2o13 Year In Review, Part I


The month began with a trip to Providence, Rhode Island, for an interview for the Scientific Data Curator position at Brown University. Providence is a pretty little city with a nice river running through the middle (I think the Providence River). Brown University was a pretty campus, though not as pretty as I was expecting it to be. I guess I had a picture of an Ivy League campus in my mind, and Brown just didn’t live up to it.

Later in January, I traveled to Amsterdam for the International Digital Curation Conference. I present a poster on conducting a data management audit of scientific research groups, which was from my project at NCAR the previous summer. I came down with a cold while I was in Amsterdam, which made the jet lag even more difficult. When I finally arrived in Knoxville after having been en route for over 12 hours, I couldn’t actually get to my house because of bad snow. Thankfully, friends who live close to the airport were able to come get me and let me stay at their house for the night.

The next morning, I spoke to the HR manager at Brown, and she offered me the job. I told her I would need a few days, which I really didn’t, because I knew I was going to turn down the offer if they made one. I called her back the next week and turned it down. I do feel sorry for the folks at Brown because they’ve had a really tough time filling that position, and I really don’t know why.


This month was rather uneventful. Elizabeth and I attended a Robert Burns Night Supper at some friends’ house, which was alot of fun. Later in the month, I heard from Virginia Tech, and they wanted me to come for an interview in late March. I knew I could be getting that call, so stayed on top of my school work so I wouldn’t fall behind.


During this month, UT advertised their Data Curation Librarian position. I had been waiting for that for a few months. I knew this is the job I wanted. Later in March, I went to Virginia Tech for an interview for the Research Data Librarian position. It was a great visit and a great campus. I really enjoyed it, but I still knew that I didn’t want to accept a position since I knew UT’s position was open. I was offered the position, which I subsequently turned down. We also traveled to Virginia Beach to visit Pat, Patty, Charlie, and Emily. That was a great visit.


We ran the Covenant Health 5k in early April, which was alot of fun. Later in April, we flew to Virginia to attend Elizabeth’s cousin’s wedding in Hampton. That was alot of fun, but very fast.


I had my long-awaited interview at UT on May 22. This was the day that could make or break my future career. It went really well, as did the other two interviews had already been on.


I WAS OFFERED THE POSITION AT UT!! This was the best day I’ve had since my wedding day! The rest of this month was pretty quiet as I was not going to start the job until July 1. We also traveled to Lexington for a few days since Elizabeth was presenting at a conducting workshop at the University of Kentucky.


I began my job at UT.


My New Job

UTWorkmarksALLI was just offered (and I accepted, of course) the position of Data Curation Librarian at University of Tennessee Libraries. This is the position that I have been wanting for over a year. When my wife and I decided that we really wanted to stay in Knoxville, I set my sights on getting a job at UT. When I first broached the topic with Holly Mercer at UT, she was very unsure of what the prospects for a data curation related position would be at UT in the near future. Then, as time went on over the Fall, 2012, semester, the prospects began to brighten: the library had a budget meeting and decided to hire someone, the committee was formed, the job was posted, and I applied for it.

In the meantime, I had been applying for other jobs, too. One at an Ivy League institution and another at a fine engineering institution. Each of them invited me for face-to-face interviews and then offered me the job. Knowing UT’s position was also in the works, I declined these two offered. That was a very hard decision. I was passing up two very good offers for something that may not come to be. Well, all that waiting and hoping paid off when they called me this week and offered me the job. My wife and I both are elated and just can’t stop smiling! I start my new job July 1st as Data Curation Librarian at University of Tennessee Libraries.

General Goals for my Graduate School Tenure

Back in August, 2012, I wrote a post over at Hack Library School called “Rounding Third: Goals for the Home Stretch.” I talked about what I’ve learned, where I’ve come, and what I hope to accomplish by the time I graduate. These are the goals I outlined for myself.

  1. Have at least one published article under my belt by graduation. This has been a goal of mine since I started grad school. I wasn’t sure I would be able to do it until recently though. All through my first year of school, I didn’t have enough experience yet to have anything to say. Now, I am almost certain I can have an article published by graduation.
  2. Attend a conference related to data / digital curation as a poster or a paper presenter or as a panel participant. I already have some ideas here. I am planning on proposing a poster session at the ASIST Digital Libraries Special Interest Group session and another at iConference 2013.
  3. Continue to build my knowledge base on data curation, research data management, and repositories.
  4. All while doing the preceding three items, maintain focus on my elective courses. Looking ahead, I see all kinds of activities I’ve signed myself up for. On top of that, I have a 20 hours/week work requirement for my assistanship. I need to make sure classes don’t fall by the wayside.
  5. And last, but not least, get a job. There have been many data curation jobs coming across the wire lately, and I’m sure the number will only increase over the next year.

So far, I think I’m doing very well at meeting these goals. Here’s what I’ve done towards them, numbered according to the goals above:

  1. I have published a review of the DMPTool website in Public Services Quarterly. It’s not a peer-reviewed article, but who cares? It’s a publication.
  2. I’ve presented posters at conferences and will present more next year. I’ve also given a lightning talk and was invited to be a panelist at the Data Curation Profiles symposium at Purdue.
  3. I’ve continued to build my knowledge of data curation and expand my skill set. I’m planning on learning Python next semester so I can add that skill to my resume.
  4. I think I’ve done a good job of maintaining focus on electives, though this semester has been busy. I hope to come out with all As again this semester, even with all the travelling I’ve done.
  5. I haven’t accomplished this goal yet, but I’ve applied for five positions as of this writing. Each looks like a great opportunity, and I’m sure I would be happy at any of them. I’m still hoping University of Tennessee has a job opening that I can apply for soon, but I’m not putting all my hope in that.

In all, I am very happy with my progress in graduate school. It’s funny, because I never excelled in engineering like I am in the information science world. I think it has alot to do with my interest. If I’m interested in a subject, I give it my all. I never gave engineering my all, so I just coasted along for so many years. Information science, and data curation in particular, excited me, so I’m eager to do whatever I can to excel.

Database Management Systems – Outcomes

At the beginning of this semester, I wrote a post with my goals for my 584 – Database Management Systems course. In that post, I said I wanted to become proficient at databases, as opposed to simply literate or adequate. I believe I have achieved that goal. Dr. Wang said for proficiency, one must be able to add tables, modify models, and run advanced queries. I am able to do that. I’ve run queries that join tables, modify tables, sort and group data, and ask for input from the user. So, in all, I’m pleased with my progress in 584. I feel like I now have the skills necessary to create a database from scratch and see it through to implementation, though I still have much to learn.

Speaking Extemporaneously

Speaking extemporaneously has never been my strong point. I would much prefer to deliberate in my mind, then write a response to someone’s question. However, I understand that this method of conversation is not always feasible. My grad school experience has forced me to speak on the spot, and I can definitely see a marked improvement in my speaking skills. I do not feel terrible when I’m put on the spot with a question during a presentation, or when I have to speak about a project without much preparation. This is an essential skill — it is in every job advertisement: excellent written and oral communication skills. I already felt pretty good about my written communication skills, and now, thanks to my experiences in grad school, I feel much more prepared for oral communication skills.

Data Analytics Assignment 1 Reflections

I turned in my data analytics assignment 1 last week. We had to choose a data set context and talk about what can be done with it, i.e. what kind of questions it can answer. I had a hard time choosing a data context. I didn’t exactly know what I was doing. I chose the data from the University of Tennessee student records. But now that I had my data context, I had to decide what it could tell me. This was the most difficult part because looking at the data was pretty overwhelming. I had a hard time seeing the data and being able to see what could be answered from them. It didn’t help that I am still unfamiliar with how databases work, so it was hard to tell the structure of the database. But I continued to study the data and finally began to see what I could do with it. It was as though a light came on and I had my data analytics filter on. This was a turning point for me. At this point I was able to see myself as a data analyst.

Data Management Research Guide

Data Management Libguide. Click for the whole guide.

Data Management Libguide. Click for the whole guide.

To apply the concepts I have been learning in my Foundations of Data Curation course, I created a research guide on the UT Libraries website. Jeanine and I met with the Associate Dean for Scholarly Communication, Holly Mercer, to run everything by her and make sure everything on there was OK from her standpoint. She was extremely excited that I had created it and said we needed something like that badly. She thought the Office of Research would be thrilled with it as well. It went live a few days ago. The link is: libguides.utk.edu/datamanagement.

Thinking Like a Social Scientist

What do I mean when I say thinking like a social scientist? How would I contrast it to thinking like an engineer? I am currently experiencing an interesting phase of my grad school career. I am being stretched to think beyond the limits that I was used to thinking within as an engineer. As an engineer, I had to be logical, detail oriented, and remain within the objective realm. As a social scientist, I am having to learn how to think beyond the concrete and into the abstract realm. I am definitely feeling the growing pains. As explained in an earlier post, I was continually getting frustrated because the concepts I was learning were not clear to me. My mind was having a hard time grasping them. But each time it has happened, I have pushed through it and eventually understood the concepts.

This pattern has been repeated at least three times that I can remember. The first time was early in the semester when I felt extremely overwhelmed by my data curation course. Then it happened with research methods where I had a difficult time comprehending the concept of conceptual frameworks. Then it happened again in my data curation course with the introduction of the FRBR refactored for data sets concepts. Each time, I was overwhelmed, frustrated, and feeling hopeless. Then as I continued to dive into the concepts, they started to become clearer to the point where the cloud finally lifted and I understood them.

This transition from engineer to social scientist isn’t easy, but it is part of the process. At least I now know that this is the pattern that occurs. I’m sure I will experience more of them this semester and definitely next year. It’s encouraging to see this, because I know I will eventually get it and be a better information science professional for it.

The Symantic Level

I was trying to explain the symantic level to a classmate today over email, and as I was explaining it to her, it became much clearer to me. This is what I wrote:

The document-like vs dataset-like objects comes from the comparison between FRBR and the new FRBR redone for datasets they [the instructors] introduced last Saturday. FRBR is designed to handle “document-like” objects, such as books, CDs, etc. But the new stack levels (semantic, syntax, serialization, encoding, etc) are meant to handle “dataset-like” objects. The statement about data making assertions is how they differentiate datasets from document-like objects. Data is different from document-like objects because it asserts a fact about something. Remember them saying this –  Data involve assertions intended to be used as evidence? So if you have a data set full of temperature measurements at certain times and pressures, then each data entry would assert “The temperature at time X and pressure Y is Z.” That’s the assertion the data are making. It’s not expressed literally in the data, but you can infer it. This assertion is the symantic level of the document — it’s what fact it’s asserting

It’s nice to see these concepts becoming clearer to me. I’m beginning to see the clouds lift, much like they did when I was trying to come to terms with conceptual frameworks in my research methods class. This semester has been a pattern of clouds forming, my feeling totally lost, and then the clouds starting to lift as things become clearer to me. At least I recognize this pattern so the next time it happens I will know it’s part of the process.

Management Lessons from Leading a Group Data Collection Project

In my eportfolio class, I was selected as leader of assignment 3. Assignment 3 is a research project in which there are three groups. One group will collect data on the job ads for library and information science positions, another group will collect data on the published competencies from professional associations, and the last group will be the database support group. We began collecting data about 2 weeks ago. At that point, we realized this was going to be far more work than we had anticipated. Thus, as the leader, I contacted Dr. Wang and told her that there was no way we could collect all the data she wanted us to collect by the deadline. There were approximately 2500 job ads that had to be entered. Then in class we discussed it and came the conclusion that we would have to reduce the scope of the project drastically if we were going to finish within the course of the few weeks allotted.

This has really been a learning experience. I’ve directed projects before, but not really in this way in an academic setting. The group members were very cooperative and helpful, but I see how it is as a manager — some of the people in your group do alot of work and others don’t do much. Some of them do all their work early, and some wait until the last minute to do their part. This is the way group projects work. There are different dynamics that one must work with as a leader. I’ve learned that you have to support you group, trust them to do the job they were given, and then let them go and do it.

As a future employer, I will remember that empowering your employees gets the most out of them. When employees feel like they are trusted, they will work well for the leader.