Research in the Developing World

New field of development engineering sparks co-mentorship program

Open access journal created by UC Berkeley and Elsevier helps authors in developing countries publish their research

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In the fight against global poverty, policymakers are increasingly relying on rigorous research and an open flow of information to help direct public investments. Yet the expertise and perspectives of scholars in developing countries are often under-represented in policy debates, in part because of lop-sided authorship trends: in 2013, nearly 70 percent of all scientific articles were authored by researchers working in the European Union, United States, China and Japan, according to Elsevier’s analysis using Scopus data.

Disparities in academic authorship are driven by both institutional and social barriers. According to a 2010 UNESCO study, researchers in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America found it difficult to publish in highly ranked journals because of limited infrastructure and resources for research, language barriers, and lack of incentives and international peer networks.

This year, a new journal will be trying to address these challenges.

Development Engineering is an open access title that will highlight technology solutions designed around the economic, social, and environmental challenges of poverty. Part of its mission is to connect researchers in developing countries with those in more developed areas. It will be published by Elsevier, with the first issue in September.

A new academic field: development engineering

The journal follows the emergence of a new academic field, also called development engineering, which merges insights from development economics and engineering to generate scalable products and services for low-resource settings. The idea for the publication arose from researchers at the University of California, Berkeley.

Last year, a new degree program in Development Engineering (Dev Eng) was established at Berkeley, offering a minor to doctoral students in engineering and quantitative science departments. Related courses and certificates already exist at universities throughout the world — including programs in Global Engineering, Humanitarian Engineering, and Information and Community Technology for Development.

The new journal will help formalize these disciplines and create a coherent, high-impact outlet for research in the field. But it seeks impact beyond academic publishing. It will serve as a guide for policymakers and development practitioners, pointing them to new technologies for monitoring, evaluating, and advancing economic development.

In addition, the journal will actively cultivate contributions from developing country authors through a novel Co-mentorship Program. This initiative aims to bridge the publishing gap faced by developing country scholars. It will initially require funding from donors, but a more sustainable business model is in development.

How the Co-Mentorship Program works

The Electrochemical Arsenic Remediation (ECAR) research team with their water treatment prototype in Kolkata, India in 2012. This photo is from a pilot installation of an arsenic removal reactor, deployed at a high school near Kolkata.  Prof. Ashok Gadgil, Science and Technology Deputy for Energy Technologies at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (center), poses with Dr. Susan Amrose, a scientist at UC Berkeley, and Siva Bandaru, then a local engineer hired by the ECAR project to work In India. Siva became a collaborator with the Berkeley research team, co-authoring publications as part of this work. He was admitted to UC Berkeley as a PhD student in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department in 2014, and remains involved in the original ECAR project from the research side. (Photo: Gadgil Lab for Energy and Water Research).

The program works by identifying promising but unpublishable manuscripts submitted by young authors in low- and middle-income countries. Rather than requesting revision and resubmission, the journal’s editorial board can refer authors for co-mentorship. Once enrolled in the program, authors are paired with a peer investigator with complementary skills, based in a more established research group. The pairs of researchers will receive modest grants for joint travel to field sites, or to fund the researcher time needed to strengthen manuscripts for publication. Together, co-mentors will improve the quality of promising work.

Interested in serving as a co-mentor?

The editorial board of Development Engineering will pair selected authors from developing countries with members of leading research groups throughout the world. The journal welcomes academic researchers from any field of engineering or quantitative science — from civil engineering and computer science to economics and epidemiology. In general, co-mentors should be advanced or seasoned investigators in established labs or research groups. They should have experience working in applied (field) settings, although experience in a developing country is not required. Contact: mentors@dev-eng.org

Why “co-mentorship”? In addition to increasing the number of publications led by developing country authors, the program will create opportunities for well-published scholars from leading institutions to work on problems related to poverty. This may be the first time that a co-mentor from a developed country has the opportunity to apply their skills in a developing country. Ultimately, we expect participants in the program to exchange valuable knowledge and insights and influence the course of each other’s research.

By increasing publication rates, the Co-mentorship Program also aims to showcase the ideas and novel contributions of developing country scholars, providing more visibility and recognition for their work. Long term, the program will facilitate sustained collaboration between researchers in wealthy and less developed nations, adding critical insight and perspective to a growing body of knowledge on engineering solutions for the problems of poverty.

“This is a fantastic example of how creative thinking around a new journal launch can not only support the certification and dissemination of research outcomes but also advance the field by fostering research collaboration, benefiting mentees and mentors alike,” said Louise Curtis, Publishing Director for the Development Engineering journal.

She added that this journal also resonates with Elsevier’s corporate responsibility focus on boosting research ecosystems in developing countries, mentioning Research4Life, a free and low-cost access program in developing countries, and the Elsevier Foundation’s Publishers without Borders and Innovative Libraries programs.

Dr. Paul Gertler, Co-Editor-in-Chief, of Development Engineering and Professor in the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley, said the program meets a crucial need.

There are intensely creative, innovative ideas coming from researchers in developing countries, but we often fail to capture these ideas in high impact academic journals. Development Engineering is building the networks and programs to ensure that we collect the best ideas from around the world.

About the Development Engineering journal

Development Engineering is an open access, interdisciplinary journal applying engineering and economic research to the problems of poverty. The journal serves as a bridge between engineers, economists, and other scientists involved in research on human, social, and economic development.

Related article

Lina Nilsson, Temina Madon and S. Shankar Sastry: “Toward a new field of Development Engineering: Linking technology design to the demands of the poor,” Procedia Engineering (2014)

In the media

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Elsevier Connect Contributors

Temina Madon, PhDDr. Temina Madon is the Executive Director of the Center for Effective Global Action (CEGA), a global development research network headquartered at the University of California, Berkeley. Her research and training focus on health services and technology design for emerging markets. She has previously worked as a science policy advisor for the National Institutes of Health Fogarty International Center and the US Congress (HELP Committee), with a focus on global health and research capacity in developing countries. She has PhD in health sciences from UC Berkeley and a BS in chemical engineering from MIT.

Ashok Gadgil, PhDDr. Ashok Gadgil is Science and Technology Deputy for Energy Technologies at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. His research focuses on technical, economic and policy aspects of energy efficiency and its implementation, particularly in developing countries. He has several patents and inventions to his credit; among them is UV Waterworks, a technology to inexpensively disinfect drinking water in developing countries. In 2014 he was elected to the US National Academy of Engineering and was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. In 2013, he received the Silver Prize in the Reed-Elsevier "Environmental Challenge" Award, for invention of a low-cost technology to remove arsenic from drinking water. He has a PhD in physics from UC Berkeley.

Other contributors to this report include Joe D’Angelo, Senior Publisher for Civil Engineering at Elsevier; Carson Christiano, Partnerships Director at CEGA; and Sarah White, Program Manager at CEGA.

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