Game-Changer for Researchers: Study.com Speaks with Mendeley's Jessica Mezei

Jun 16, 2011

Study.com recently attended the OpenCourseWare Consortium (OCWC), a gathering of educators and professionals interested in the availability and application of free online instructional material known as OpenCourseWare (OCW). There we met Jessica Mezei, Community Liaison for Mendeley, a new social networking platform designed to help researchers create and disseminate their work.

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By Eric Garneau

jessica mezei

Before coming to Mendeley, Jessica Mezei graduated from Teachers College at Columbia University with an Ed.M. in Science Education. She's currently enrolled as a full-time Ph.D. student at Columbia and also works part-time as Mendeley's Community Liaison, helping to spread the word about this innovative new social network that could change how researchers collaborate and share their information.

Study.com: How did the idea for Mendeley first come into being, and when was the software released?

Jessica Mezei: The idea for Mendeley stemmed from three German Ph.D. students (Jan, Paul and Victor) and their shared frustrations with organizing PDF documents and references. While they loved pursuing their degrees, managing, sharing and discovering academic literature was a constant struggle with the tools available to them at that time. They wanted to find an easier way, so they decided to solve the problem themselves by building a better platform.

As students, they happened to all be users of Last.fm, a famous social music service, and they loved how that application organized music and analyzed the underlying data to match people to new music. They soon realized that they could apply the same principles to managing PDFs and other research content. So they set off to build what has come to be essentially a 'Last.fm for research.' Mendeley is now the world's largest research collaboration platform that helps users organize their research, collaborate with others online and discover new research by delivering recommendations based on the user's personal library. They even brought in the former executive chairman of Last.fm as an investor.

The company was founded in November 2007 in London. It's since grown to about 40 researchers, scientists, graduates and open source developers from a variety of academic institutions spread across two offices in London and New York, as well as employees in California and Canada. The first stable beta version was released at the end of 2008, and we're now close to getting out of beta and releasing version 1.0. Mendeley is constantly developing; you can keep up with what's being updated by reading our release notes.

Study.com: Mendeley uses the term 'academic social network' to describe its software. What do you think that means for students so familiar with trappings like Facebook and Twitter?

JM: There've been various attempts to create a 'Facebook for Researchers.' With Mendeley, however, it's important to note that the social network emerges based on the research data and content the people are using, not necessarily because they transfer already existing relationships into the virtual world. Mendeley allows real-time social discovery because users interact with content; they can find each other and additional content because of that interaction. They don't necessarily need to have a very extensive public profile.

Those who use Facebook and Twitter like being connected to others and getting real-time updates. Mendeley applies these principles to research. It allows you to create groups to share research with colleagues, but also to invite new contacts to collaborate. It also recommends potential new contacts based on research interests specified not only in profiles but also based on implicit behavior, such as what papers are being read by whom. You can post a copy of your publications on your profile and get real-time readership statistics. As with many social networks, there's a news feed to keep you updated on what your colleagues are doing and what's going on in your research network.

Mendeley incorporates social networking features into the way a researcher already works. The social networking is supplemental to the work researchers do. Technologies and applications like Mendeley that are able to seamlessly fit into users' lives will enable them to be more productive in their research.

Study.com: How does the Mendeley software allow for collaboration between researchers?

JM: Mendeley allows users to create, collectively curate and share research collections and collaboratively highlight and annotate documents, publicly or privately, and share those annotations. All activities in the groups you're a member of appear in your personalized newsfeed, with the ability to comment on items, so you're always on top of what's going on in your network. You can also write papers as a group, inserting citations into your word processor from a shared (and thus consistent) bibliography. The free Mendeley account allows users to create five private groups of ten people each. Private groups do not appear when searching Mendeley.

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Public groups allow users to share research collections and discuss topics of interest with the entire Mendeley community. They can be open or invite-only. In public groups, only references are shared, not entire documents, and there's a news feed for group member comments. One way a researcher builds their network is by adding group members to their personal network. There are over 80,000 groups on thousands of topics at Mendeley Web.

Study.com: Have you found that any subject areas are more popular than others?

JM: With roughly a million users contributing almost 90 million documents, Mendeley has created the world's largest open research database. The sciences (e.g. biology, chemistry, medicine, etc.) have emerged as one of the strong areas, followed by computer and information science, engineering and social sciences. These disciplines are traditionally PDF document-heavy. We also see increasing adoption in, for example, the humanities. Popular topics mirror what's popular in the wider academic world, with classic papers such as the sequencing of the genome or the research from Brin and Page that laid the foundation for Google.

Study.com: What benefits do you think Mendeley can bring to the educational world?

JM: Mendeley's a productivity tool any researcher can use to supplement their workflow. It's also a human-curated real-time research database, which is a very powerful resource for educational researchers. Those doing research within education can benefit from using this tool not only while conducting their research but also in disseminating it. As the Mendeley network grows, the statistics become even more interesting and meaningful and recommendations become more relevant.

More broadly in the field of education, open initiatives and access to information have been hot topics. Mendeley's goal of opening science aligns with initiatives like OER. Mendeley can provide access to scholarly information, whether it's recommending a citation or granting access to a paper that's been uploaded by one of the many users. You can embed documents from a group, your profile or your publications into your blog or departmental Web page. It's a great way to show the power of collaboration in academia.

Mendeley also encourages the community to get involved. Changing research by opening up the world's knowledge is what we're all about. In two weeks, we're hosting Hack4Knowledge (June 11th and 12th). It's a 2-day event that features lightning talks and API presentations by Mendeley and some partners, as well as a 2-day hackathon! This event feeds into our larger API Binary Battle to challenge developers to use our data and create new apps.

You can be a part of shaping where Mendeley is going. The Mendeley Advisor program is our global network of advisors who help us spread the word about Mendeley, serve as the local expert, host Mendeley-related events in their area, and provide valuable feedback and insights from the academic community back to us to make sure we continue to develop the most relevant tools and features for our users. Interested users can get more information and apply here.

Interested in more ways research is being revolutionized? Check out the Directory of Open Access Journals.

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