April 18, 2015

A Proto Social Network for African Scientists

I have recently started volunteering with TReND, an organization that seeks to empower scientists across the continent of Africa with education, tools and services. For instance, check out their recent article on 3D printing open source labware; this stuff is a total game-changer for disenfranchised communities, or even for independent labs on a tight budget.

On top of this type of economic aid, TReND also seeks to help foster the burgeoning scientific community in Africa. Long distances and high rural populations in many African countries means that connections with like minds are difficult to initiate. André, Tom and others at TReND are working to address that problem.

A solution

Enter TReND-links, an offshoot of TReND that seeks to provide a platform for scientists across the African continent (or indeed, worldwide) to share their research interests and contact information with each other.

If nothing else, the service could give participants of TReND workshops a convenient way to contact one another once a workshop is over.

After speaking with members of the TReND community, it emerged that there was a previous failed attempt at creating this platform, and thus some hesitancy to give it another try.

I had a look at the previous site, noticed a few areas that could be improved, and whipped up a prototype with Github Pages that was well-received by the TReND community.

How it works

TReND-links is, at its face, a user-friendly, searchable database of scientists.

A user can type a discipline, say “computational neuroscience”, in the search bar, and immediately see scientists they may want to collaborate with.

Going further, the user can click on the name of an interesting scientist and receive a full profile on that person, complete with contact and academic information.

The signup process is just as easy. A scientist need only fill out a single form, and the profile and database entries are generated automatically.

(For a detailed look at how TReND-links works, check out this article).

Future

With TReND-links available, geographically disparate scientists can initiate contact with one another, providing the buds of a relationship that have the potential to grow into scientific collaboration.

With this hope in mind, signing up for TReND-links will be encouraged throughout the TReND community, and at future workshops.

I am pleased with how the service is being received so far, and I am curious to see how/if it will be adopted by budding scientists looking for someone to work with.

In all, if this platform provides the tinder to initiate even one scientific relationship, I will feel it is a success.