Pharmacy school aims to engage researchers in online competition

With the goals of spurring innovation and bringing bioscience research into the 21st century, Research 2.0, an academic research reform initiative from the School of Pharmacy, has launched “March Metrics,” the first open-source competition that will recognize the country’s most impactful, productive researchers.

Created as a spin-off of NCAA basketball’s March Madness for the bioscience world, the competition, which is being held until March 31, will utilize a series of traditional and digital metrics to provide a holistic picture of bioscience research.

Competition · Pharmacy students work in the USC Pharmacy in the Student Union. The School of Pharmacy’s March Metrics competition aims to promote and stimulate research sharing through social media. — Razan Al Marzouqi | Daily Trojan

Competition · Pharmacy students work in the USC Pharmacy in the Student Union. The School of Pharmacy’s March Metrics competition aims to promote and stimulate research sharing through social media. — Razan Al Marzouqi | Daily Troja

This competition aims to promote and stimulate worldwide research and help the bioscience industry adopt 21st century tools, such as digital media and improving technological processes.

“This is a huge area that no university in the world is fundamentally looking at,” said Research 2.0 Creator Llewellyn Cox, a program administrator for research at the School of Pharmacy. “This initiative will look at things like, ‘How do we share data better? How do we leverage the power of the Internet to do things faster, more efficiently and, frankly, better?’”

March Metrics builds on the Pharmacy School’s Research 2.0 initiative, which strives to connect entrepreneurs and startups in the bioscience industry, with the academic community to foster innovation by sharing ideas, research and tools.

Cox and his team decided to develop “March Metrics” as a contest because they believe the power of competition can  encourage important and needed changes.

“It’s a fundamental belief of mine that competition spurs people to that next level of innovating, of pushing themselves,” Cox said. “At USC, we want to be putting out students who are recognized as being world-class research scientists. By giving them this sense of competition, they will be better prepared for the ‘real world,’ where all of a sudden they will be in a very competitive atmosphere.”

Harshkumar Sancheti, a doctoral student in molecular pharmacology and toxicology program at the School of Pharmacy, expressed enthusiasm for the program’s potential.

“[March Metrics] will act as a good incentive,” said Sanchetti, who will be submitting a project that investigates treatments for Alzheimer’s disease. “It will stimulate healthy competition among students.”

Research projects will be evaluated and scored on three types of metrics: research communication, data generation and research funding. The projects will receive scores based on factors like where they are published and the level of outreach done on Facebook and Twitter. The school will determine the winners from a pool of competitors around the country that include graduate students, post-doctoral researchers and faculty members. Winners will get more recognition for when the March Metrics website posts their raw data and material online.

“The academic research landscape … operates in an insular, patent, self-selecting environment,” Cox said. “But, there is a huge hope for citizen-science and small startups to reform academia to become a hub for diverse research.”

A significant component of the project — and one that Cox said holds the key to connecting the academic community with entrepreneurs and other outside innovators — is social media.

“Social media gives you the opportunity to engage on an ongoing basis, and I think that is what really solidifies communities,” Cox said. “Sharing the pitfalls, back steps and really finding an answer. This is something we have lost in science on a national effort. But this is what [bioscience] is all about — finding an answer.”

Martha Pastuszka, a fourth-year graduate student also in the molecular pharmacology and toxicology program, said March Metrics’ use of social media has successfully allowed research to be accessible in various formats.

“It makes it much more exciting than just publishing in a paper and then waiting a couple of months down the line to see if someone cited your paper or not,” Pastuszka said. “You can potentially track whether people are reading your stuff or not and what kind of impact your research has on greater scientific communication.”

Pastuszka said her involvement in the project has introduced her to research on social media.

“When I started March Metrics, I opened up a Twitter account, and now I’m following other scientists on Twitter,” Pastuszka said. “Not only are they able to see my research, but I am also being exposed to different research that is out there.”

Cox said the industry finds itself facing new challenges, such as economic and funding issues, making it imperative for the industry to move forward. Cox said the project seizes a huge opportunity to revolutionize the industry through innovation, communication and entrepreneurship.

“We need to find new ways of doing things,” Cox said. “We can either accept that we are in a losing situation and shrink  or we can be leaders.”

Cox said USC is in the perfect position to make an impact because it is equipped with cutting-edge tools and the top minds that can use the information garnered from this competition to the benefit of the bioscience industry as a whole.

“This project will give us a broad view of how research is conducted and communicated on a worldwide level,” Cox said. “From this, we can draw inferences into how we can do things better.”

Cox noted the potential for the program to grow beyond USC.

“If this competition becomes popular outside USC also, then I think it will serve a very important goal of making researchers think about sharing their research through the enormous sources available,” Cox said.

Cox said there are numerous advantages to using an open-source approach to this project.

“The advantage of putting data out there is that it can provide a multiplier effect of how much data we can get back that has been analyzed and looked at,” Cox said. “It gives us leverage moving forward.”

Cox said this initiative is more than just a competition. It is also a research project that will seek to collect and analyze a multitude of data with the goal of improving bioscience processes.

“Collecting this data will hopefully help us for years to come,” Cox said.