Using social networking to breakdown research silos

On September 4, a group of collaborators at Harvard launched a new website called Catalyst that is publicly available. I encourage you to visit it.

This site is remarkable in many ways. It brings together all the people, lifelong learning, and resources for the Life Sciences across Harvard and its affiliates.

In the People area, you’ll find social networking for the research community called Profiles.  It not only shows traditional directory information, but also illustrates how each person is connected to others in the broad research community.


When you view a person’s profile, three types of information are displayed:

1. Managed DescriptionsThis is the typical information listed in a research profile, including name, titles, affiliation, phone number and email address. Faculty can edit their own profiles, adding publications, awards, narrative, and a photo.

2. Passive NetworksPassive networks are formed automatically when faculty share common traits such as being in the same department, working in the same building, co-authoring the same paper, or researching the same topics (as defined by the “MeSH” keywords assigned to their publications). The passive networks a person belongs to are shown on the right side of the page when viewing a profile.

3. Active NetworksActive networks are the ones that users define by choosing collaborators, advisors, or advisees. Currently, users can manage their own networks. In the future they will be able to share these lists with others.

The website is open to the general public. However, people with a Harvard Medical School login can access additional features, such as “active networking”, described above.

All data shown by default on the website is currently available on other public websites, but Profiles integrates the data in novel ways. Directory information was obtained from the Harvard White pages, and publications and keywords were copied from PubMed. If faculty had previously entered awards and narratives in the Faculty Affairs CV/Promotion management application called FIRST, then that information can be displayed on this website, but only if those faculty approve it. Default photos are from Harvard IDs, but faculty must also approve the use of those before they are shown on this website. Lists of co-authors and similar people are derived automatically from publications, and the “department” and “neighbor” lists are determined automatically from directory information.

Keywords, co-authors, and list of similar people are derived automatically from the PubMed articles. Keyword rankings and similar people lists are based on complex algorithms that weigh multiple factors, such as how many publications users have in a subject area compared to the total number of faculty who have published in that area.

Breaking down silos in the research community at Harvard via social networking is a great first step toward catalyzing research acceleration. You’ll see many new features and functions on this new website over the next year, so stay tuned

John D. Halamka, MD, MS, is Chief Information Officer of the
CareGroup Health System, Chief Information Officer and Dean for
Technology at Harvard Medical School, Chairman of the New England
Health Electronic Data Interchange Network (NEHEN), CEO of MA-SHARE
(the Regional Health Information Organization), Chair of the US
Healthcare Information Technology Standards Panel (HITSP), and a
practicing emergency physician. He blogs regularly at Life as a Healthcare CIO.

Categories: Uncategorized

Tagged as: , ,

8 replies »

  1. This may be the best thing to come out of the CTSA grants. It would be great to see how many publications come out of these networks after a couple of years.

  2. You mean tenured Harvard scientists are supposed to acknowledge that other tenured Harvard scientists exist and may actually produce something of value? 400 years of academic tradition may be crashing to the ground. 🙂

  3. My appreciation of both the need for and potential of this sort of “cross-fertilization” has been sharpened since my daughter began attending Georgia Tech this year and I’ve been perusing their website. There I learned, among other things, that researchers have been able to magnetize ovarian cancer cells with the aid of nanoparticles and remove them from the body with a magnet(oversimplified). The vast potential of contributions of engineering to medical research had not been something that had occurred to me before. I hope there can be additional forums beyond Harvard for this important purpose.

  4. Wow, this site seems very much in line with the recent NIH focus on translational research tools. If we can help scientists from different ends of the spectrum find each other in the vast continuum of academic and medical departments, perhaps we can bring discoveries more quickly into the clinic, by matching those with ideas and those with resources at their disposal. The “active networks” section seems especially useful, and is information that might otherwise be difficult to obtain.