Funding is essential to any research effort. The proliferation of available monies--as well as qualified researchers--in today's scientific community has made it difficult to wade through the wealth of available information. That's where the Community of Science Inc. ( COS ) comes into the picture.
Based in Baltimore, Maryland, COS manages databases of science grants and a directory of international experts in the sciences--natural and social--as well as the arts and humanities. COS helps colleges and universities, research institutions, corporations, government agencies, and science societies find funding to support research and also helps them locate specific researchers.
According to Lisa Robey, COS's vice president and director of university services, the company was founded in 1989 as a CV/résumé management system for Johns Hopkins University (JHU), although it was never a part of the university. This was a response to JHU's need for a data-management system to match its researchers with those in industry who were looking to them as consultants. The program then added a funding database in the early 1990s, after it became known as the Community of Science. Today, COS is a for-profit company and maintains a close relationship with JHU but has expanded beyond the university to include an international audience.
Access to COS services usually requires a paid subscription, but there are exceptions. For example, researchers affiliated with the Association of Commonwealth Universities--most of them in developing nations--have free access to COS services. Hence, these researchers are "able to get the same resources and the same benefits of COS as other countries who can afford it," says Robey.
Using COS's Services
According to Robey, the COS funding database contains nearly 400,000 funding opportunities, worth more than $33 billion. "We've never run into someone who couldn't find something in there," Robey says. It can be used by researchers and administrators searching for grants, but access to the database is limited to subscribing institutions.
Subscribers looking for grants and fellowships can search COS's Funding Opportunities database, which contains data provided by funding organizations and gathered from a variety of publications. However, organizations are only allowed to send funding announcements from their institution rather than from outside sources. The funding database can be searched by discipline, education level, sex, minority status, geography, and deadline dates, among other variables.
COS's Expertise database contains entries for approximately 500,000 researchers from a wide range of scientific disciplines and about 1600 institutions. Its purpose is to allow interested parties to find an expert for research, consultation, collaboration, or peer review. Anyone may add their profile to COS Expertise for free, making their information available to subscribers. Researchers can be identified by geographic location, discipline, type of research activity or funding received, publications, patents, and educational level--even by their alma mater.
Verification and editing is a significant part of gathering data for the COS databases. Every funding item and personal profile submitted is reviewed by a team of COS editors, which ensures that the information is complete, properly formatted, and optimized. Subscribing organizations also review profiles of their researchers for accuracy.
Attitudes Toward International Collaborations
Misperceptions often prevent people--especially Americans--from looking outside their own borders. Researchers outside the United States are often more accustomed to working with people from other countries than Americans are, Robey notes. That attitude is sometimes reflected by the professors she encounters in the United States. "Whenever I'm out at a big university here in the States, somebody says to me, 'I know everybody in the field.' ... Inevitably, a search will find someone they don't know in their field," Robey recounts. "And usually it is either someone young and new in the field or someone ... in Africa, Europe, or Asia that a longtime researcher in the U.S. hasn't heard of yet."
Despite these differences, Robey notes, an organization's size and the resources it commands say more about how it approaches international research than its nationality. For example, many small American universities use COS to improve and expand their internal research capabilities, which is similar, says Robey, to the way many international universities use COS, especially smaller ones. Yet well-established universities outside the United States are looking for the same benefits that large American universities look for. "They want to maintain their research abilities and their positions at the forefronts of their fields," Robey explains.
While assisting international research, COS faces its own set of challenges regarding various national policies and laws. "We are very careful about the laws and the restrictions in each of the countries represented in our database," Robey says. One example is the European Union's Data Protection Act, which prevents third parties from listing citizens of its member nations without being given permission by that person or their employer.
Through her experience with COS, Robey has learned that finding the necessary funding or the right talent for a scientific project aren't the only barriers to international research. "The biggest barrier is people's perception," Robey says. "The world is smaller than a lot of people think it is."
Clinton Parks is a contributing writer for MiSciNet and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .