Academic Labs Automation – The Whys, Whats & Hows

This article will cover the existing methods people use to search for academic labs as partners for research or offering them products. We will touch the important base points of how business is done today and how can our application significantly improve its efficiency.

To start with let’s address question first why do we need academic labs, why people search for them, and what that “search” means. From the very high level academia constitutes a big part of biotechnology and medical research, one can also see it as a hub for any research in the world. And there are many good reasons why. Because, it addresses the fundamental, unsolved yet questions aiming to shed light on those disciplines and uncover new aspects and dependencies that were unknown before. Everyone will agree on the importance of research and the value it brings to the society. 

So why academic labs then? Is it not enough having single individuals? While such platforms as ResearchGate or LinkedIn have done a good job by bringing up single individuals to the availability to others who may search for them, the problem with academic labs still remains. We agree that doing business always takes single humans to be involved, however in our case we solve the problem of multidimensionality where each researcher represents one datapoint. And if such researchers are millions one ends up with a problem of finding your top one million individual humans that fit. While this is still a good solution, though can be used as a mailing list since no company can chase so many people even the biggest ones in the world. 

And to this adds paradoxically that we have way less labs than single authors ever extracted from publications. So far, we uncovered the problem of single authors and how it impacts business of those who search for them. Let’s dive into the current methods people use when search for labs. Because we hope everyone will agree till now that at the end one searches the lab anyway, since it is a hub of research and a personal brand of a PI. 

So how can we find labs or put it this way, our target leads? 

#1 Google

Obvious, right? Yet why it is inefficient? Because every time you search for lab with a target topic you have multiple other links that popup and have nothing to do with your target. If you would type Smith lab at University of Kentucky knowing a priori what you search for, you could find that lab among the links. However, going by topic and even adding location still won’t produce you much desirable results. And this has nothing to do with labs or university websites, it is just too much information that is available on the internet and how it dilutes that what you are searching for. Certainly any iterations here or comparisons between labs in multiple locations across multiple topics are not possible here. The primary goal of browsing is to get information on your relevant search, not all labs that are indexed among 26 Billions links available in the web.

#2 Extract authors from publications, grants, clinical trials

The other approach, which is the most automated so far, and hence popular by many companies, is extraction of the relevant authors that appeared on any literature outputs. While this is relatively easy to do and it produces the desired results, chasing individual authors is still hard and building a relationship with each possible prospect is impossible. Here one can use a shotgun approach and whoever comes one can work with them further. While some may also complain that the information on whether that corresponding author is still affiliated with that institution may be not available, having the direct access to labs definitely makes the life easier. Hope everyone will agree that historical records matter and though are important to keep the information on, the current data is what it makes it the most attractive.

#3 Go to websites of target universities, research institutes and search there

This one is the most interesting however requires a lot of time and produces small results, because of the amount of work one has to put in order to take a handful of relevant labs. The drawback also even if one worked hard or outsourced the task to interns, is that the information gets outdated gradually. And unless one caught emails and put them into CRM the only how can one recognise it is that the emails return since the address doesn’t exist anymore. This creates a problem which requires a deep-thought solution and significant upfront resources which in most companies are not available.

#4 Platforms, networks

While there are multiple platforms that offer individuals or even labs such as labsexplorer or ResearchGate, the information on them is still fragmentary and they strongly depend on the amount of users who explicitly pointed they want to have an account there and describe their lab. The problem it still creates is that it makes it hard to compare the information between labs since those labs presented on any platform do not represent all available options and in addition further profiling by any parameter makes it further difficult. As the only option is to scrape the information and do a separate analysis on those outputs, however this represents rather an amateur task instead of a solving real problem in a sustainable and maintainable way over time. Networks are good examples how to meet new people or get a referral, however their fragmentation across locations contributes to a small glimpse one can get at each of them.

#5 Conferences, exhibitions, lab visits

This is one the most popular as it allows to connect with real people and meet them in person, though the downside of course are the increasing costs associated with a participation, booth setup, traveling, etc. What during a COVID time became mostly virtual experience, and primed most of the people to reconsider the use of digital to still connect with the target people. In any case, we don’t want to downplay the importance of physical presence and going meeting people, the digital approach has definitely higher outreach and more success when done right. And those who are responsive digitally, will become eventually successful at personal contact as well. While doing it vice versa may result in a significant time loss without producing a significant result. 

Overall, our application allows to targetly take the academic labs as research partners or as for the commercial purposes in addition to keeping tabs on the market dynamics. The application significantly improves the efficiency of work and reduces the acquisition costs giving the ability to compare between labs and select those that fit. 

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