Enabling Research Collaboration - reflections from our first London Institutional Conference

By John Lees-Miller

The Enabling Research Collaboration event held last week in London was a great opportunity for the Overleaf team to talk to university librarians and research office staff to find out first hand what's really important to them.

Many UK librarians talked about the challenges brought on by the new Open Access legislation that requires UK universities to archive publications from their authors in their institutional pre-print repositories at the point of acceptance to a journal. That is surprisingly tricky, because the paper doesn't usually get a DOI (a digital object identifier --- like a permanent link for a scientific paper) until it is published, which can be weeks or months after acceptance. That makes it hard to link up the initial deposit record with the final published paper, which is exactly what they have to do for the next UK research assessment. Fortunately, solutions are on the way, and we talked about how Overleaf's publisher integrations could help make this process simpler for authors and for librarians who need to meet the new compliance requirements.

We took attendees through the Overleaf metrics dashboards for their institutions, and many discovered new things about which departments were using Overleaf at their institution, and about which other institutions their authors were collaborating with. Many were also surprised to learn how many Overleaf users they already had at their institution. There was an exciting mixture of results that we expected to see (e.g. that Imperial College London works a lot with University College London) and results that we didn't expect to see (e.g. that Imperial College London has a lot of collaborations on Overleaf with the University of Twente, in the Netherlands).

There were also quite a few instances where the librarians wanted to be able to drill down into the data to see more detail, which was good to see as it's something we're working on.

And there were cupcakes! :)

Overleaf Cupcakes!

Thoughts from our special guest

Helen Josephine attended in person to present on 'Facilitating Collaboration at Stanford University'. The following are her thoughts on the day.

Giving a presentation with a full-sized statue of a horse in the room was a first for me. The conference center at the Springer Nature offices in London is called The Stables. A former two-story stables for the working horses that pulled the canal barges and the delivery wagons from the train depots to central London.

Simon Porter’s talk on ‘Researcher Data Mechanics’ reminded me again, why I am so passionate about the researcher workflow and all the new tools that can work together to connect one single idea to a larger audience. Research data connectors between institutions and researchers are becoming more robust as more researchers are adopting and using these tools (such as Figshare, Mendeley, Altmetric and Overleaf).

My talk focused on using a cloud-based LaTeX writing tool for collaborative projects. I shared the success of our one-year trial with Overleaf and some of the comments from our students and faculty. I reviewed some of the improvements to the Stanford University portal design to make this page easier to use and to be more of a destination for the templates used by our students. I discussed the value of the metrics hub for the account administrator and highlighted the usefulness of the e-mail snapshot message I get every month as a quick summary of activity. I ended the presentation with a discussion of our efforts to market the tools we purchase to the graduate students and researchers who need to know about them. Our Gear Up for Research Day is a one day event with a vendor fair, workshops and lightning talks all centered on researcher workflow tools, information databases, and article publishing options.

My plans for the future include a survey of our Overleaf users in early October to ask for feedback, recruit volunteers for our Overleaf Advisors program and gauge interest in drop-in help sessions or in-depth workshops. With the help of our users we want to continue to populate the Stanford portal with additional templates for projects and posters. Offering the right mix of collaborative tools for our students and researchers is an important part of my job as a science and engineering librarian.

Helen Josephine photo

Helen Josephine
Head of the Terman Engineering Library
Subject liaison for Electrical Engineering, Aeronautics and Astronautics and Management Science and Engineering in the School of Engineering, Stanford University

Mendeley campus champion, July 2012-onwards
Overleaf campus champion, December 2014-onwards

Feedback on the Overleaf Institutional dashboards

Screenshot of the Admin hub for (the fictional) Lilliput University

“By talking directly with the librarians using our dedicated university metrics dashboards, we were able to collect many valuable insights on how they use it, what data they are interested in and which kind of data they would like to have access to. This gave us plenty of ideas to play with in the future. It was interesting to see end-users using the product we had designed, and to see how some very simple features can have a huge positive impact on their workflow.

I was amazed to be thanked for our response time when it comes to implementation of a solution following our users' feedback, but I guess that's what makes a difference to be a lean startup. It was also a pleasure to meet face to face people we've been talking with via email for a while.”

Tim Alby, Overleaf developer

Feedback on the new University Portals on Overleaf

Screenshot of the Stanford University portal on Overleaf

“After getting first-hand feedback from people who regularly visit our universities section (e.g. Helen), we are even more excited to introduce the new universities portal layout. The first impression reactions which we received were welcoming and helpful in many ways. The new layout should help users with navigation on the page, and with getting more straight to the point of their visit (e.g. we have many users who search for institution specific templates here).”

Filip Stollár, Overleaf developer (intern)

John Lees-Miller

Co-founder, CTO

Computer scientist, mathematician and co-founder of Overleaf. I make things that work.