In the competitive world of scientific grants, it has always been researcher against researcher and scientist against scientist. And with increasing restrictions on government grants and other sources of funding, the competition is becoming increasingly fierce.
When it comes to discovery, it all comes down to having the best tools, resources and avenues of collaboration, which usually means funding. Essentially, research and discovery comes from those with the means to explore an idea, not necessarily the ones who have the best idea.
Slowly, however, the tide seems to be turning as a new generation of scientists and researchers has taken hold and embraced the plethora of social media tools at their disposal. Many such scientists and researchers have taken to web sites like Kickstarter, IndieGoGo and RocketHub to fund their creative projects.
This initiative and ingenuity demonstrates the growing creativity and entrepreneurial spirit of the science and research communities.
Further, social networks are being embraced by scientists and researchers not only to raise funds, but also to collaborate and “crowdsource” through a medium that expands the boundaries of similar in-person methods employed decades ago, significantly reducing the time to discovery. Social media sites not just a means to raise funds; they are increasingly becoming an integral tool in the research process.
The evolution of the scientific process has taken a giant leap forward – and at just the right time. With increased financial pressure in academia and fewer grants being offered, scientists have been forced, for the most part, to abandon the old competitive way of scientific discovery.
From students to Nobel laureates, the worldwide scientific community is changing. And from theory and testing, to funding and discovery, the process of research is changing. Connectivity, collaboration and crowdsourcing are the keys to success in the new scientific and research communities.
Time and again, we see medications marketed for a disease, disorder or discomfort. They were created to improve the life of a targeted group of people. However, months and, most of the time, years later, additional testing and trails reveal that either it is not working as intended or that it has multiple uses and can help with other ailments in a different group of patients. If collaboration were embraced in the development of these pharmaceuticals, could the time from introduction to elimination or expansion been reduced?
Gone are the days when Edison found a thousand ways a light bulb doesn’t work while slowly plodding along in his laboratory. With the primary goal being discovery, researchers are sharing with the greater scientific community, which ways don’t work, in addition to the experiments that were successful.
This new social process epitomizes the educational cornerstone of research and discovery. People from innumerable occupations are finding new partners and new guides by way of social media.
Educational tools such as Teachbook are filling the void left by budget cuts and increased pressure on teachers and school systems. Having access to a free venue where ideas are explored and project outlines are shared is an invaluable asset to those trying to become better in their profession and, in this instance, trying to improve the world around them, one student or scientist at a time.
Whereas the antiquated collaborative structures allowed for peers to meet up sporadically throughout the year at conferences, expos and symposiums, the right social media site is a 24/7 forum for discussion and collaboration.
Many sites in a variety of different disciplines, whether education or science, business or finance, writing or advocacy, are providing the manna that sustains those in need of education and collaboration. What it comes down to is finding the right site to fit a researcher’s needs, exploring that site and using it by openly asking and answering questions in the community. This is the mark of teamwork in a truly give-and-take world.
This new method makes one wonder about previous advances and discoveries that took decades to come to fruition. What if the competing teams had worked together to find a solution? What if it was the scientists versus the disease, the cancer, the equation, the problem? How much time and effort could have been saved?
In our web 2.0 society, just as the business world has adapted, so too can the scientific community benefit from true collaboration and growth through social media.
Ijad Madisch is co-founder and CEO of ResearchGate, the largest online network for scientists and researchers, with more than one million members. He earned his M.D. and Ph.D. in computer science at the University of Hannover, Germany, where the focus of his doctoral thesis was in the field of virology, specifically, the molecular typing, evolution and gene therapy vector design of adenoviruses. He spent close to two years as a researcher at the Massachusetts General Hospital, a division of Harvard Medical School in Boston where he devised the idea for ResearchGate in 2007.
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