May 2011

AuthorAID: Internet working for scientists from the developing world

Online global research community provides networking, mentoring, resources and training for researchers in developing countries.

As a technophile, I have to ask, What doesn’t the internet make easier? Case in point: the poor distribution of scientific mentors and one nonprofit’s network-based solution.

AuthorAID is much like a social networking site, but with a greater purpose: to bring scientists into places where government or local institutions don’t have the resources to support local researchers in this way.

Scientists from developing countries often are disadvantaged when it comes to publishing their work. According to Julie Walker of AuthorAID, which connects mentors with potential authors, “There are many barriers to publication for developing country researchers,” including

* limited resources (large classes, lack of access to computers and the internet),
* limited staff for personal mentoring and support,
* language limitations (technical writing in a foreign language), and
* lack of writing-skills training (funds instead are directed toward core needs).

AuthorAID is an effort by the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications to overcome these barriers by harnessing the connectivity offered by the internet, allowing researchers and editors to meet and mentor scientists regardless of location.

“Volunteering to be an AuthorAID mentor is a perfect way for retiring editors to remain involved in editing and publishing and to keep in touch with their research areas,” says Walker. The site has 481 registered volunteers. Many of them, be they mentors or editors, are drawn from such organizations as the Council for Science Editors and the International Foundation for Science. But this kind of volunteer work can be rewarding at any point in one’s career.

Jackie Goodrich, a fourth-year graduate student in toxicology at the University of Michigan, has been a mentor with AuthorAID for about a year. She’s worked with two students in East Africa, and they were at different points in their scientific careers. One was an early undergraduate or high school student with some simple questions about obtaining references. Her second interaction, with a research scientist with the government working on epidemiology studies and public health who has two papers at the peer-review stage, has been much more longstanding. “I have learned much about her specific areas of research during this process, as our areas of research do not overlap. Additionally, the editing experience has improved my own writing skills by forcing me to think about better ways to present data and information to a broader audience,” Goodrich says. Her second mentee has obtained a bachelor’s degree and hopes to attend graduate school.

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