A little over two years ago, after an exhausting day of packing up our apartment in Brooklyn, I turned to my partner and said “Hey, remember when said I wasn’t going to do a postdoc?”.
This was a joke, intended to offset the anxiety we were both feeling about our impending move across the country. But, after deciding to not pursue the “traditional” academic path (graduate school → postdoctoral fellowships → faculty position) and shifting from working in cognitive neuroscience labs to working in academic libraries, I had long assumed that my window into the liminal space occupied by postdocs had closed. That is, until I learned about the CLIR Postdoctoral Fellowship Program and saw an opportunity to dive headfirst into the wider world of scholarly communications and open science with the UC3 team at California Digital Library.
Today is my last day in the office at CDL and so much has happened in the world and for me personally and professionally over the course of my fellowship that I’m not sure anything I could write here would ever do it all justice. I suppose I could assess my time at CDL in terms of the number of posters, papers, and presentations I helped put together. I could mention my involvement with groups like BITSS and RDA. I could add up all the hours I’ve spent talking on Skype and Zoom or all the words I’ve written (and rewritten) in Slack and Google Docs. But really the most meaningful metric of my time at CDL would be the number of new colleagues, collaborators, and friends I’ve gained as a postdoc. I came to CDL because I wanted to become part of the broad community of folks working on research data in academic libraries. And now, as I’m about to move into a new position as the Data Services Librarian at Lane Medical Library, I can say that has happened more than I would have thought possible.
Looking back on the last two years, there are about a million people I owe a heartfelt thanks. If you’re out there and you don’t get an email from me, it’s almost definitely because I wrote something, decided it was completely insufficient, wrote something else, decided that was completely insufficient, and then got completely overwhelmed by the number of drafts in my mailbox. But seriously, thanks to everyone on the UC3 team, at CDL and the UC libraries, and beyond for everything you’ve done for me and for everything you’ve helped me do.
Looking forward to what comes next, I have about a million ideas for new projects. Some of are extensions of work I started during my fellowship while others are the product of the connections, insights, or interests I developed while at CDL. But, since this is my last blog post as a postdoc, I also want to devote some space one last UC3 project update.
Support Your Data
If there is a common thread that ties together all of the work I’ve done at CDL it is that I really want to bridge the communication gap that exists between researchers and data librarians. The most explicit manifestation of this has been the Support Your Data project.
If you’ve missed all my blog posts, posters, and presentations on the topic, the goal of the Support Your Data project is to create tools for researchers to assess and advance their own data management practices. With an immense amount of help from the UC3 team, I drafted a rubric that describes activities related to data management and sharing in a framework that we hope is familiar and useful to researchers. Complementing this rubric, we also created a series of short guides that give actionable advice on topics such as data management planning, data organization and storage, documentation, and data publishing. Because we assumed that different research communities (e.g. researchers in different disciplines, researchers at different institutions) have different data-related needs and access to different data-related resources, all of these materials were designed with an eye towards easy customization.
A full rundown of the Support Your Data project will be given in a forthcoming project report. The short version is that, now that the majority of the content has been drafted, the next step is to work on design and adoption. We want researchers and librarians to use these tools so we want to make sure the final products don’t look like something I’ve been working on in a series of Google spreadsheets. Though I will no longer be leading the project, this work will continue at CDL. That said, I have a lot of ideas about using the Support Your Data materials as they currently exist as a jumping off point for future projects.
Data Management Practices in Neuroscience
I’m still surprised I convinced a library to let me do a neuroimaging project. I mean, I’m not that surprised, I can be pretty convincing when I start arguing that neuroimaging is a perfect case study for studying how researchers actually manage their data. But I think it says a lot about the UC3 team that they fully supported me as I dove deep into the literature describing fMRI data analysis workflows, charted the history of data sharing in cognitive neuroscience, and wrangled all manner of acronyms (ahem, BIDS, BIDS).
As I outlined in a previous blog post, the idea to survey neuroimaging researchers literally started with a tweet. But, before too long, it became a full fledged collaborative research project. As a former imaging researcher, I am still marveling over the fact that my collaborator Ana Van Gulick- another neuroscientist turned research data in libraries person- and I managed to collect data from over 140 participants so quickly. Our principle aim was to provide valuable insights to be both the neuroimaging and data curation community, but this project also gave us the opportunity to practice what we preach and apply open science practices to our own work. A paper describing the results of our survey of the data management practices of MRI researchers is currently through the peer review process, but we’ve already published a preprint and made our materials and data openly available.
We definitely hope to continue working with the neuroimaging community, but we also plan to do follow-up surveys of other research communities. Given the growing emphasis on transparency and open science practices in the field, what do data management practices look like in psychology? We hope to find out soon!
Exploring Researcher Needs and Values Related to Software
One of the principle aims of my fellowship was to explore issues around software curation. Spoiler alert: Though the majority of my projects touched on the subject of research software in some way, I’m still not sure I’ve come up with a comprehensive definition of what “software curation” actually means in practice. Shoutout to my fellow software curation fellows who continue to bring their array of perspectives and high levels of expertise to this issue (and thanks for not rolling your eyes at the cognitive neuroscientist trying to understand how computers work).
Before I started at CDL I knew that I would be working with Yasmin AlNoamany, my counterpart at the UC Berkeley library, on a project involving research software. To extend previous work done by the UC3 around issues related to data publishing, we eventually decided to survey researchers on how their use, share, and value their software tools. Our results, which we hope will help libraries and other research support groups shape their service offerings, are described in this preprint. We’ve also made our materials and data openly available.
There is still a lot of work to be done defining the problems and solutions of software curation. Though we currently don’t have plans to do any follow-up studies, we have another paper in the works describing the rest of our results and our survey will definitely inform how I plan to organize software-related training and outreach in the future. The UC3 team will also be continuing to work in this area, through their involvement with The Carpentries.
But wait, there’s more
Earlier this week, after another exhausting day of packing up our apartment outside of Berkeley, I keep remarking to my partner “Hey, remember when I thought I’d never get a job at Stanford.”
This is a joke too. We’re not moving across the country this time, but the move feels just as significant. Two years ago I was sad to leave New York, but ultimately decided I needed to take a step forward in my career. Now, as I’m about to take another step, I’m very sad to leave CDL. I’ve very excited about what comes next, of course. But I will always be grateful for CLIR and the UC3 team giving me to opportunity to learn so much and connect with so many amazing friends, collaborators, and colleagues.