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Efficiency Tools

Flight Tracker

Automated tracking & analysisof career outcomes
Flight Tracker software, developed at Vanderbilt and used by 40 CTSA institutions, automates tracking and analysis of career outcomes, including publications, funding, training activities, and other milestones.

Graduate programs, training grants, and departments use Flight Tracker to keep up with their scholars’ success.

Flight Tracker offers dashboards, metrics, and visuals such as an up-to-the-moment K-to-R conversion calculator, success curves, and social network graphs.

Time spent gathering information and producing NIH training tables is reduced. Customizable online surveys simplify collection of demographic data.

Flight Tracker is free and available to any institution with REDCap. The consortium meeting provides monthly calls and video archives to get new users up to speed.

 

FLIGHT TRACKER NEWBIE CALLS

Learn how Flight Tracker can assist your program with our newbie call. Offered monthly via zoom, the call covers data collection, analysis of career development, NIH Training Tables and upkeep. Anyone is welcome. Please click the green button to join the call, or email Scott Pearson to receive a calendar invite.

Scheduled Newbie Calls:
Tuesday, February 17, 12-1pm CT
Thursday, March 16, 2-3pm CT

mentor notes

Do you have a pool of scholars at Vanderbilt or Meharry (training grants, degree programs, departments, or others) that you would like to track?

Email Scott Pearson to inquire or to request a REDCap project be created for your group.

How it Works
Enable Flight Tracker

To get started with Flight Tracker, ask your local REDCap admin to enable the “Flight Tracker for Scholars External Module” on a REDCap project.

The same institution can have multiple projects. For example, each T32, K12, or doctoral program can have its own Flight Tracker.

If you’re at Vanderbilt or Meharry, email Scott Pearson to begin a new project.

Collect Data

Input a list of names, departments, and resources to start tracking data immediately.

Once data is in the system, you can wrangle your initial set of grants and publications for accuracy.

View the video archive for instructions, tips, and tricks for importing and working with scholar data.

Join the Club

The consortium meeting gets members up to speed and keeps everyone on track.

Newbie Call helps new users get started.

Consortium Meeting for updates.

Email Scott Pearson to receive an invitation.

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Flight Tracker for Scholars is software that tracks the academic career development of biomedical scholars – whether on a training (T) grant, an early career (K) grant, or some other population of scholars. It provides up-to-date and accurate statistics on your scholars’ publishing, grant awards, resource use, and more. It can help with reporting to the NIH, with grant applications by your scholars, and management of individual scholars. Its design is deliberately scalable, expandable, and generalizable so that it can fit either smaller or larger pools of scholars. More than one instance of Flight Tracker can exist at a given institution.

Securely embedded in REDCap and freely distributed via REDCap’s External Modules, Flight Tracker is based on tools developed for Vanderbilt’s scholars in their CTSA. As such, the tools are built around real use cases. Every week, it downloads data from federal (US) resources such as the NIH RePORTER systemPubMed, and iCite. It also has REDCap surveys that help you communicate with your scholars. Flight Tracker automatically resolves conflicts and duplicated information; it also provides you with a summary of the latest information about your scholars

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Flight Tracker for Scholars has four intended audiences (which may overlap):

  1. Administrators and Program Managers who make biomedical research centers run.
  2. Leaders who seek to make smarter decisions informed by data.
  3. Researchers who seek deeper insight into populations of their scholars and of scholars nationally.
  4. Software Developers who seek to extend this software to meet the informatics needs of their institutions.

Notably missing in this list are the scholars themselves. They comprise the subjects of our common studies. Through surveys and verification of their accomplishments, they provide important data about themselves so that we can understand our practices better. However, this software is about providing a supporting environment so that they can succeed better. As such, individual scholars do not need access to the population’s data. We have streamlined workflows so as to cause minimal intrusion upon their important work.

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Reporting

Grant applications and annual progress reports often ask for data about an institution’s scholars. Some of this information is publicly available through resources like PubMed or the NIH RePORTER, but these data take time to compile and often lack important elements such as non-federal grants. Flight Tracker is meant to be an application and a tool to make this compilation easier, more efficient, and more accurate.

Flight Tracker takes a small amount of time to set up and a few days of waiting for data to populate. The software is intended to be run year-round and to be manually curated at regular intervals to keep the data current. Given that small investment of time, tools and reports can quickly provide what you’re looking for.

Scalable

Flight Tracker can track populations as small as a few scholars as well as populations as large as hundreds of scholars. The scholars listed should have their publications available on PubMed and their grants on NIH RePORTER. The overnight processes are scheduled to run at times when servers and networks typically experience downtimes so that they will pose a minimal burden to infrastructure.

Data-Driven

Data are stored and available in the secure environment of REDCap. Thus, quick analysis can take place. Well-known in the research community, REDCap is a secure, web-based software platform. It serves as the storage infrastructure of Flight Tracker. In addition, REDCap’s interface can be used to view and analyze data from Flight Tracker.

See https://projectredcap.org for more information. REDCap (Research Electronic Data Capture) is hosted by partner institutions and is used to collect all sorts of study information. See the below papers for more information about REDCap software and the REDCap Consortium:

PA Harris, R Taylor, R Thielke, J Payne, N Gonzalez, JG. Conde, Research electronic data capture (REDCap) – A metadata-driven methodology and workflow process for providing translational research informatics support, J Biomed Inform. 2009 Apr;42(2):377-81.

PA Harris, R Taylor, BL Minor, V Elliott, M Fernandez, L O’Neal, L McLeod, G Delacqua, F Delacqua, J Kirby, SN Duda, REDCap Consortium, The REDCap consortium: Building an international community of software partners, J Biomed Inform. 2019 May 9 [doi: 10.1016/j.jbi.2019.103208]

The relationship of the two applications is more of symbiosis than coexistence – that is, without REDCap Flight Tracker could not run. Flight Tracker extends REDCap, and REDCap allows for the extension of Flight Tracker. (See Extending for more information.)

The basic idea of Flight Tracker is to keep a running ledger of information about scholars as they develop their biomedical careers. When you need critical information about your scholars, it is available quickly and accurately through a few clicks of the mouse instead of through complicated hand-sorting of data in spreadsheets or across multiple data sources.

Simplicity

This application transforms a small amount of simple data (a list of scholars and email addresses) into automated surveys, the automated data collection of grants and publications, and analytical tools that can solve real problems. This tool is meant to assist with the administration of the career development of academics with a particular eye on reporting.

The Flight Tracker for Scholars’s power resides in processes that run overnight about once a week. The data are thus almost as up-to-date as the original data sources are. Each data point is reported in a summary that is re-calculated each night, and metadata (data about data) about the source and type of information are stored for each data point.

Instead of manually curating complex reports through difficult spreadsheets, the administration of careers thus becomes the maintenance of a simple database, most of which is automated.

Track Scholar Progress

Worrying about scholars achieves very little. Unfortunately, a lack of data can exist that measures their performance. This software allows you to see where your investments are paying off and to identify where those investments might merit further attention. (See Diagnose Problems Earlier.) It allows you to celebrate scholars that not only “make it” but also thrive with their new challenges. It allows you to celebrate resources and mentors who provide the support infrastructure.

Diagnose Problems Earlier

All data are updated automatically once a week. This allows you to see the latest information for each scholar. Therefore, it becomes easier to identify which scholars might be falling behind the pace. An intervention can take place to identify the reasons behind the lagging. Hopefully, measures can be enacted to rectify the situation. Without easy and early detection, nothing remdial can be done.

Further, with some programmer effort, you have the ability to extend the application to interact with your local data repositories. If your local data contain information on grant submissions, you can track integrate those in with Flight Tracker to provide an even bigger picture of scholar progress and problems. This would allow you to intervene in difficult situations sooner – a savings in time that just might help a few more scholars achieve their dreams and our dreams.

Identify Trends

The field of Academic Career Development is both very important and poorly understood. It has immense impact. We invest heavily in our scholars, but we do not monitor our investments closely. This software seeks to allow us to build on identified good practices and ameliorate the weaker practices. Through multi-site data aggregation (which is currently just a dream of this software), it can be used in research to identify common national trends across institutions. It is our hope that data from this software unlocks insights that will advance the field of academic career development for the next generation of management on scholarship.

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Projects at Vanderbilt are always high priority for the development team. Do you have a pool of scholars (training grants, early career grants, or others) that you would like to track?

Please email the development team to inquire or to request a REDCap project be created for your group.

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A national consortium has partnered around scientific career development. This group meets regularly to help guide development of the software and advance how scholars’ career development is aided. Our goal is to make career development more driven by data and shared knowledge so that we can better invest resources into our scholars.

Our online meetings consist of presentations and discussions about Flight Tracker’s features. Our meetings are recorded so that people can hop up the learning curve at a later date. Send us an email to request an invitation or to inquire about joining us as a partner.

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An online blog post about Flight Tracker in general.

An online blog post about the Mentee-Mentor Agreements.

Data Flow Diagram that shows how Flight Tracker collects data.

This brief from summer of 2021 provides a brief snapshot of where we’ve been. We’d love to write your group in to where we’re going!

This security and architecture document provides an overview of Flight Tracker’s IT structure (for IT and REDCap personnel).

Flight Tracker features an in-app help, comprehensively available for download here.

Flight Tracker also documents its grant-reconciliation algorithm in this Codebook.

Questions or to get started

Email Scott Pearson at scott.j.pearson@vumc.org.

upcoming Flight Tracker events [ view all events ]
February 7, 2023 | 1:00 pm (In-Person) Dr. Julie Bastarache | 2525 West End, Ste 1040
Grant Pacing Workshop
Grants & Funding
Early career faculty
February 9, 2023 | 12:00 pm (In-Person) Dr. Joe Bandy | 206 PRB
Edge Seminar
Pre/Post Doc
Early career faculty
February 15, 2023 | 1:00 pm (In-Person) Dr. Julie Bastarache | 2525 West End, Ste 1040
Grant Pacing Workshop
Grants & Funding
Early career faculty
February 17, 2023 | 12:00 pm (In-Person) Dr. Katherine Hartmann | 2525 West End, Ste 600
Pre/Post Doc
Early career faculty
Mid career faculty
February 20, 2023 | 1:00 pm (In-Person) Dr. Katherine Hartmann | 2525 West End, Ste 1040
Grant Pacing Workshop
Grants & Funding
Early career faculty
February 24, 2023 | 12:00 pm (In-Person) Dr. Katherine Hartmann | 2525 West End, Ste 600
Pre/Post Doc
Early career faculty
Mid career faculty
March 9, 2023 | 12:00 pm (In-Person) Dr. Wes Ely | 206 PRB
Newman Seminar
Productivity
Life Hacks
Early career faculty
March 23, 2023 | 12:00 pm (In-Person) Dr. Katherine Hartmann | 206 PRB
Edge Seminar
Newman Seminar
Faculty Life
Life Hacks
Pre/Post Doc
Early career faculty
April 13, 2023 | 12:00 pm (In-Person) Dr. Kim Rathmell | 206 PRB
Edge Seminar
Grants & Funding
Pre/Post Doc
Early career faculty
April 27, 2023 | 12:00 pm (In-Person) Panel Discussion | 206 PRB
Newman Seminar
Management & Leadership
Early career faculty
May 4, 2023 | 12:00 pm (In-Person) Stacey Satchell | 206 PRB
Edge Seminar
Newman Seminar
Faculty Life
Productivity
Pre/Post Doc
Early career faculty
Flight Tracker keeps up with your scholars' success.
Testimonials
I just told my husband that all I really needed for Christmas was Flight Tracker - Now I’m good!! Thanks so much for your help and support.

~ Flight Tracker User

Flight Tracker is fantastic. I’ve heard lots of good buzz about this program across the CTSA - it is a wonderful example of building a very thoughtful and innovative platform for local needs, then disseminating widely.

~ Flight Tracker User

…truth be told, I think we’re the ones that are lucky to have such a great partnership with you and your team. I always enjoy collaborating with Vanderbilt on REDCap projects and Flight Tracker has been no different.

~ Flight Tracker User

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