An Incredible Journey
When I moved to Knoxville almost five years ago, I had no idea my life would change so much. A new engineering job brought me from the Atlanta, Georgia, area to Knoxville in September of 2008. I graduated from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 2000 and had been a civil engineer for about six years before I moved to Knoxville and remained in that profession for three more when I got here. Such a long tenure in one career might lead one to believe it was a career I enjoyed and would retire from. But I knew even from the earliest engineering jobs I had that it was not the career I wanted. While it was a rewarding career in many ways, I was never passionate about it. One day, while casually talking to my fiancee (another change that happened once I moved to Knoxville), I asked her to be thinking about other careers that I could consider, ones that used my skills and fit my personality. It was not even an hour later when I received a text message from her saying, “What about a library science masters?” She had just heard a news story on NPR talking about how Stanford University’s Engineering Library was getting rid of all their print journals and going all digital. Neither she nor I knew there was such a thing as an engineering library or engineering librarian. I researched the profession thoroughly and decided that it was the career I wanted. Quite conveniently and fortuitously, I learned there was a highly ranked library and information science masters program right in my own city at the University of Tennessee. Thus, I applied to be admitted to the program, was accepted into the program, and was then offered an assistantship in the Data Curation Education in Research Centers program.
The journey over the last two years has been an incredible one. Looking back on this time shows an journey and growth trajectory that is quite remarkable. I wrote in a Hack Library School post how this journey has made me feel. I wrote then:
At various times and sometimes simultaneously, I’ve been overwhelmed, frustrated, excited, angry, amazed, and bored. Yet, through all these emotions, I have grown as a person and as a professional in more ways than I can count.
Through the last couple of years, I have written posts on my personal blog and the Hack Library School blog explaining how I have grown. I talk about transitioning from thinking like an engineer to thinking like a social scientist. I talk about how I realized my feeling of being overwhelmed was a natural part of this growth. I spoke about how timely and thoughtful advice from my adviser shifted my paradigm. And as a result, I began to see myself as an information science professional, and it encouraged me to be ambitious, not just to get by.
I laid out some goals for myself at the start of my library school experience. My initial goals were 1. to learn the core competencies of librarianship or what it means to be a librarian and 2. to learn specialized skills for my future career, such as data curation and management. These goals have certainly been achieved, as demonstrated by my articulation and application of core principles of librarianship. But what is more gratifying is to see the goals I laid out for myself after having completed one year of graduate school. It is amazing to see the differences in those two sets of goals. I will walk through them one by one and reflect on how I achieved them.
My first new goal was to have at least one published article under my belt by graduation. While this was a goal of mine since I started grad school, I did not think it was achievable until after my first year of graduate school. All through my first year of school, I did not have enough experience yet to have anything to say, or so I thought. Not only did I meet that goal, but I have published two articles. They are not peer reviewed research articles, but that is not important to me. What is important is that I have two articles: one in which I review the DMPTool for Public Services Quarterly, and a Data Curation Profile on the Data Curation Profiles Directory.
My next new goal was to attend a conference related to data curation to present a poster or paper or be a panel participant. I met that goal multiple times over. I presented a lightning talk at a session at ASIST 2012. I also presented a research poster based on work from my summer internship at the International Digital Curation Conference 2013 in Amsterdam. In addition to these posters and lightning talks, I was invited to be a panelist at the Data Curation Profiles (DCP) Symposium at Purdue University in October of 2012.
Another goal was to continue to build my knowledge base of data curation, research data management, and repositories. This goal is ongoing. I continue to read articles, listen to presentations, and engage the data curation and management field to increase my knowledge base.
It is not enough to simply devote time to independent learning, presenting, and writing. It was and still is important for me maintain focus on my coursework. I have so far been successful at maintaining focus on the courses while still engaging in extracurricular activities. I have earned a grade of ‘A’ on all my classes thus far, an achievement that I am quite proud of.
Last, but not least, my goal is to get a job. There have been many data curation jobs coming across the job boards lately, and I am sure the number will only increase over the next year. I am encouraged that my skills and background are in demand. The first job I interviewed for, a Scientific Data Curator position at Brown University, was offered to me. However, I declined the offer to focus on jobs closer to home.
In addition to the achievements outlined in the Goals section above (i.e., my ASIS&T lightning talk, my IDCC poster, and my invitation to be a DCP Symposium panelist), there have been other achievements that I consider important. Early in my graduate school tenure, I applied to be a regular writer on the blog Hack Library School. I was delighted when they invited me to become one. I have since regularly contributed to the blog with articles discussing general topics relevant to library school students. I am particularly proud of two posts. The first one talks about some informal research I undertook to learn where in the world one could work with an ALA-accredited masters degree. This post [Oh, the Places You’ll Go (with your MLIS)] generated quite a bit of discussion. The second one talks about the e-Portfolio as a way to stand out in the crowd of job seekers (How to Stand Out in the Job Search Crowd). It also generated quite a bit of discussion and is currently in the top three posts with the most comments.
I also have contributed posts to the e-Science Community Blog. On this blog, I discussed current developments in the field of data management education. After I attended CURATECamp in Atlanta in May, 2012, I wrote an initial post about how data management education could and should be done. Later, after spending some time at my summer internship at NCAR and seeing how data management took place in a scientific research center, I wrote a followup post in which I changed my mind about certain statements of data management education I made in my earlier post. Yet another achievement related to the e-Science Community Blog is that I was invited to be a contributor to the larger site, the e-Science Portal for New England Librarians. In this capacity, I provided resources and annotations for the “e-Science and Libraries” and the “Data Support Services” sections. The fine people at the e-Science Portal also invited me to be a guest “tweeter” on their e-Science Portal Tweet Chat. This was an interesting experience reading and responding to questions in 140 characters or less.
The goals and accomplishments discussed above have provided a foundation for a very fulfilling career in the library and information science field. My participation in panels, talks, posters, and articles have all provided name recognition in my new field. These activities have also provided visibility within the field, which is important to succeed in this career — one can not succeed in a bubble. I have networked with important names within the field simply by reaching out and starting a conversation with them about their research. I am sincerely interested in talking with them about it, and they have been quite open and welcoming to hear from me and more than willing to share ideas. I will take these achievements and build upon them in my future career by continuing to contribute to the scholarly community.