Research Ontology or Find an Expert!

The new publication management system will be introduced over the summer and become the single user interface for academics with their web profiles and such things as BURO.  This project is in syncs with the introduction of the new content management system within BU which will transform our web presence.  As part of both these projects we plan to introduce a ‘find an expert’ function both for internal and external use.  We need to liberate academics to collaborate openly and freely within BU.  One of the inhibitors at the moment is actually finding someone to collaborate with!  So the find an expert function will have real power to help staff find potential expertise within BU with which to work.

The problem is that any such system is only as good as the keywords used to describe each individual’s research; we all refer to ourselves and our work via a plethora of different terms.  A basic ontology of subjects and research fields provides on solution.  Staff pick the words within the ontology which best fits their expertise.  There are lots of research ontology’s we could use as the starting point.  For example the Library of Congress Subject Headings is one of the best with good coverage of all subjects but is very granular for BU.  There are 150 different types of sociology for example!  Another option is the Science-Metrix which has three levels and 176 sub-fields.  This is much more manageable and could be modified to incorporate our own terms such as the ten BU Research Themes.

I would be interested to have your thoughts on this matter.  A list of the 176 sub-fields from the Science-Metrix ontology is shown below.  How would you describe your own research via such a system?  Are there alternative ontology’s we could use?  Your comments and ideas would be very welcome, but soon please since we have to take a decision on this shortly!

4 Responses to “Research Ontology or Find an Expert!”

  1. Kirsty

    Obviously it is very difficult to find a system that encompasses everyone but I believe the Science-Matrix is perhaps a bit too narrow in its focus and may still not help to link people up by specific interests. The Library of Congress at least allows me to select my sub discipline of Occupational Therapy and I have just made a recommendation for them to include Occupational Science in the list too. In the Scince-Matrix I would feel squeezed into a category that doesn’t really reflect what I am interested in. One suggestion could be the option of using both, the S-M as a more overarching one with the other to give a more specific breakdown.

    One thing I noted on both indexes was that they are very subject specific. I think some of us would be more interested in finding is people who are expert (or very interested) in particular research methodologies. These do not appear on these lists.

    Unfortunately I can’t really offer alternative lists of research headings but wanted to share my thoughts.

  2. hschutkowski

    As one of those who suggested to use the Library of Congress list of subject headings I obviously have my preference. I can see the driver for using the Science Metrix subject list, as it is more succinct and therefore maybe easier to use. However, I feel that it is rather blunt and does not allow for the specific detail academics may wish to find when they have to describe their research and expertise. I also find it more convenient to edit down an exhaustive list to what is needed than to work with a list that is restricted to start with. If one purpose of a list is to enable better collaboration and awareness of research strands other colleagues are pursuing, then more detail seems to be better than less.

  3. Julie Northam

    Thanks for these comments. I agree that the Science-Metrix list is too broad for describing research expertise, but am concerned about the sheer vastness of the Library of Congress list! The idea of suggesting the Science-Metrix list was to use this as a starting point and see how this could be added to so that it then contained enough detail to encompass the research areas at BU. But perhaps a better way would be, as you suggest Holger, to start with the Library of Congress list and then whittle this down?

  4. Carol

    The detail in the Library of Congress list enables more accurate identification of areas of interest. The Science-Metrix is less complex, but in being so does not, in my area at least, allow me to accurately identify my discipline.

    I would prefer the option of trying to whittle the Library of Congress list down to something more manageable, than starting with something concise, but mainly inaccurate.