Crowd Science Revamps Traditional Approaches to Collaborative Research: How an ELN Can Help


collaborative research
Crowd science recruits public volunteers to support research projects. 
Image Source: Flickr user Gwydion M. Williams

Every year I was in grad school, my research department would take an annual retreat. Each student would present a short overview of their work and then lead a discussion about their project. The idea was to get us all together in a casual setting where we could brainstorm and share ideas. I would always leave the retreats full of ideas and excited to start new experiments. I guess our mentors knew what they were doing. Many times we would come away from the event with new collaborations, even surprising adversarial collaborations that forced us to reevaluate our findings. It’s amazing how scientists can get so focused and specific with research projects, that we fail to think outside the box – something we’re trained to do. But that’s where collaboration can bring us back to the surface and open our minds to new approaches and angles.

Collaboration is an important aspect of research and now with the pervasive access to digital media, some scientists are even calling on the general public to contribute to research projects. This collaborative research technique is called crowd science and relies on thousands of volunteers to provide technical and non-technical assistance in large projects. Though all projects aren’t on the scale of recruiting thousands of volunteers, most projects can benefit from some outside interest and input. Let’s take a look at how bringing more people into the mix can help your projects be successful:

Your project may require a multidisciplinary background

I received my graduate training in a biochemistry lab. I was quite comfortable running western blots and PCR on liver tissue, but when the time came to examine other organs with other methods, I was at a loss. Of course, you can Google almost anything these days and maybe even find a detailed protocol. But even if you’re good at following a recipe, that doesn’t mean you’re qualified to troubleshoot when problems arise (and they always do). So instead of spending several hours trying to work through something on your own, why not solicit the help of someone who has the skill set to help you solve your problems?

Network your way to the answer

It’s hard to get assistance if you don’t know anyone who can help you. And even though networking may not be your strong suit, a little social interaction can go a long way in the world of science – especially with email. I’ve even gone as far as finding an expert’s email address on the web, sending them an email describing my scientific problem and asking for their help. Sometimes it can be as simple as that. Most people want to help, especially in the name of science and education. So reach out and network with other scientists via email, in the elevator or when attending scientific meetings.

A digital platform promotes collaborative efforts

If you are able to set up a collaboration, a digital interface is an ideal, comprehensive option to support interaction. An electronic laboratory notebook (ELN) provides a digital location to share data, annotate notebook entries and exchange correspondence in real time. An ELN can be accessed from a web browser anywhere in the world, with the project administrator able to grant granular access to the notebook based on project and user. With an ELN to help support collaborative research efforts, there is almost no limit to what can be accomplished.

Crowd science just may be the next big movement in collaborative research. And even if you don’t need the help of the public, you can almost certainly benefit from the expertise of scientific collaborators. An ELN can support collaborative efforts to promote project success. Visit our website to learn more about how the BIOVIA Notebook can help collaboration for those in your laboratory.

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