Social Networking for Academics: An Interview with Ijad Madisch, CEO of ResearchGATE

Stefanie PankeBy Stefanie Panke
Editor, Social Software in Education

ResearchGATE was founded in May 2008. The platform aims to create an international network of scientists and has been quite successful so far. ResearchGATE has 250,000 members worldwide and grows with a rate of approximately 1000 new member registrations daily. The features are targeted to a scientific audience, for instance, supporting the “self-archiving” of publications.

For ETC Journal, I interviewed Dr. Ijad Madisch, the platform’s co-founder and CEO. Ijad spends most of his time in Boston, where he works as a radiology researcher at the Massachusetts General Hospital of Harvard Medical School. He studied medicine and computational science at the German University of Hannover and the Harvard University in Boston. He received a summa cum laude for his doctoral thesis on virology and was awarded the 2008 doctoral research award from the University of Hannover.

The interview offers a look behind the scenes of a social networking start-up.

Dr. Ijad Madisch, co-founder and CEO of ResearchGATE

SP: Please describe the purpose and main idea of ResearchGATE. Does the character of the Web site reflect the academic background of its founding fathers?

IM: ResearchGATE – scientific network is a custom designed online platform and community where researchers and scientists connect with each other to communicate and collaborate: increasing efficiency, interdisciplinary collaboration and the overall effectiveness of research. The academic background of the founders was the driving influence for the Web site. As active researchers, scientists, and programmers we were seeing how the concepts of web 2.0 were changing the way we use the Internet, and we wanted to apply this to the world of science where we felt there was an opportunity to build a new kind of online science community.

SP: How has the platform evolved over time? What were important milestones?

IM: By listening to the needs of researchers and scientists, the platform has evolved to be a dynamic and active community with over 250,000 members. Important milestones include Self-archiving and supporting the open access movement, the Research and Science Job Board and our last innovation, a community generated Research blog, which comes with a new concept, so-called “microarticles.”

SP: How does social networking in general and ResearchGATE in particular fit into your everyday working routine? Has it changed your approach to teaching and/or research?

IM: Social Networking is both a part of my daily life as a researcher and doctor. I can find collaborators easy and fast by searching for individuals with specific research skills. This allows me to be efficient in keeping up with researchers and colleagues in and around my field, and I am able to easily search for papers and articles that are relevant and current. Social networking allows me as a teacher and researcher to manage literature, to make contacts in my field, to join online discussion groups and to discuss lecture topics with a student group.

SP: Who are the typical users of ResearchGATE? What are the benefits for teachers and students?

IM: Our typical user is someone who is involved in some aspects of research, be it academia or corporate. If we focus on the educational context, benefits for teachers and students include: custom built semantic search, literature organization, suggestions for relevant papers and contacts to subject experts, the ability to form specific discussion groups, share documents online, access full-text papers that have been self-archived by other ResearchGATE users, keep up to date with science through our news site.

SP: What should be my first steps to get involved? Can you describe a beginner’s scenario and the pathway to becoming an expert user of academic networking?

IM: Let me give you a brief overview, those interested in more detailed information should check out the ResearchGATE Help.

Obviously, the first step is to sign up for an account on ResearchGATE. All you need is an email address. Then, fill out your profile information, including a list of publications, associations and research interests. A good way to create more interest in your profile page and increase the visibility of your academic achievements is to self-archive your published papers. One you have done that, it is time to show and tell: Add other community members as personal contacts and invite your colleagues to join you on ResearchGATE. To find new contacts, join groups and participate in discussions which are relevant to your field of research. In addition, you can search for relevant papers and add them to your online library where you can efficiently manage literature. The next step of community building is to create your personal ResearchGATE blog to share your ideas, comments, experiences and science news with your followers or try our new feature and write microarticles about your published work.

SP: ResearchGATE is quite unique in its support of the open access movement. Can you describe how specifically the platform’s open access components work?

IM: ResearchGATE encourages members to support the OA movement by self-archiving their published work through a simple process of uploading a full-text version of their paper. This is part of the “Green Route to Open Access” as many publishers allow authors to self-archive a version of their work on a personal Web page. Each ResearchGATE member profile acts as a personal Web page. This makes the open access publishing being in accordance to publishers’ guidelines. As well, our self-archiving platform is connected to Sherpa Romeo, which will automatically list the self-archiving guidelines for the specific journal the member’s work appears in.

SP: Why is open access important to you as a medical researcher?

IM: Open access is extremely important to me as a medical researcher – often important papers require expensive subscriptions to online publishers. Depending on the institution you’re associated with, you may or may not have access to these papers. I think the kind of information that is held in research papers should be easily accessible especially in the medical field where doctors and researchers need to be aware and up to date on the latest theories and findings.

SP: How do you foster interaction with the members of the ResearchGATE community?

IM: First, we are encouraging members to join groups and discussion related to their research – ResearchGATE automatically recommends groups that might be relevant to the individual user. Second, we support discourse by providing members with the option of starting a personal blog and involve themselves in discussion on other members’ blogs. Our users can upload and share research findings and results, and they will receive personalized recommendations to check out resources provided by other members who work in the same field or have similar interests.

SP: Let’s talk about your business model. So far, is ResearchGATE a success?

IM: ResearchGATE is a great success for us so far. Our business model is based on slow but steady growth. It is important to us that areas of revenue are aligned with the community goals. We are focusing right now on the career section: job market information, job opening alerts, résumé postings, etc.

SP: When you look back on almost 20 months of running an academic social networking platform, what are your personal lessons learned? Would you do it again?

IM: First, business is about friendship: Don’t believe that your friends can’t empower you. Friends give more honest advice than consultants, support your cause with greater passion than any employee, and are more likely to tell you when you screw up than any business partner.

Second, if you have a clear goal, you’re more likely to reach it: Don’t get distracted by the bumps along the road but focus on the big picture. What is it that you really want to accomplish? Once you’ve set your mind on something, you’re halfway there.

Third, the wisdom of the crowds is more powerful than you are: It’s easy to think that you have some unique intellect that’s given you an answer the rest of the world disagrees with, but chances are, you’re just wrong. When groups of intelligent, dedicated people focused on the topic at hand build a consensus, chances are they really have arrived at the best decision, even if it’s not the one you would otherwise make.

Fourth, embrace community and listen: Too often companies and their employees boast about how customer-centric they are, but they really aren’t. If the customer is the cornerstone of your company – as they should be – you should be building a community among your customers that enables them to influence product development. Let them lead your company as if each customer is a key executive.

Would I do it again? I would absolutely do it again!

3 Responses

  1. ResearchGate writes: “Although many institutions have [institutional] repositories [they]are frequently underutilized, often because of lack of funding.”

    Slight correction: Repositories are not underutilized because of lack of funding (they hardly need any funding at all). They are underutilized because of  lack of a deposit mandate (requirement). However, the number of institutions mandating is now beginning to grow significantly. See ROARMAP

  2. […] Earlier I mentioned that both as ResearchGATE recently implemented a job board where organisations and companies can post vacancies. The owner of ResearchGATE explains that “Our business model is based on slow but steady growth. It is important to us that areas of revenue are aligned with the community goals. We are focusing right now on the career section: job market information, job opening alerts, résumé postings, etc.” (source) […]

  3. How does ResearchGATE compare with

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