VantagePoint: Kevin Gardner and Eleta Exline Discuss Elements Research Tool

March 22, 2016

by UNH IT Staff

The University of New Hampshire is a research institution, and as such, tracking the research of its faculty is integral to its mission. Elements is a software system used by research institutions to collect, understand and showcase their scholarly activities, such as publications, grants, and teaching activities. UNH recently introduced Elements to its portfolio of research tools. Signals: IT News recently sat down with Kevin Gardner from the Environmental Research Group, and Eleta Exline from the UNH Library to discuss this new tool, and what is means for the University.

 

Signals:

Tell me about Elements. What does it do? Where did the inspiration come for this endeavor?

 

Kevin:

Elements is a research information system. It's all about the information related to research, like grants that you get to support research or outputs from research like publications and so forth. The inspiration came from a couple different places I think I would say. Number one, faculty spend a lot of their time keeping track of their publications. Something goes out for review, and then it maybe gets revised. It gets accepted, and then at some point you're out there searching for the actual citation information that you need to add to your CV to put in a grant application. It's difficult, it's really time consuming, and yet at the same time there have been the rise of all of these automated systems that are out there, like ResearchGate, that are scouring these kind of sources, bibliometric sources, and pulling that information together for you.

 

 

Number one, faculty were spending a lot of time doing this kind of work that they probably shouldn't have been spending all their time doing. The second thing is that research is a big part of what UNH does, and yet if you asked somebody in a department, "What have people published in your department in the last couple of years?" most people wouldn't know. There's no way to access that information. We don't have ways to keep that current, and we don't have ways to keep it current on our public-facing webpages. Usually that takes initiative for individuals to make sure that, if they get a publication that's now out in press, they need to put it on their webpage, and it just doesn't really happen.

 

 

I think those were the two main aspects, making our research known to a public audience, and making our research known internally to ourselves. A lot of people don't know what other people are doing on campus. Is there somebody that does work in this field or publishes in this area? We don't really have any way to find out except for the regular old web search.

 

Eleta:

I think it's interesting that you mention ResearchGate, and there's other systems out there like Academia.edu that do some similar things to Elements, but they're commercial endeavors and their functionality is limited by the fact that they're commercial endeavors. They would like to collect up the data, repackage it in certain ways, sell it in ways that you may not be interested in having that done, so this provides people a very safe, ethical alternative hosted here on campus and adds additional functionality like reporting and being able to export data that you can't do on some of those other commercial systems.

 

Signals:

How will this benefit the university?

 

Kevin:

There's a few different ways it'll benefit the university. The first way is that it will save people time and effort. There will be one source of information for their research information, and it'll be easy for them to access that. If I want to know about a grant that I got six years ago, that information is in my research profile. Individual researchers will benefit from that. There'll be time savings and it'll be easier for them to know what they've done and to see and understand their profile.

 

 

The second is that it will help our external research profile to the wider world. We're, as many people say, the best-kept secret for a higher institution, and that's not good with our research. Our research has real impacts. It benefits people in the state. It benefits nationally. We create a lot of new knowledge. We find information out about what's happening in space, in the bottom of the ocean. This is information people should know, and people should know that that work is being done here at UNH. There's a lot of benefits that come along with that kind of knowledge.

 

 

I think that those are two of the main reasons. I think the third one that I was thinking about is that there's efforts ... The other place where it's time saving and also is helpful is in the Scholars' Repository in the library.

 

Eleta:

Yeah, absolutely. The Scholars' Repository is a project that's been going on for about three years, and it is a publishing platform hosted by the library where we can republish previously published research or unpublished research, presentations and white papers and that sort of thing. What Kevin and I discussed early on in the Elements project is that there's ways for these two systems to share the publications data. There's data that we have collected that may not be easily searched through the various sources that Elements uses that we can help import, and we can export from Elements to help fill out people's profiles in the Scholars' Repository.

 

Signals:

Is Elements unique to UNH, and if not what other institutions are using this technology?

 

Kevin:

Elements is not unique to UNH. It's a product that we purchased, but it's something that's hosted locally. It's behind our firewall. It's hosted on our own servers, and we have control over that information. The people that sell the Elements software don't have access to our internal systems. It actually began in the UK, I am pretty sure, with a lot higher requirements for universities demonstrating to the federal government their productivity, the papers that they've published, what they've done with the funds that they've gotten from the federal government. That's where it arose, from that kind of higher level of accountability.

 

 

Then they found a ready market in the United States as well. A lot of other institutions have adopted. Dartmouth is about the same timeline as we are. They've adopted it recently. When we were looking at it we talked to individuals at the University of Pennsylvania, in Duke University, and some other universities that have adopted it in the past few years. It is being pretty widely adopted and being used for the same kind of things that we're thinking about using it for, making things easier for faculty to access and making their information more public and more available.

 

Signals:

What are some of the features of Elements?

 

Kevin:

Elements, one of the main features is that it accesses publication information that's publicly available or available through subscriptions that the library has to sources like the Web of Science, to bibliometric sources like Web of Science. It does those searches daily for faculty so that, if a new publication shows up one day, it's in your profile that same day. It also interfaces with the university systems, so the personnel system, so it knows who works at UNH, and the research administration system, which we have InfoEd. It gets fed from these other various sources of information at UNH. It also feeds in other kinds of activities that researchers are typically engaged in, like teaching information. Anything where there's a data source that it could access can be fed in.

 

 

One of the other ones is equipment, for example, where we have large centralized pieces of equipment. For example, the high throughput gene sequencing instrument. These kinds of instruments cost millions of dollars, it's really useful to know how they're being used in research and what types of publications are resulting from their use. The software allows you to link research publications with pieces of equipment and with grants so you can understand what came from a grant as well as some kind of infrastructure like equipment or something like that. All those things can be linked together.

 

 

One other feature that it provides is it knows individuals and so it shows you who your coauthor or your researcher network is. Primarily it does that inside of the university, but the aspect of the project we're working on now is a open source software called VIVO, which is a researcher networking solution. That will connect up researchers here with researchers around the globe, so I could go and discover that there's people at UNH that are working with people in Puerto Rico, in China, in Michigan, and various other places, and I could see and understand and access a researcher network that might be relevant to the kind of work that I do.

 

Signals:

Who is involved with this project? What are some of the key players?

 

Kevin:

The library is a key player, because this is all about information and the quality of that information, I guess I would say.

 

Eleta:

Sure. A big component of Elements is a search system, basically. Kevin: sort of explained it already, that it can search multiple databases that have publication data in them. What it does is it does a very nice job of de-duplicating that information. If it finds the same publication in multiple sources, it combines those records. It throws them all into a pot that is your pending area, and as a researcher you can choose which of those things in the searches are yours and which are not yours and build up your CV based on those that are yours.

 

 

One of the roles for the library is to help facilitate that process of the search. Searching across databases can be kind of tricky because they're set up each one a little bit differently. The search criteria that work for one database may not work perfectly for the next, so the generic search that you input may only find 80% of your stuff, and the other 20% you need a little help refining the search to find. If you've got a very common name, you may find too many items. If you have a very unusual name, you may not find everything that belongs to you. Library people are really good at that sort of searching. That's what we're trained to do, partly.

 

 

The other thing is that we're just really interested in UNH having an accurate record of publications. That helps us in the library to be able to point people to UNH research. It helps us in our projects as well, and just helps us in our mission of getting access to the broadest scholarship that we can and making sure that all of UNH's data is included in that.

 

Kevin:

Just really briefly, a lot of different parts of UNH are involved. The research office was the place where it began, but the provost's office is involved in funding the initiative, and they care a lot about what the faculty at UNH do and what they produce. The various parts of the IT are involved. Our server is hosted at UNH. It needs to be fed with other types of databases within UNH from the InfoEd grant system, from the personnel system, from the teaching related system. There's all these systems that need to be integrated, and there's all these various parts of UNH that I had no idea existed before that are essential to getting this done.

 

 

It's really interesting from that perspective, that there are all these different parts of IT and other parts of the university, such as the institutional reporting and places like that, that either have information or need to be involved in making decisions about the use of that information.

 

Signals:

Thank you both so much for your time today.

 

Kevin:

You're welcome.

 

 

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