STEM Fellowship & Overleaf Empowering Early Career Researchers

By Shelly Miller

Overleaf was recently introduced to an amazing organization - the STEM Fellowship - which is led by STEM students, for STEM students. We are proud to support the STEM Fellowship organization, based in Toronto, Canada, in their efforts to reach out to undergraduate and high school students through events such as the Big Data Challenge (BDC) and Editing 101 scholarly writing workshops. STEM Fellowship also publishes the STEM Fellowship Journal, providing students with an opportunity to have their work reviewed by a PhD subject matter expert and published in an open-access scholarly journal. The STEM Fellowship Journal, with Dr. Sacha Noukhovitch as Editor-in-Chief, encourages the use of interdisciplinary approaches, data science methods, and computational experiments.

STEM Fellowship has partnered with Overleaf to create a custom Overleaf web portal.

This portal provides information and an easy way for STEM Fellowship Big Data Challenge and scholarly writing workshop participants to sign up for Overleaf accounts. The custom web portal also provides access to authoring templates that make it easy for participants to find, open and begin to write in the correct format required for their specific event.

Recently, some of the participating Big Data Challenge teams wrote, edited and submitted their collaborative final reports for review by the judges using Overleaf. The award ceremony took place on February 24, 2017 where the winning team, from Pierre Elliott Trudeau High School, was announced.

Ahmed Hasan, STEM Fellowship’s Director for Big Data Education, commented:

“For the entire duration of the Big Data Challenge, one of our greatest joys in organizing this competition has been watching participants explore and successfully undertake the research process for what is generally the very first time in their academic careers. Much of this certainly involves the teams familiarizing themselves with a variety of useful computational analytics tools, but their first encounter with a widely used collaborative scientific writing platform in Overleaf as part of the competition is just as valuable. Namely because it addresses a truly fundamental part of research: actually documenting the research process in a clear, methodical, and collaborative manner."

Villanova College, one of the participating teams, granted us the opportunity to interview them about their experience using Overleaf to collaborate, write, edit and submit their paper for the Big Data Challenge.

“Overall Overleaf was an excellent tool, and helped us immensely with both formatting our paper, as well as sharing it with our editor to be proof read. Its ease of use allowed us to spend less time ensuring our paper looked professional, and gave us more time to focus on the actual research. We also loved that we could save a version of it, and compare it or restore it after changes were made, as well as send a link to rather than a whole document. When part of our team participated in the previous Big Data Challenge in 2015, they had multiple versions in different stages of editing passing around. Overleaf allowed us to compile all our edits in one place, while ensuring that the formatting stayed in place."

SCROLL DOWN to read the entire interview with the Villanova College team.

Adrian Stanley, Vice President at Digital Science, who attended the event in Canada and was one of the competition judges, said:

"Digital Science, and its portfolios Overleaf, Altmetric and figshare, were proud to support and be involved with the excellent grassroots level Big Data Challenge, this new 21st-century pedagogy that revealed the natural data-analytics talents of this generation of students, highlighting the all-round learning, skills, and innovative thinking that these STEM Fellows have achieved. The future looks bright with emerging talent like this; it’s wonderful we are able to be a part of nurturing this development and learning."

STEM Fellowship will soon be hosting, in collaboration with Overleaf, a scholarly writing workshop titled “Editing 101: Learn To Be Your Own Editor” this May at the University of Toronto (St. George) campus. This workshop is a chance for attendees to learn strategies to edit for flow, clarity, grammar and conciseness, through a series of hands-on exercises on Overleaf.

Farah Qaiser, STEM Fellowship’s Director for Scholarly Writing and Publications, commented:

"Overleaf is the perfect tool for this workshop - not only will workshop attendees have the chance to be exposed to a new writing and editing tool, but they can use it in real-time during the workshop as they work along their peers to master editing strategies."

The workshop will be delivered in collaboration with local Overleaf advisors, Pierre Sullivan (a Mechanical Engineering professor based at the University of Toronto’s Department of Mechanical & Industrial Engineering) and Conor Anderson (an Environmental Science PhD Student based within the University of Toronto Scarborough’s Department of Physical and Environmental Sciences).

More details regarding this upcoming workshop can be found here.


What were the challenges and successes associated with using Overleaf to write your paper?

The main challenge we faced when first using Overleaf was learning how to use LaTeX, as we had never used it before. We found that it was not too difficult for the members of our team who had programming experience with other languages to become comfortable using it, however the Rich Text was incredibly helpful for those who had a bit more of a challenge becoming accustomed to it. We can attribute the clean, and professional appearance of our paper to Overleaf, as it is highly unlikely we would have been able to achieve such a crisply formatted paper using other methods. We can also attribute the amount of peer editing we were able to have done to Overleaf, and this definitely impacted the success of our finished paper.

Do you think working with the STEM Fellowship Overleaf template was easier and more efficient than formatting a scientific paper by yourself? How so?

There is no doubt that it was far easier, as we had one member who had participated in the Big Data Challenge last year and had attempted to format their paper herself. When comparing the finished papers side by side it is apparent which one was done on Overleaf, as well as we found it to be far more efficient when writing the paper on Overleaf. Having the formatting done as we wrote it allowed us to focus on what we were writing, rather than how it fit into the overall layout of our paper. We also appreciated that the template laid everything out for us, as this made it much easier for the newer members of the team to understand what order everything needed to be written in. Using Overleaf definitely decreased the amount of time spent polishing the appearance of our paper, and allowed us to spend more time on other aspects.

Were the guidelines within the scientific paper-writing template helpful or not so much? Please elaborate.

The guidelines within the template were very helpful, as we used them in conjunction with other resources to insure we did not miss any parts. We appreciated that the guidelines were there when we were writing, as they provided an in depth explanation of what to include and what to not include in each section. The only reason we used additional resources was to ensure that we were including the correct parts in our materials and methods, and results sections. The guidelines included this information, however we wanted to double check it as all resources suggested that most of our work would go in the materials and methods section (this concerned us as we expected a longer discussion section). The only suggestion we have for the guidelines is to potentially include something about appendices, however overall it was a wonderful resource to use!

What features of writing in Overleaf were most beneficial for your team?

We made the decision to use Overleaf based mostly on the template, and its formatting abilities. It was later that we discovered that we could share our document using a link (which was extremely helpful), as well as save previous versions. The ease with which we were able to make major changes to the text without worrying about reformatting the whole document was probably the most beneficial aspect, as well as saving a previous version of the document came in quite handy when we had an overzealous writing session that we later realized was in the completely wrong direction and wanted to revert to a previous version. In terms of editing and sharing the document, the most beneficial feature was the ability to share it with such ease through a link, or add collaborators. We found this similar to the sharing option available on Google Docs, and this a major benefit for us as it was a familiar (and much appreciated) feature.

How difficult did you find the Overleaf learning curve?

We found that the learning curve varied for each member of the team, as some found it only took watching the introductory video and writing the introduction to our paper to become fairly proficient with it while it took significantly longer for others. The ability to see our edits on the preview screen helped us learn how to insert our figures, as well as the pure text feature allowed those who struggled a bit more to still participate in the writing process. About halfway through the project two out of three team members felt comfortable using Overleaf, and by the end all of us felt that we could easily use Overleaf for another project without difficulties.

Will you consider using Overleaf again for writing a scientific paper? How likely would you be to recommend that your peers/friends use Overleaf for writing scientific papers?

The overall consensus among our team was that we would most likely be using Overleaf again, and one of our members has already used it to format a couple of smaller lab reports for school projects. The ease of use and short learning curve make it an easy tool to utilize in a variety of situations, as well as the amount of formatting time saved is remarkable. We have already recommended Overleaf to some of our peers, and will continue to do so as we feel it is an excellent tool that is useful for everyone, even those still in high school.

More details on the Big Data Challenge winning teams featured here.

Shelly Miller

Shelly Miller

Sales & Academic Outreach Manager

Passionate about education and art, and enthusiastic about supporting a creative, innovative technology that is making a positive difference in collaborative scientific research and publishing worldwide.