On the Drawing Board: Fed-wide Researcher Profiles


This week, members of my staff went to a meeting to kick off a project that has long been of interest to me, development of a fed-wide system for collecting professional profile information for our investigators. This concept has been an interest of the Federal Demonstration Partnership External Web Site Policy and others for many years. I think now the time is right to begin doing the groundwork that is needed to put such a system in place. A fed-wide profile system could be used in many ways, for example, pre-populating federal forms and allowing us to more efficiently locate expertise and share data across agencies. Profiles not only will reduce the need for repeatedly entering personal information in various federal data collections it will also help scientists form networks based on  interests and expertise.  

Tools like Lattes External Web Site Policy, developed by the Brazilian government, have already proven that the technology works and acceptance for the concept. Lattes, which began in 1999, is currently in use by some 2.5 million people in 18 countries. Other profiling systems like VIVO External Web Site Policy, OSUPro External Web Site Policy, Harvard Catalyst External Web Site Policy, and Stanford CAP External Web Site Policy may be helpful in developing the features of a fed-wide system and may, ultimately, serve as a source of information.  

This project is in the embryonic stages, so I want to be careful not to set inappropriate expectations. We have a lot to do, and it will take some time to implement such a system. At this point, we are still organizing ourselves and defining short- and long-term objectives. The next step will be to articulate the goals and explore potential benefits and uses of such a system. This will be done in collaboration with our research community to ensure we are developing a viable business model and creating a tool that will benefit us all. Then, as we move forward, we will need to research technologies and explore policy issues that might allow us to pull data from existing profile systems into a central location that could be tapped by all the federal research agencies and others. We will also begin the long process of working with federal agencies to ensure that all of our systems can handle a unique researcher identifier (a concept that is central to such a system), and that we can standardize data definitions and use the data from such a system in ways that will be useful. 

The Research Business Models interagency working group, which I co-chair, and the Science of Science Policy Working Group External Web Site Policy are both very interested in this topic and will provide input and oversight into the group working on a potential fed-wide profile system.

I look forward to seeing this project progress. It will take us a bit of time before we are ready to fully engage the community on these issues, but I will certainly keep you updated as things move forward.


  1. Sounds like yet another requirement for yet more paperwork taking yet more researcher time. Has to come from the same place that now requires “customized” biosketches for each grant. Or manually inputting a PMCID number for each reference. Research is being replaced by form filling.

  2. Every database that may have utility for administrators carries a cost to those whose information are contained in it. We are seeing an all-time high rate of identity theft, hacking of “secure” databases and the like these days. I would much prefer spending a few minutes entering data for a bio sketch or other required form than have my personal information in a national information system.

  3. How can this help researchers, I do not know. Let me see, I now have to fill out the form or pull out the previously completed form from a central location, I will then have to customize (or put related information or experience in) the form for the particular proposal. I will then save the updated form, and have to customize the updated form again for another proposal, and so on. Unless it is easier to do this on a form than on my word document, I do not see how it helps researchers.

    Is my information searchable by the public? If so, how to avoid identity-theft and ensure my privacy? What about head hunter’s calls or emails?

    Lastly, do we really need another social network (also controlled by the government)? Let’s see, we already have Linkedin, tweeter,Google +….They all offer pretty good scientific groups already. Maybe we all want to catch the new hot IPOs? Now that might be a profit model.

  4. We expect the fed-wide profile system to substantially reduce burden. It will allow information on the PI and staff included in grant applications to be auto-populated from the profile and other preexisting data sources. We are still in the early stages of thinking about a profile system and how it will interact with existing data repositories and federal grant forms. The extramural community will be involved at every stage of the design. Reducing burden is one of the principle objectives, and we expect early pilots to demonstrate benefits for all users.

  5. I believe this could help out substantially with federal funded applications. I believe for the biosketches, that could even help the PI. Since the manuscripts, publications etc are now entered into a system for access, I believe that a system could be set up where you just select which publications which are pertinant to that project, and they are imported into your biosketch. Personal information should not be subject to this. It would be information that is already out their on your own institutional unit website.

  6. This is a collosal waste of time, money, and effort. Yet another effort by you guys to reduce my time for teaching and research. Yet another fprm to fill out that nobody reads and that makes no difference to my scholarship and yet I am obliged to do to satisfy some bureacratic requirement. Please do something to help us be more successful in science. In case you haven’t noticed we are having a crisis in education and research in this country. Let us concentrate our time, money and effort on addressing these issues and quit changing the rules. Thanks.

  7. A well-designed system could be quite useful to institutions, the government, and individuals alike. From the institutional and governmental side, a researcher ID would help better identify a person’s publications and grants, despite name changes or variations in the use of the middle initial. It would help provide a better understanding of funding sources and trends by compiling together data that is spread out over a number of databases (and some that is not available such as small foundation grants, internal support, and philanthropic donations). It would also help give a better picture of the biomedical workforce issues and trajectories. For the individual, it could help in the identification of experts, consultants, and potential collaborators on a regional or national level; it could help produce automatic CVs; perhaps it could even provide automatic information and content (pubs, funding opps) to investigators based on their areas of research.

    However, as previous commenters have pointed out, the database will not work if it adds more burden to already over-burdened investigators. The approach Lattes has taken, by partnering with institutions, might be a good place to start. Myself, I belong to and help operate a scientific network for Puerto Rican scientists, scientific professionals, and educators that has been quite popular (continuous growth, with over 5750 members and strong enagagement). The network is called Ciencia Puerto Rico (www.cienciapr.org), and is highly regarded among the Puerto Rican scientific community and has gained the recognition of AAAS and others. Our profiles are not very sophisticated right now but we have funds to make improvements this year of the type that will benefit Puerto Rican scientists, institutions, government agencies, companies and organizations looking to partner and/or sponsor research.

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