MED Researchers’ Latest Networking Tool
BU Profiles shares expertise, spurs collaboration
Imagine a LinkedIn for academic researchers only, and you’ve got the general idea behind BU Profiles, a web-based research networking system aimed at helping researchers build a professional network and find expertise and connections that can supercharge collaborations. The system, which launched on the Boston University Medical Campus in February 2012 as part of its Research Networking Initiative, now includes more than 2,000 researchers. In a second phase, a pilot test of BU Profiles with biomedical researchers on the Charles River Campus will take place this year.
“Typically, investigators network with other faculty interested in similar topics or build a research team of overlapping areas of expertise through their own institutional knowledge or by using search engines like Google to peruse a variety of websites,” says Deborah Fournier, Medical Campus assistant provost for institutional research and evaluation and a School of Public Health clinical associate professor. “BU Profiles takes that time-consuming process and integrates this information to make it effective by surveying the full spectrum of expertise of our BUMC faculty and postdocs. It also makes it easy for the public to learn more about BU and the caliber of research that’s done here.”
The networking system, which helps researchers find collaborators and mentors, evaluate research trends, and survey the scientific community, is a BU-branded implementation of Profiles Research Networking Software (Profiles RNS). Funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and developed by the Harvard Catalyst using MEDLINE literature, it has been made available to National Clinical and Translational Science Awards Consortium members at no cost. More than 45 other US research institutions have tailored the open source software to meet their needs. On the Medical Campus, the effort was guided by the BU Profiles Working Group and Advisory Group, comprising faculty and staff. Information Services & Technology staff members in these groups played key roles in ensuring the successful introduction of the network.
“Making research networking easier is an important way to support our investigators,” says Fournier. “It enables them to find connections between researchers across our schools and the global network in ways that can catalyze new partnerships and cross-disciplinary opportunities.”
Fournier points to a recent NIH grant application, for which a group of investigators who wanted to respond to the request for applications used BU Profiles to find a rank ordering of 82 faculty members with relevant expertise and were able to quickly assemble a team to plan and write the proposal.
To further enhance the potential for external connections, MED and Boston Medical Center recently provided hundreds of links from BU Profiles to the NIH’s RePORTER (Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tools) database, which allows the public to search through NIH-funded research projects and access publications and patents resulting from NIH funding. BU is the first institution to connect the two databases, which makes it easy for principal investigators to add links from RePORTER to their faculty page, professional profile, biosketch, or lab website, allowing others to learn more about their research. Now, wherever a BU researcher’s name appears in RePORTER, it is linked back to their BU Profiles page.
Also, says Fournier, BU investigators will soon be offered participation in the ORCID ID Initiative, a national registry that creates automatic links to their scholarly work and funding. Each profile takes publicly available information and integrates it into a searchable portfolio that shows contact information, PubMed publications, grants, coauthor networks, research topics, honors and awards, and other BU investigators with similar interests.
“Profiles are automatically populated each month with new publications from PubMed, NIH grant awards, and appointments to ensure information stays updated,” Fournier says.
Research networking also provides a way for PhD and postdoctoral applicants and trainees to find mentors, faculty to search for relevant panel members and advisory board expertise, and monitor the career outcomes and pathways of researchers.
Fournier says the next phase of the initiative, its implementation on the Charles River Campus, will start with the College of Engineering, because of the predominance of biomedical publications. Administrators will then examine its expansion into other disciplines and schools.
This BU Today story was written by Kira Jastive.