect with the experts

Scholrly_logoI came across Scholrly the other day while browsing through twitter. Although the bright green logo was an eye-catcher, it’s their innovative approach to literature-search that got me really interested. I spoke with Corbin Pon, co-founder of Scholrly to know a bit more.

During his undergrad at Georgia Tech, Corbin did a bit of research in academic labs. He quickly understood that there is a lack of good online tools for researchers, and came to the conclusion that web2.0 technologies could help solve challenges of modern research. One thing that striked him in particular was how difficult it could be for researchers to identify and connect with specialists that are outside of their field of expertise. Since multidisciplinary project are becoming the norm and connections between fields of science are more frequent, there is a clear need a better way to connect scientists.From this observation a team was assembled and Scholrly was born.

Scholrly is a search engine that puts the emphasis on people, more than on articles. Type in keywords, and along with the publications, profiles of important authors are also displayed.

Scholrly_ScreenShot

The screen is divided into two halves, one for the publications and the other for identifying the major actors in the field investigated.

We want the user to reach out to the researchers, to email them” says Corbin. And indeed the tool is geared towards building connections and relationships between scientists. Scholrly automatically gathers information about the authors such as publications, affiliations, co-authors and impact-metric. Most importantly Scholrly will provide the contact information you need to, follow-up on an article, ask for a reagents or start new collaborations.

The site has been in private beta testing for more than a year, with around a thousand users providing them with feedback. Since January, Scholrly is live and entered a public beta testing phase. The search engine is optimized for the computer science field, but will soon fully integrate other fields. Corbin explained that this step by step development is essential since it is important to consider particularities in the culture of different fields.

Thinking ahead, Corbin explains that they are developing several potential business plans to sustain their venture. They see their main value as being the connections created between users. They also hope to attract a new and slightly more lucrative audience than professors, graduate students and postdocs. Companies, in particular pharmaceutical and biotechs are turning more and more towards academic research to find their next blockbuster products. Scholrly will connect them with researchers and help them find innovative solutions to their problems. A service very close to what tech-transfer offices are doing in many universities and research institutes.

Scholrly is up against giants like Google and Thomson Reuters, but comes with a fresh look and a new approach. They realize there’s a brand new space for online tools for researchers, ready to be explored. Lets wish them good luck for this new year to come!

ResearchGate takes over ScholarZ

ResearchGate, the 2-million user social network for researchers is taking over ScholarZ, an online collaboration tool and reference manager based in Würzburg, Germany. The acquisition was announced by both parties through their blogs and a press release.

The press release explains that “Scholarz.net will be discontinuing its services come January 10, 2013. The platform’s users are requested to back-up all files they have stored on scholarz.net and to open a new account at ResearchGate. A simple to use export tool has been provided.

This might be the beginning of what may be seen as a necessary consolidation trend in an industry that saw a great number of competing sites pop up over a short period of time, with many providing similar services.

Social networking sites for researchers

This is a first of a series of posts that will list the web tools and services specially tailored for researchers. The lists will be included in a static page as well.

Part I – Social networking sites

Social network sites seem to come in at least 4 different flavors: site that offer tools to manage your references, tools to increase your online presence and ease networking, tools to exchange and engage in new collaborations and more site that are specialized in specific scientific fields. Keep in mind that this classification is not exclusive since all have overlapping functionalities.

Reference managers orientated:
  • Mendeley –  2 million-user mark passed in 2012
  • CiteUlike – Sponsored by SpringerLink.
  • BibSonomy  – Initiative from the University of Kassel, Germany.
  • Connotea  – Sponsored by Nature Publishing group
  • Zotero – Great open source reference manager
Networking orientated:
Social exchange orientated:
  • ResearchGate – The 2 million-user academic social network
  • MyScienceWork  – Soon 5 languages for this European orientated network.
  • UnitedAcademics – Connects science to society.
  • Colwiz – Collective Wizdom from Oxford (UK)
  • Labroots – Pioneer int the science social networking site business.
  • BiomedExperts –  Bringing experts together
  • AcademicJoy – A more personal approach to research
Specialized social network:

There are probably many more out there. Please feel free to comment or contact me if you know of any that are not listed here.

Who’s on ResearchGate?

A very interesting post on the  Research Gate social website for scientists ask, “Who are the users of ResearchGate?“.

To this day, there does not seems to be clear statistical data disclosed by ResearchGate or any other research orientated social networking sites. This makes it hard to judge what kind of impact these sites have on research.

So, are these sites only populated by young technophile scientists?