Find Experts with CERF ELN

Find Experts is CERF ELN’s patent-pending system for letting you search everything – every notebook, every folder, not just your own – on the system without breaking the rules or violating privacy of 21CFR11. Find Experts lets you search by the same keywords and terms, or words in documents, that most other searches let you do – but it shows you not the data (that you might not have access to) – rather, it shows you the names of the people who contributed that work.

CERF just hooked you up with your next potential collaborator. Now you can message them directly through your CERF ELN system, asking to consult on the topic you searched for. Since we’re all on the same team, more likely than not they’ll give you the assist: sharing protocols they’ve already optimized, sharing experience of what worked and what didn’t, sharing preliminary data they’ve already generated. If there are experts out there who can make your work faster, easier, and more comprehensive, shouldn’t you be able to quickly and easily find them?!

How to use Find Experts

On the Desktop

In the regular search window, “Find Experts” is next to the “Search” button. Your results will list all of the people in the system who have uploaded content with that search term, followed by a ranking number (higher numbers indicate more content).
desktop find experts

On the iPad

After entering a search term in the List Panel, “Find Experts” appears at the top of the list of search results. From there, you can send a message to the Expert opening communication. iPad Find Experts

How does Find Experts help?

There are things we do not because it makes sense to do things that way, but because we’ve gotten into the habit of doing things that way. For 300 years we’ve documented our science on paper. Does that mean that paper is the best way? Not necessarily, and if instantaneous and secure collaboration or the ability to easily back up your lab notebook aren’t reason enough to switch to an Electronic Laboratory Notebook (ELN), here’s another one that every bench scientist out there can relate to:

There’s a lot of reinvention in science. I’m speaking not just from my own experience, but from my experiences talking with hundreds of scientists around the world. We often repeat experiments that we already have the answer to, not because we’re trying to validate the experiment through repetition, but because of one of the following three reasons:

  1. It’s faster than searching through all those old notebooksHow many times have you said to yourself, “I know that piece of data is here – it’s in one of those notebooks up on the shelf”. Then you look at that huge stack of notebooks and decide that it’s easier and faster to repeat the experiment than it would be to search through all those notebooks. It only takes a few hours for you to run that gel out again….only to find out that the DNA has degraded. “no worries”, you tell yourself, “I’ll just reamplify the product first. It’ll only take a few hours…”
  2. We made an ooopsieBack in the old days I used to capture images of my PCR gels using Polaroid™ cameras (yeah, I’m that old). Naturally the first thing I would do after getting a good result was to whip out the Sharpie™ marker and start circling bands. That’s fine – it’s part of getting the job done. It wasn’t until months later when my advisor (Wild Bill Birky) said “that’s a nice result, we should publish it – where’s the original?” that I realized I had committed a grave blunder – I had destroyed primary data in my zealous quest for knowledge. Again – it happens all the time, even now in the modern age. How many times have you saved a file over itself and realized you should have used “Save as…” instead?
  3. We didn’t know we already have the answerThis is the worst one, the most insidious form of reinvention – and it’s more common than you’d think. Some of the larger organizations I’ve talked to estimated that as much as 66% of their research is inadvertent duplication, where the science gets repeated not to validate the work but because they don’t know they already have the answer. That’s 66% of the R&D time and money wasted! How does this happen?

    Most organizations end up compartmentalizing data – whether the notes are stored on paper or in electronic form, we don’t always have access to the work that someone on the other side of the building – or in the remote offices overseas – is doing. And it’s even worse when you add the dimension of time and consider work that may have been done years before you even joined the organization!

    Let’s imagine, for example, that I’m starting a new research project – maybe on the phylogenetic relationships amongst the non-photosynthetic algae species of Polytoma. If we use paper to store our notes, I’m sunk unless I know who else may be working on that same general area (unless I want to read every notebook in the organization). That’s one great reason to use an ELN in the first place – the ability to search notebooks throughout the organization, whether it’s by keyword, filename, or even just a word that appears somewhere in the notebook.

    But even most modern ELNs can’t solve this problem – because the data becomes compartmentalized. The rules that govern ELNs (21CFR11) require that data be accessed in a secure, role-based manner – meaning that if you aren’t implicitly given permission to see something, you won’t see that something – even if it something you really need to see. Notebooks created years ago before I joined the organization, or notebooks being worked on by researchers who don’t know who I am – or who don’t think I need to see their work, or don’t want me to see their work – I won’t find any of that information in my searches.

    So I may think that I’m the first – and that I have to do all the grunt work of optimizing protocols and generating preliminary data – it might be six months before I’m actually making progress on my Polytoma studies.

That’s where (finally!) CERF ELN and Find Experts comes into play. Now instead of reinventing the wheel because it’s faster than finding the data, or because you accidentally destroyed the primary data, or because you just didn’t know you already had the data –  CERF ELN lets you move forward. Finally you’re doing science the right way – building on the work of those who’ve gone before you instead of just endlessly reinventing it.