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The Art of Collaboration

12 Nov

[The following is my monthly column for the November issue of the UMCCTS newsletter.]

One of the goals of the UMCCTS is to promote and facilitate collaboration across departments and disciplines, thus effectively reducing barriers between the basic and clinical sciences, and ultimately speeding the pathway between the discovery and implementation of new treatments, therapies, and the like that improve health. One means of demonstrating collaboration is through co-authorship. The networks that develop between authors of publications give us a picture of how individuals are connected and where collaborations exist.

Social network analysis is the process of investigating social structures through the use of network and graph theories. It characterizes networked structures in terms of nodes (individual actors, people, or things within the network) and the ties or edges (relationships or interactions) that connect them. (Wikipedia, Social Network Analysis

For this month’s column, let’s look at an example of a social network analysis that shows the co-authorship relationships between members of the Division of Health Informatics and Implementation Science in the Department of Quantitative Health Sciences (QHS). QHS is one of the newest departments at UMMS, with several of the senior faculty arriving on campus only about 6 years ago. The research that the Department does in developing innovative methodologies, epidemiological research, outcomes measurement science, and biostatics is integral to the nature of clinical translational research. By examining the co-authorship relationships of members of the Health Informatics group, we get a snapshot of how well these faculty members are connecting with other departments, other disciplines, and even other institutions. In short, we see how and where collaborations have developed and thus how well the UMCCTS goal of building them is being met.

To do this analysis, we first need to identify all of the publications authored by at least one of the Division’s faculty members for the period of time that s/he has been part of the Division, as well as all of the unique co-authors associated with these papers. In doing this, I found 221 publications authored by 716 different individuals. Using Sci2, a toolset developed at Indiana University, I was able to analyze the patterns and create a visualization showing the connections between the co-authors.

Informatics Division CoAuthor Network

One thing that we clearly see is that several faculty members are prominent hubs in the network, meaning they co-author many papers with many people. Drs. Houston and Allison are the most obvious examples here. We can also see that a number of branches grow from the periphery. At the base of each of these is a faculty member from the Division (counterclockwise from upper right, Drs. Cutrona, Hogan, Shimada, Mattocks, and Yu). Finally, we note that even hubs that are less connected to the clustered middle, e.g. Drs. Yu and Pelletier, are still linked, representing the reach of the collaborative network that the Division has formed over the past years.

Tools like Sci2, Scopus, SciVal, and ISI Web of Science provide another way, i.e. a visual demonstration, of the success of our programs and the impact of the translational science being done by the members of the UMCCTS.

Sci2 Team. (2009). Science of Science (Sci2) Tool. Indiana University and SciTech Strategies,

Share and Share Alike

1 Oct

One of my favorite books from the past few years is Austin Kleon’s, Steal Like an ArtistI’ve mentioned it in several previous posts (search “Austin Kleon” on the site and you’ll find them), mostly because I continue to pop back to it on a regular basis. It’s filled with plain, simple, good thoughts to inspire your creative side. I also follow Austin on Twitter. Awhile back, he declared that he was going to shift from immediately tweeting out lots of ideas, project updates, and interesting things he came across online to putting them all in an indexed version that he’d send out via his Tumblr account on Fridays. Of course, as soon as I saw this announcement I signed up for his email list and ever since, his Friday email to me has become something that I look forward to.

My new role as an evaluator finds me doing a lot of things that I’m hard pressed to chronicle as I once did for my work in the library world. In part, I think it’s because I spend a great deal of time learning new things and/or putting newly learned skills into action. It takes time and energy that ultimately takes away from my abilities to come up with interesting musings for this blog. That said, I’m not about to give up my blogging habit. It means too much to me. After lots of thinking about how to revitalize it, the thought came to me to take Austin’s advice and steal an idea … from him!

Thus, I’ve decided to shift the pattern of own blog a bit – at least for awhile – and turn it into a way to share with you, my readers and followers, some of the cool and interesting and inspiring and, dare I hope, helpful things that I come across weekly in my work and play. So here we go … here are a few things from the past several weeks (I’m cheating already, but it’s the start of a new thing and thus allowed). Enjoy!

  1. It only seems fair that I give a tip of the hat to Mr. Kleon to start. Besides his books, I also enjoyed watching the video from a terrific talk that he gave to an audience at Google a few years ago. It’s a wonderful summary of his theory on stealing and some inspiring words to anyone seeking to get out of the way of themselves when it comes to creativity.
  2. Juice Analytics is a data analysis and design firm in Atlanta that provides visualization services to businesses and organizations. They also freely offer a number of great resources for learning these skills, including white papers, video tutorials, and the book, Data Fluency (not free, but well worth the $21.59 price tag for my Kindle version). One of the best resources on their freebie page is “30 Days to Data Storytelling,” a guide to … well, it’s pretty self-explanatory, isn’t it? It’s a list of videos, tutorials, articles, etc., a few a day for 30 days, to help you understand how to use data to tell your story. Good stuff.
  3. Back at the end of the summer, just as school was ready to gear up, Slate published a series of blog posts during one week under the banner, What Classes Should I Take? The list is fascinating and the posts very well written. Two that I liked in particular were, The Secret Technique for Learning How to Code: Step 1. Don’t Be Intimidated, by Victoria Fine, and What are the Odds: To Learn to Think Critically, Take a Statistics Class, by Laura Miller. These two are most relevant to anyone in the library, information, or evaluation worlds. I also found the advice to take Art History, Public Speaking, and No Class at All, quite valuable. The entire series was great.
  4. The Noun Project – Icons for Everything – is pure awesomeness. A gazillion free icons to drop and drag and plop into place OR inspire you to make your own.
  5. One thing that I do often in my job is doodle pictures to tell the story of a particular group of researchers or a research center. Fancy word, infographics. Since I started sharing some of these on this blog and other places, several colleagues and friends have asked for advice on tools to use to make them. I tend to draw my own in Illustrator and/or Powerpoint, but there’s a handy list of 10 Free Tools for Creating Infographics on the Creative Blog website.

Finally, I think I’d like to add one consistent thing for each of these lists/posts. I’m going to call it, What’s On My Desk Right Now. Right now, it’s this:

Visual Storytelling

Visual Storytelling: Inspiring a New Visual Language, edited by Klanten, Ehmann, & Schulze, and available through Gestalten. I learned about this book after stumbling upon an interview with Jonathan Corum, the graphics editor for science at the New York Times. He’s one of many featured in this book and I can’t wait to dive into it. Now. Lunchtime reading!

Illustrated Podcasting

2 Sep

My podcasting workshop last night wasn’t quite all that it was advertised to be, but I definitely learned a lot and feel pretty prepared to tackle the task. I was hoping to leave the class with a finished and distributed episode (per the course description). I like classes and workshops that promise such. It wasn’t to be, but for the $17.50 fee, plus the bonus of catching up with my friend, fellow librarian, blogger, beer connoisseur, and baseball lover, Dan, before, it was more than worth it. I sketched my notes, per usual, and share them here. And soon, catch the podcast I’m going to create!





For those keeping track of my office supplies, these sketchnotes are drawn in a FieldNotes brand ruled memo book, carried in my “never go anywhere without it” handmade “Everyday Carry” cover, with a refillable Pentel EngerGel pen that I’ve managed to hang on to for several years now. I hope that I never lose it, as both Rosanne Cash and Amy Dickinson have used it to pen a few words to me. It’s a treasure.

January 9th – ALREADY?!

9 Jan

It’s a good thing that I didn’t make any New Year’s resolutions related to my personal writing, because I’d have to report a failure already. That said, the CTSA grant proposal that everyone has been working ’round the clock on for weeks now is very close … oh so very close … to being put to bed, which in this case means submitted. And then I’ll be able to start focusing on how to approach doing the new job that I’ve been hired to do. Up until now, I’ve only been writing what I’ll do. Next stop, figure out how to do what I said I’d do. I’ve already joined the American Evaluation Association and signed up for one of their upcoming coffee break webcasts.

An aside… I think the idea of coffee break webcasts – 30-minute weekly sessions that focus on a particular topic, led by different members of the organization – is a TERRIFIC idea. I know that I belong to a few organizations that are struggling to define and/or create the real benefits of membership and such a simple thing as a regular, free, short-and-sweet-yet-interesting webcast is just that sort of thing.

For today, I at least wanted to send up a post with a few fun things I’ve come across over the past couple days/weeks – some delayed candy canes, if you will:

  • The Spudd – it’s The Onion of medical and pharma news. Hilarious. I discovered it just this very morning, thanks to a hilarious post shared on Twitter by my friend, Dean Hendrix. 
  • How Reddit Created the World’s Largest Dialogue between Scientists and the General Public is a very good blog post by Simon Owens. I’m fascinated with scientific communication and, in particular, efforts to bring the scientific community together with the general public. We are a scientifically illiterate culture at our own peril. I love what’s happening on this online community and so I’ve set up a Reddit account and plan to follow along for awhile. 
  • Finally, for anyone curious about public health and/or epidemiology and NOT interested in returning to school ever again <hand raised>, I came across an on-demand course from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I confess that I’ve signed-up and failed at several MOOC’s, mostly because of timing. I’m really happy to find a relevant, on-demand one and hope to work through it soon. I have a feeling that doing a course on my own, at my own pace, and at my own convenience will work well for me, especially now as I juggle all of the new tasks of a new job.

Back to the grindstone here. Happy New Year to all of my readers and followers! You make blogging fun.

My 3 New Year's Resolutions for 2015. No progress yet!

My 3 New Year’s Resolutions for 2015. No progress yet!

FlipQuiz: A Great New Teaching Tool

24 Sep

I’m teaching Health Sciences Librarianship for the University of Rhode Island’s Library and Information Studies graduate program this semester. Sometimes, I think we can learn as much being a teacher as we do being a student. In this case, I’ve been learning to use a number of new tools, new concepts, and new ways to teach online, and for distance learners. I’ve had to read a lot of theory and try out a bunch of resources and it’s still only September!  Fortunately, I think my students are both patient and open to the trial and error of my learning. 

This week, I discovered a terrific new tool that I want to share via this blog. I think others will find it pretty useful, too. If you’re a fan of learning via games (as I am), give FlipQuiz a try!


Feel free to click on the game board and play, but don’t share answers with my students! :)

Follow the Leader

17 Sep

I read a really interesting post on the Harvard Business Review’s blog yesterday titled, “Convincing Employees to Use New Technology.” Any regular reader of my blog knows that I’m fascinated with new technologies, behavior change, and the intersection of the two. I’m particularly interested in how they come into play in science and in libraries, the two places where I spend my working hours. For all that technology has done to reshape both of these areas, I continue to be amazed at how reluctant many scientists and librarians are to try new things and adopt them into their work habits and processes. Despite a growing body of evidence that helps us see which tools work well and which don’t, what behavior changes improve efficiency and which create distraction, and how we can more effectively advance our information dissemination, sharing, and networking, many still say, “No thank you!

The post from HBR hits on several reasons that might explain the reluctance, not the least of which is the lack of investment companies or organizations or institutions place upon adoption of these tools. 

The real return on digital transformation comes from embedding new work practices into the processes, work flows, and ultimately the culture of organizations. But even in cases where the value of adoption is understood, cost containment often takes over. Faced with limited budgets, companies focus on the most tangible part first – deploying the technology. Adoption is left for later, and often “later” never comes. (Didier Bonnet)

I’ve observed this pattern on multiple occasions, but one of the clearest was when I was working on a study involving the use of Twitter to help people lose weight. The idea was that the microblogging service could be used to develop a free, easy to access, online support group that could supplement in-person meetings of people in a weight loss group. What we learned, though, is that unless people are already active users of Twitter, we needed to build in time and effort to help participants develop behavior patterns around communication that involved Twitter. Without this, we were really seeking two behavior changes instead of one, i.e. behavior changes around diet and exercise, as intended, but also the adoption of a social media tool. (See “Tweeting it off: characteristics of adults who tweet about a weight loss attempt,” Pagoto et al, Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, 2014 Jun 13.)

I’m sure that you can think of your own experiences where your organization or department or library or university implemented a new intranet or new personal profile pages or a blog. “It’s a GREAT IDEA!,” everyone thinks, but then lacking much motivation or incentive to contribute to it, the new, great idea slowly finds its way to the big cloud of wikis that went nowhere. Over time, we become jaded and cynical and whenever we hear someone suggest the next newfangled new idea, we immediately think, “Yeah, right. Like that ever works.

Yet, recognizing this, I think the HBR post hits on a fact that can, in time, truly make a difference in the adoption of tools:

Lead by example. You can influence the transition to new digital ways of working by modeling the change you want to see happen – and by encouraging your colleagues to do so. For instance, actively participating on digital platforms and experimenting with new ways of communicating, collaborating, and connecting with employees. It is the first important step to earning the right to engage your organization. Coca-Cola faced huge challenges when it deployed its internal social collaboration platform. Only when Coca-Cola’s senior executives became engaged on the platform did the community become active. As the implementation leader put it, “With executive engagement, you don’t have to mandate activity.” (Didier Bonnet)

From the Journal of Cell Biology. Used with permission

From the Journal of Cell Biology. Used with permission

One of the scientific communities doing a lot of leading here is the neuroscience community. When I began working on the neuroimaging project, I was thrilled to see how active this community is online. They have well-developed data repositories, online journals, information portals, and resources for cloud computing. (See NITRC, as an example.) They have an awareness of and openness to the ideas of sharing; to moving their science forward by using the tools that make sharing so much easier today. Indeed, I was brought on to the neuroimaging project to help improve a few processes along these lines.

And then this morning, I saw an announcement of another new online tool launched for the neuroscience community, this one an extension of the Public Library of Science’s (PloS) Neuro Community, a site on the platform, Medium*, “created as a collaborative workspace for reporting news and discussion coming out of this year’s Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting on November 15–20, 2014.” Moving past “simply” tweeting a meeting, the Society instead is thinking ahead and building a place for openly sharing, contributing, and reflecting before the meeting happens. And it will be successful. You know why? Because those who initiate these tools in the neuroscience community are the leaders of the community. They have been a part of their past investments, seen the pay off, and thus continue to invest more for the future.

We need this same kind of leadership in libraries, in the Academy, and in other areas of science. Those of us who see and/or have experienced the value of implementing new technologies into our work need to be fairly tireless in banging the can for them. We need to continue to lead by example and hopefully, in time, we will all reap the rewards.

*I’ve become a big fan of Medium over the past months as a place to keep up with a lot of interesting stories on the Web.

Match Game

9 Jul
One of my all-time favorite shows of the 70s, The Match Game!

One of my all-time favorite shows of the 70s, The Match Game!

I found out yesterday that a friend and colleague has accepted a new job and heading off to a different city, different library, different adventures. For a long time, I looked at job announcements. Sometimes I still do, particularly when they pass across social media sites (Did you know that Queen Elizabeth is looking for a librarian to oversee her personal library?) or on professional listservs (It’s hard to ignore a job opening in France – the cafes, the coffee, the atmosphere. Tres bien.) But I don’t actively seek out the sites that post jobs and I don’t think about the possibility of doing something else. I do have a mobile coffee cart that I’m working on – a 3-wheeled bike that I’m outfitting to sell coffee at festivals and farmers markets – and on occasion I play in a band, but those things are fun. I have no dreams of quitting my day job to do either of them full-time. 

And that, folks, is a first. 

I have worked at a whole slew of different jobs ever since I was 15 years old, earlier if you count mowing lawns and babysitting. I earned a bunch of degrees at a bunch of schools, always trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my vocational life and thinking that if I only had the education, I’d be all set. For the past 8 1/2 years, I’ve been a librarian. Like putting together your fantasy team, it looked good on paper, me and the library. We were a good match. I love libraries (their physical forms) and research and looking stuff up. I love the feeling of finding an article or a citation or some quirky fact or figure that eludes most others. I love looking, looking, looking and going down all of the many paths of the many things that you come across while you search. I love having a whole brain-full of trivial facts; the result of browsing through so many different subjects. I love that I do well on “Jeopardy!” (at least in the comforts of my living room).

Still, even after a number of years being a librarian, I could find myself too regularly wondering what it might be like to work in another library, in another place, in a different discipline. I eventually came to accept the fact that this was just my nature. I’d always be a little unsettled in work.

I also always believed that promotion was the way of success in a library. Like lots of kinds of work, I just assumed that I’d start off at one level and then work my way up, accepting more responsibility along the way. Libraries are fairly flat organizations, at least the ones I’m most familiar with, and so you basically move from being a librarian to being some kind of administrator. If you’re really good, you become a library director.

A few years into my career, I figured that’s the path I ought to pursue. Things worked out in my library that I got a supervisory role, overseeing our Research and Scholarly Communication services. I was the head of a group, even if the group consisted only of two or three people. It was a step in the upward direction. 

But despite that “right path,” I found out that it wasn’t me. I’m not much of an administrator. Some of this I learned pretty easily. Some was more than a little difficult and took a good bit of a toll over time. Eventually, I began to think that it was time for me to look for something else. I just figured that I’d reached that time – like lots of other times before – where it was time to try something new. Time, time, time. Time’s up.

I began to look at job ads. I began to look around my own campus at other opportunities, places and positions where I could maybe use the knowledge that I had, but do something different. I thought about applying to be a project manager or project coordinator. I thought about how I could persuade a research department of the benefits of having a project manager who also knew how to be a librarian. Think of how they’d never again have the headaches associated with NIH Public Access compliance. They’d never have to worry about calling someone from the library to help them with difficult searches or bibliographic management. I could manage projects AND do that. That’s what I was thinking. That, along with job opportunities in really fun cities.

But then fate struck (better fate than lightning). The supplemental grant awards for informationist services were announced. My library director thought we needed to apply for one. As the story goes, we did, we got an award, and I got a new job. Bing-Bang-Boom. Kind of.

I’m not sure that my library director has always known what to do with me. I can admit that I was probably something of a frustration from time to time. What do you do with a librarian that doesn’t quite fit the mold of the work that needs to be done? What do you do with an employee who you know is always kind of feeling a little out of place? What do you do when skills and interests don’t match with the usual progressions and/or promotions? These are the kind of questions that directors and administrators have to struggle with, which might be why I’m not very good at it. I don’t have that much patience.

Fortunately, I do have a director who saw an opportunity and who said, “I think that you’d be really good at this.” Doing this job meant that I had to give up the supervisory role. It meant that I had to accept that my best skills don’t lie in the areas that will lead me up the promotional ladder. But it really is okay, because while I might not be going up any traditional ladder of success, I’m finding the kind of success that I really can’t imagine I could find in any regular route. I feel like I get many of the benefits of working as a solo librarian, without having to leave the nest altogether. I can be entrepreneurial without having to risk losing my health insurance and retirement. I can gain a whole lot of new colleagues without having to leave behind old ones.

In many ways, I’m working the same way that researchers and project managers and analysts and others on the research teams work. It’s the best of both worlds. Everyone is a team player, but with somewhat subtle differences from being on organized teams within a larger structure (like the library). Everyone is also a bit of a renegade. It reminds me of Russell Crowe’s character in that movie where he plays the cop who takes down Denzel Washington, the drug dealer. He’s a really good cop, but he doesn’t work so well with others, that is until he finds the right “others.” When that happens, he ends up leading a pretty formidable team. 

Now I’m no Russell Crowe (I don’t look nearly as good in a skirt, gladiator or no), but I do think that I work for a few people who are like him. Or at least like that character. The PIs I’ve come to know and work for over the past few months are people who need to do their own thing. They can work within a set of guidelines, but they’re all freelancers, a bunch of really smart and inquisitive people who want to figure out the answers to a lot of questions that interest them. And to do that, they build teams of people around them who, I think, might be kind of like them. They look for people who complement their skills, while also matching their personalities.

Library directors do this too, though they might not always have quite the latitude and flexibility of the PIs. Over time, a library can take on the personality of its director. It can certainly follow the directions and interests of him/her. Two of the library directors that I respect most are my own, Elaine Martin, and Jean Shipman, the director of the Eccles Health Sciences Library at the University of Utah. They couldn’t be much more different in terms of their outward personalities and they each have different passions in terms of the services and directions that they want their libraries to provide and go. But they are both extremely successful and effective in their roles. 

In the same way, I see all sorts of personalities and visions and work styles and leadership styles and more in the different researchers that I’ve come to know. Principal investigators who have successful labs and studies build good teams around them; teams made up of people who match what they need. (As an aside, both Elaine and Jean are PIs on major grants from the National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.) It really is a lot about finding and/or making the right matches.

And all of this is a really rambling way of saying that if and when we’re lucky enough, persistent enough, stubborn enough, and/or any combination of these, we can find the right position where who we are and the skills that we possess match up with someone else’s needs and skills and personality. I also think that this particular phenomenon (for lack of a better word) is really difficult to define and quantify, and as such makes it hard when it comes to telling anyone how he/she/they might find success in this informationist role. People ask, students ask, colleagues ask, other library directors ask, the grant funders ask… but as of yet, I’m not quite sure what the answer is. I do know, however, that I’m for once not even thinking about what another job could be like. This one is pretty great every day. 



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