Thursday, 10 May 2012

Education is the key to impact

This month is a busy one and two activities that were going on side-by-side last week were (1) writing an outline grant proposal to further develop SLiMSuite (servers and programs) and SLiMdb, and (2) dig up possible "impact" for the upcoming REF. Part of this has featured digging into Google Analytics data for both the bioware servers and my homepage.

Sadly, I stupidly neglected to monitor the documentation and download pages for SLiMSuite (now rectified) but I could get visit data from the webservers and the results made fairly happy reading, especially when compared to the citation metrics associated with the relevant papers.

The front page currently receives around 350 visits a month from across the world, with 4,174 visits in the period 1 May '11 to 30 Apr '12. Ireland is currently the main user, reflecting the fact that the current host of these resources is University College Dublin, although the balance seems to be shifting towards America now. (Given the amount of science being done there, you would expect the US to be number 1.) Germany and the UK complete the top 4 (again not surprising in terms of both science and presence of participating/collaborating labs) but the usual suspects (India, Canada, Israel, China) are all in there too, which is good to see. The servers themselves receive around 500-1000 page views a month, with the top five servers visited in the period 1/5/11-30/4/12 being: 1. SLiMFinder (2,651 views); 2. SLiMPred (1,812 views); 3. SLiMSearch 2.0 (1,721 views); 4. SLiMSearch 1.0 (805 views); 5. CompariMotif (653 views).

This is all well and good - these are published servers - and hopefully will continue to increase over time, particularly if we can get more funding for development. The thing that surprised me, though, was when I looked at the usage stats for the UPGMA walkthrough I made for a Year 2 practical that I run with a colleague. This website got 5,721 visits in the same period (1 May '11 to 30 Apr '12) - 37% more hits than the bioware front page. This number is also on the rise with nearly 1000 hits last month, due in part to the fact that it now appears on the UPGMA wikipedia page.

This perhaps should not be surprising but when you consider that UPGMA is a largely obsolete method used predominantly for teaching (and quick and dirty clustering) and I knocked up the website in an evening or two, while SLiMFinder is a cutting-edge bioinformatics tool that represents years of hard work, it is still a little depressing. I guess I should make more educational web pages...


  1. The fact that most academic scientists are loath to admit is that for 99.99999% of all researchers, their teaching efforts will have agreater impact on the world than their research.

  2. Luke: Is the Dark Side stronger?

    Yoda: No. Quicker, easier, more seductive.

    I think it depends how you measure or think about impact. Anyone could have made that UPGMA walkthrough. Not many people could/would have made SLiMFinder. More people may use the former but more useful discoveries will be made with the latter. Research moves the world forward, albeit in small steps. Teaching stops the world sliding backwards, albeit with larger strides.

    I think you are way off with your 99.99999%. I reckon that a large proportion of research-active academics actually make quite low impact with their teaching, in that you could swap them with ten thousand other people and the students wouldn't notice. (Not to mention the fact that many researchers don't teach at all.)

  3. (That last comment was not belittling teaching, by the way. Both teaching and research are important. It's just that people who are good at research aren't necessarily good at teaching and vice versa. Some academics will have more impact in one domain, others in the other. Rare beasts have real impact in both.)


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