UCSF Profiles is an example of a Research networking system (RNS). These systems provide automated aggregation and mining of information to create profiles and networks of the people that make up an academic institution. RNS’s have in effect, become a new kind of ‘front door’ for the university, providing access to the university’s intellectual capital in a manner previously unattainable — i.e. one focused on expertise rather than schools or departments, thus intermingling experts regardless of where they’re officially housed. Against this backdrop, we wanted to understand how such a tool might enhance access to academic expertise by external partners, specifically industry, and improve UCSF’s response to industry interest.
METHODS & RESULTS
To this end, we assessed the usage of UCSF Profiles by commercial entities in the biotech, medical device and pharmaceutical industries to understand both how the tool might be used to enable industry-academic interactions in general, and then get a snapshot for UCSF of the nature of industry interest in our faculty.
We systematically derived a list of 111 unique biomedical-related companies with identifiable IP addresses who viewed individual faculty profiles. In one year, biomedical companies viewed 2,618 UCSF profiles (between July 1, 2013 and June 30, 2014). Profiles were viewed one or more times by one or more users by one or more companies on that list. By Sept 2014, 2318 individuals were still at UCSF representing roughly 35% of all profiles on UCSF Profiles as of September 2014.
We found that researchers were viewed across the spectrum of seniority, with slight increases by seniority from postdocs and residents to assistant professors, associate and full professors. Professors accounted for 53% of the pageviews from companies, and 64% (790 of 1244) Professors were viewed at least once by at least one company during the year. Although Professors were most viewed, a significant number of more junior assistant professors (39%, 381 of 972) and postdocs (31%, 326 of 1055) were viewed. Again, in terms of depth of interest, clearly individual professors got more pageviews on average than junior researchers (professors averaged 6.34 pageviews, associate professors 4.17, assistant professors 3.38 and postdocs 1.39)
We then sent a short email survey to all those that were viewed by industry as defined above in the past year. The survey assessed the following:
- whether the individual viewed had a prior relationship to the company or not, to establish whether the tool was being used to view potential new collaborators for industry.
- why they thought they might have been viewed by industry partners, to get an initial sense of areas of potential interest for industry viewing academic profiles online.
Of 2,304 faculty and trainees who actually received the email survey (no bounces), 718 responded, a 31% response rate. Of those who responded, 237 (33%) had a prior relationship with the company who contacted them. Thus, the majority of views (481 of 718, or 67%) were for researchers that had no prior relationship with the company.
We also asked if the researcher was contacted by the company that viewed them. We found that 230 (33%, the similarity in numbers is a coincidence) were contacted by 1 or more companies. Professors who were viewed had a higher chance of being contacted (27% of viewed professors were contacted) than those more junior (24, 17 and 11% respectively of Associate, Assistant and Postdocs, respectively).
Since our goal was to enable support of faculty to prepare them for industry interest and/or to enhance the chance that a meaningful relationship develop, we were most interested in those without prior relationships. Of the 481 that had no prior relationship, 83 (17%) of these were contacted. Though we do not know how the contacts went, we are working on a process for the industry alliances office to get reports based on these data on a regular basis so they can follow up individually.
ANALYSIS, DISCUSSION & PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS
Finally we analyzed user reports describing their sense of why industry would have been interested in viewing their profile and contacting them. This information provides guidance on elements of user profiles that can be enhanced in the future to improve engagement with industry partners as well as provides insights for follow-up from the relevant institutional office. We categorized responses under one of six buckets:
- interest in research collaboration
- interest in specific technology
- sales or other commercial interest
- don’t know
Not surprisingly most faculty thought the industry interest was based on their research (308 out of 716, 43%), and mostly, they thought, via a publication. Some but only a few thought it arose from their own prior collaboration with industry (63 out of 716, 8%) and a few specifically suggested a specialized technology from their lab could be of interest (22 out of 716, 3%). Many did not know why industry had been interested in their profile (128 out of 716, 17%) providing a key group to help and support in understanding the commercial implications and potential health impact of their work.
A key goal for this project was to enable UCSF to improve how we support the formation of industry-academic collaborations. We worked closely with the institutional offices that manage these relations and want to improve how they identify those that may need targeted help. We discussed tools & approaches and we are working to establish a regular process for reporting to enable this improvement.
- Providing input on emerging scientists with research of value to industry. The junior faculty that did not have prior industry relations are an especially key subgroup that would otherwise not rise to the attention of industry alliances offices.
- An overlay of those viewed by industry with length of time at UCSF could provide a shortlist of those who may have activities of interest for industry collaboration and be less likely to have information about efforts at the university that can facilitate those interactions
- The companies found viewing faculty profiles can be compared to those who are establishing contracts to understand and potentially engage companies that show interest but haven’t converted into specific alliances.
- Programs such as the Early Translational Research program can use regular reports based on the analyses we modeled to send targeted solicitation of research proposals that may require support to advance (often when the faculty member themselves may not be aware of this).
- Programs can use identified faculty who are of interest to industry for focus groups or other forums to further customize programs.
- Detailed company-specific data can be generated to enable the industry alliances office to build more effective partnerships.
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