I like to explore. I am a marine scientist by training and an investigator by nature. By working in labs on land, on ships, and underwater, I discovered answers and created knowledge. Yet, like the ocean winds changing course, I unexpectedly found myself immersed in the commercial side of information management and delivery. While always longing to go back to primary research, in reality, I have been engaged in the quest for understanding all along, albeit without getting wet. By developing scholarly resources and tools for the past eighteen years, I have been assisting students and researchers in navigating the enormous quantity of information being created at ever increasing speeds. This in turn helps them find solutions.
My journey back to school began with a press release announcing the 2014 IMLS Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program grant recipients. I was at a crossroads with my tenure in the commercial information industry and was intrigued enough to reach out to several awardees, the University of Tennessee School of Information Sciences (SIS) being among them. Simply, I was just curious to learn what the schools were doing with the money.
Under the direction of Dr. Allard and Dr. Tenopir, UTK was recruiting for a capacity-building project to educate six master’s students in the area of scientific data curation with a special emphasis on Team Science. A collaborative effort to study complex problems, Team Science leverages the expertise of professionals trained in different fields. The UTK program offered an accredited MS in Information Sciences degree that also included the organizational communication skills to support team-based approaches to scientific discovery and problem solving. This was a perfect opportunity to leverage my academic training and science background with my technical communication and publishing experience and gain the skills to better connect research to the creation of new knowledge, manage that information, and disseminate—leading to new discoveries.
Returning to school can be daunting, but for me it has been a golden opportunity to engage in hands-on experience that otherwise might not be available with a mid-career status. It is reasonable to think that I do not need “work” experience at this stage, but exposure to new work environments has been of utmost value during this program. Through Team Science, my Graduate Research Assistantship at the Y12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge has allowed me to embed within a team of researchers facing laboratory data management problems. This is the nexus of scientific research, digital curation, and scholarly communications. While their information needs are not unique, the Y12 environment is. All of the work I face must battle a 50+ year old culture that is infused with secrecy. In other words, simple change and simple solutions do not exist. I am learning to adapt to the pace and organizational challenges, but perhaps the biggest outcome is realizing that I aspire to work in a fast moving environment.
Another advantage of my immersion into academia is the serendipitous connections. My work with Y12 moved me to reach out for background information from my commercial vendor contacts, which stimulated a conversation with the UTK data librarian. The result was a collaborative project with the UTK library to investigate electronic laboratory notebook (ELN) use and awareness on campus, as well as supplemental consulting work with an ELN vendor to create library focused messaging. This type of networking is priceless. It also demonstrates success in transferring my new skill set.
While I do have a data-centric focus in my program design, an important goal is to gain the library-centric experience that I associate with my degree. My coursework has certainly prepared me to help people seek, select, store, and retrieve information—the fundamental premise of either a librarian or information scientist. I also have experience working with librarians and library services, but from the outside. To obtain hands-on experience “behind the desk” I participated in a practicum. Working at UTK’s Hodges Library, I have been engaged in a wide breadth of experience in an academic research library (ARL) that includes resource acquisition, reference, instruction, data curation, data analysis, and scholarly communications. I very much enjoy the ARL environment and, as more academic institutions are realizing the need for interdisciplinary research teams to solve society’s grand challenges, this experience is paramount.