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Tracing Scholarly ‘Fingerprints'

Powerful new tool connects the dots to Northwestern Scholars and collaborations

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April 11, 2012 | by Stephen Anzaldi
Northwestern Scholars
An example of a researcher network. Connections are revealed by hovering over individual points in the network.

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Where does a Northwestern University student looking to get involved in research turn for ideas? Or a faculty member seeking a new collaborator? Or an administrator evaluating key areas of expertise for strategic planning? Or what about a member of the public who simply wants to get a quick fix on who is doing what at Northwestern? 

Northwestern can easily provide the answers with the powerful new tool called Northwestern Scholars. The site presents easy-to-track information with comprehensive profiles of individual researchers at Northwestern and beautiful diagrams that map connections with collaborators and others at the University and beyond. 

A user interested in arthritis, for example, can search the term to discover scores of Northwestern researchers whose publications or grants are in some way associated with the illness. The broad search can be expanded to include non-Northwestern scientists. Or the search can be refined by adding terms to home in on specific concepts within the study of arthritis, such as disorders afflicting different body areas, patient age distribution, associated drugs and costs of the illness.

“Northwestern Scholars will have a profound impact on the work of students, faculty and staff,” said Northwestern Provost Daniel Linzer. “By creating scholarly ‘fingerprints’ of each faculty member, this new tool takes a comprehensive picture of scholarly activity on campus and off. We expect it will create new opportunities for collaboration across schools, disciplines and institutions.”

When drilling down to a specific researcher, the user can browse individual profile pages to see a list of that person’s research interests, the journals (including links to the abstracts and full text) in which he or she has been published, coauthors and similar experts. A timeline filter illustrates exactly when, over the course of a career, the researcher worked on a specific topic. And the visual maps of connections with collaborators are presented through diagrams that can be manipulated a number of ways to provide information. 

“Northwestern Scholars fills a huge need for students,” said Peter Civetta, coordinator of the undergraduate research grant program. “Students are very interested in getting involved in research, but two stumbling blocks get in the way. They don’t know who is working on their topic of interest, and they can’t pinpoint the relevant literature.” 

Managed by the Office of Human Resources and the Office of the Provost, Northwestern Scholars is part of the Faculty and Staff Information System (FASIS), the University-wide data management system formerly known as Human Resources Information System (HRIS). The publication data are collected in an automated fashion, using Elsevier’s Scopus database. Grant data, research interests, and other scholarly accomplishment data are collected from existing Northwestern databases and by user-input. These are combined with the open-source VIVO system to create a novel implementation that crosses disciplines and works with all of the University’s schools and business units. 

Northwestern Scholars is supported in part by an NIH Clinical and Translational Science Award to the Northwestern University Clinical and Translational Sciences (NUCATS) Institute.


Who is included in Northwestern Scholars?

  • Tenure-track faculty
  • Emeritus faculty who are still working at Northwestern
  • Research and clinical faculty at or above assistant professor working at least 75 percent full-time
  • Continuing lecturers at the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences
  • Academic full-time faculty at or above assistant professor
  • Contributed services faculty at or above assistant professor
  • Library faculty with publications

Data sources for Northwestern Scholars

  • Appointments from FASIS
  • Publications automatically retrieved from SCOPUS (this includes PubMed)
  • Current grants from InfoEd, Children’s Memorial Hospital and Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago
  • Research interests and other information from schools
  • Patent data from the INVO office (coming soon)
  • Core facilities information from the Office for Research
  • User input: research statements, additional publications, books, artistic works, education, committees, awards, honors, etc.
Topics: University