For the past three weeks I have been on a practicum placement with the ARDC (Australian Research Data Commons), based at Curtin University. While I have 'feelings' about mandatory, unpaid, practicum placements, that take up all your annual leave (if you're privileged enough to have it), it was a requirement of my current studies. I looked to making the most of it and saw it as an opportunity to a) have a look at University culture, and b) increase my knowledge of data management and the roles libraries have to play in it. I've been working in libraries since 2001 and have kept up my own professional development for the majority of that, so it was interesting to see that my peripheral knowledge of data management was more robust than I had initially thought.
I was able to attend the WA Research Data Roundtable and the concepts and projects discussed made sense to me. In fact I was quite fascinated by the discussion and had a hint of jealousy that I couldn't be involved further in them. Don't worry, this blog post won't be full of my data management hot takes (although they are available on request), this is just a place for me to reflect on my learning, skills, and think about the projects I was able to undertake while with the ARDC/Curtin.
23 Research Data Things
My main project for the practicum was to read, review, and update the old ANDS 23 Research Data Things in their new GitHub home. This was a good project for this placement as I was unable to complete all the Things when it first came out due to work and study commitments. Reviewing the Things allowed me to take them in and also look critically at their sources, what they were trying to teach, and in some cases improve/update them. It also gave me the motivation to finally understand how GitHub works, despite having attended a GitHub session at a VALA Tech Camp. I tend to be a very practical learner and require a real project to work on before I can learn things. Nothing like being in the deep end to give you the motivation to succeed.
NASA ADS vs Web of Science
My secondary project involved using APIs from NASA's ADS (Astrophysics Data System) and comparing results to Web of Science's API. This project was equal parts interesting and frustrating. I ended up writing it in Python in a Jupyter Notebook as it would make the scripts easy to hand over and could be run by other researchers/librarians if they wanted to. Thanks to this project I now know a lot more about APIs, Python, and Pandas dataframes! As well, I now actually understand what a Jupyter Notebook is and why they are so amazing, despite interviewing Tim Sherratt about them last year (sorry Tim!).
My third project was to asist with a metadata crosswalk for an oceanographic researcher. This was closer to home but honestly I felt way out of my depth in this. Extracting useful metadata fields from an ISO standard and matching it to existing data fields should be easy, but its not. Researchers, find a standard first before you start recording data, it'll make your life much better in the long run!
There were a few other things that I picked up on placement that are more general:
- How to run an effective video conference - ARDC staff are spread around the entire country and they run the best video conferences/meetings I have ever experienced. Everyone but the speaker is on mute. No one talks over the top of any one else. It's pure joy.
- The state of research data in WA - visiting other universities and CSIRO with ARDC has given me a great picture of where we are with research data. There is a lot to do but there are dedicated people trying to make it happen.
- Where libraries and librarians fit into the picture - I've been wondering where libraries actually fit in with research data management and honestly I'm not sure. There is the obvious training (but is that the library's responsibility? Are other places better suited to do this?), and data repositories, but ultimately it depends on where in the university the responsibility, funding, and power sits.
In The End...
I have genuinely enjoyed my time with the ARDC/Curtin. I welcomed all the opportunities they gave me and relished working solidly on three projects, rather than the ten or so I usually have going on. I'm not sure if the next stop on my library journey will be data research or universities, but these three weeks have given me back a little bit of joy that has been missing from my career for the past few years. I'll take that as a good sign.