UCF team designs "Yelp" for research

- A team led by UCF doctoral graduate Sean McMahon, '13, and management professor Shannon Taylor has built an online platform that lets users quickly and easily search tens of thousands of scientific findings for useful and actionable information.

Think of it like Yelp for research,but instead of helping users locate the nearest 4-star taco stand, "Knowtro" quickly finds and sorts scientific research on topics ranging from ethical leadership and job satisfaction to parenting, nutrition and other topics.

Short for Knowledge Transfer Optimization and with a nod to UCF mascot Knightro, Knowtro seeks to "make the knowledge produced by intelligent, hard-working researchers useful for everyone." In addition to McMahon and Taylor, the Knowtro team includes fellow Knight alumni David Miller, MBA, '10, and Mat Frenz, Leisure & Hospitality, '06.

Knowtro is the vision of McMahon, an entrepreneur who came to UCF in 2008 as a doctoral student. He said he was simply looking for a better way to do research.

When his advisor, UCF chaired professor of ethics Marshall Schminke, asked him to create a table to review the outcomes of several studies, McMahon realized-after numerous attempts, tweaks and revisions- that all research, regardless of field, followed the same basic process and could be boiled down to the same core elements.

"That's where the 'Eureka!' moment happened," said the Knowtro founder who now is assistant professor of entrepreneurship in the Love School of Business at Elon University in North Carolina.

"I recall clearly the day Sean first showed me the model he had in mind," Schminke said. "In 30 seconds, he changed the way I thought about what a search could look like. It was clear he was onto an idea that could be huge. What was less clear was how such a thing could actually happen. But Sean's an entrepreneur, and that's what entrepreneurs do."

For example, a dozen studies on the relationship between job satisfaction and work performance-representing hundreds of pages of research and results-could be summarized into a simple, easy-to-read recap akin to a Yelp or Amazon review that allowed the user to quickly understand the findings and spot trends. Rather than sift through dozens of questionable blogs, random top 10 lists and conflicting news accounts about the studies, McMahon and his team have found a way to provide direct access to core information based on rigorous scientific research.

Taylor, who is an assistant professor of management at UCF's College of Business, said researchers tend to focus on a particular study in a particular field but may never know the full body of research spanning across years, methods and disciplines. He said Knowtro's goal is to "cover it all."

Knowtro grew slowly but steadily out of that initial premise. McMahon said it was a labor of love working weekends for six years to achieve his vision. In those six years, he earned his Ph.D., joined the faculty at Elon University and became a dad. But his quest to see Knowtro become a reality never wavered.

With the platform built and adding research findings daily, McMahon said the heaviest lifting for the team now is compiling the vast amount of research in any given field into the Knowtro database. That means distilling down each study into a succinct, consistent format-no small task when they realized that certain symbols do not mean the same thing to all disciplines.

"It's exhilarating and frustrating," said Taylor of the process, noting that he has a newfound respect for software developers after undertaking this ambitious project.

The newly launched Knowtro is free to use and open to everyone. They expect to unveil the next phase-subscription-based Knowtro Professional-soon for researchers, educators and journalists who wish to save notes and findings on specific projects, conduct analyses and more.

Now the team is working to get the word out to researchers everywhere that Knowtro can make their own research process faster and more effective.

To learn more visit www.knowtro.com

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