Elements Research Information Management System Expands Across Carnegie Mellon


The Carnegie Mellon University Libraries, sponsored by the Office of the Provost, is expanding the adoption of research information management system Elements across Carnegie Mellon. The Elements reporting and data visualization team has been working with the many colleges and departments throughout campus to identify and build specialized tools and data structures that elevate engagement and meet their individual needs.

Symplectic Elements, or simply Elements, is a largely-automated tool that collects and maintains academic activities in one convenient location. Administered by the University Libraries, Elements empowers Carnegie Mellon scholars to showcase their academic achievements and activities by collecting and curating this information for themselves, their department, and the wider campus and research communities as a whole.

This semester, the Elements team is working with the Tepper School of Business to develop AACSB reports, which support the school’s accreditation efforts and aid the rigorous peer-review process it undergoes every five years. In addition, all Tepper faculty can now be found on the public profile directory, Scholars at CMU.

The Elements team has set additional goals, or adoption definitions, to best guide outreach efforts and offer solutions to the other colleges and schools across campus as well.

“The goal of setting these definitions is to determine how Elements can be most useful to various departments,” Principal Systems Analyst Jason Glenn explained. “We want to identify and address the unique needs of each group, so that faculty and academic staff are incentivized to engage. In doing so, we’ll move toward our long-term goal — to see everyone at Carnegie Mellon using the system.”

For both Carnegie Mellon community members and the outside world, Scholars at CMU is one major benefit of the system. The public profile directory provides a single point of entry into the work being done on campus. Once fully adopted by all colleges, it will enable users to view the activities of all Carnegie Mellon faculty in one place.

“Let’s say you’re interested in finding a researcher who is working in artificial intelligence,” Glenn explained. “Your initial thought might be to go to the School of Computer Science website and look through their faculty. But what if a scientist researching the aspect you’re interested in is housed in the College of Engineering? With Scholars, you can identify anyone working in the field across schools and departments — it’s the perfect fit for such an interdisciplinary environment.”

Elements can also be utilized in a variety of other ways. Individual faculty members can use their profiles to keep track of their publications, grants, teaching activities, and more, allowing them to more easily develop biosketches and CVs. Their departments, then, can use this data in annual faculty reporting, and can generate documentation for reappointment, promotion, and tenure case books.

More broadly, the data can be used on a university-wide level, for campus leadership to analyze all academic activities occurring across Carnegie Mellon.

Director of Sustainability Initiatives Alexandra Hiniker turned to Elements to help faculty think about how their work aligns with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015. Through Elements, campus researchers can record which of the 17 Sustainable Development goals are associated with their academic activities.

“As part of my role linking students, staff, and faculty across the campus to sustainability efforts, I heard from them that the most important thing was to connect to different parts of the university to which they usually didn’t have access,” Hiniker explained. “Elements is a way for people to quickly access information about what researchers are doing, so that they can help contribute to finding solutions to some of the world’s greatest challenges.”

In another recent project, the Elements team worked with Richelle Bernazzoli, the director of Undergraduate Research and Scholar Development. Together, they built a data dashboard tracking the different institutions and locations where Carnegie Mellon faculty have studied and worked throughout their careers. With this information, the Office of Undergraduate Research and Scholar Development can maintain a support pipeline to guide students applying for prestigious international fellowships and work experiences.

“As more people catch on and start to leverage the really rich data within Elements, people will start to see just how amazing all of the productivity at our university is,” Bernazzoli said.

The Elements team is currently working on a project with the College of Fine Arts to capture and present academic activity that occurs, not in the form of a study or peer reviewed publication, but as an installation or a musical composition or a play. There are also plans to track faculty service across campus, to better analyze and optimize faculty participation in committees, and continue to gather additional data and build tools to propel Carnegie Mellon forward into the future.