Monday, November 22, 2010

Google Alerts - A scientist's unsung friend

For a while now I have been experimenting with using Google Alerts as a tool to help me in research. For those who don’t know, Google Alerts is a simple application that will e-mail you whenever it finds a new page on the internet containing the search words that you provide.
One of the most common uses of Google Alerts is really an extension of vanity surfing (vanity surfing is searching for your own name on a search engine like google). Using Google Alerts as an extension of vanity surfing can actually be useful to the scientist (it will inform you whenever a new entry appears on the internet with your name on it), this can be helpful to alert you if other scientists are commenting on your work online.

Of far more interest than using Google Alerts for vanity surfing is to use it to monitor the internet for new entries in the scientist’s area of research. For example, I am in breast cancer detection research based on the use of MRI and computer-aided diagnosis technologies. I have Google Alerts for the search terms “breast MRI” and “computer-aided diagnosis”. Every day Google Alerts gives me a listing of the latest internet entries on these topics. This has not only assisted me in staying on top of current developments in my research field, it has also informed me of the existence of journal articles that I would subsequently reply to and perhaps even more poignantly, Google Alerts has informed me of relevant research results prior to their associated conference presentation.

Although I do get a few Google Alerts e-mails each day (one for each topic I’ve signed up for) the main disadvantage is that it requires perusing each of the entries in these e-mails each day – which can be time consuming. However, scientists are free to refine their search terms to be more specific (thus reducing the number of entries in the alerts). I have already benefited in multiple ways by using Google Alerts, I would recommend trying it out to any scientist.

Jacob Levman, PhD
Imaging Research
Sunnybrook Research Institute
University of Toronto