I Was Told There Would Be Cake
Editor's note: Kali Abel runs a small data management company based in Alaksa named Turnagain Consulting. As a fellow data afficianado we have invited Kali to submit content to this issue of Databits, both as an introduction as well as to provide the perspective of outside commentary.
That, in a nutshell, is quite possibly how I become a data manager.
I have been a research scientist for about 7 years, finding myself on projects all over the world, one leading to the next, one idea or question transforming into another. So in some ways I guess it made sense that entering the data management world happened in a similar fashion. I got asked to join a project that was vastly different than any other I had been on, requiring me to be a data manager overseeing the data from thousands of studies spread across hundreds of miles, from hundreds of different scientists, researchers, and volunteers. As a researcher I had always shepherded projects all the way through their life cycles, from data collection to data management to reporting and accessibility for end users. My passion is in finding ways to convey the data to a varied audience, and making my research more accessible to colleagues and general public. Therefore I cannot truly justify any surprise when I came for the cake and stayed for the party.
I cannot ever overstate how important communication is in science, and so much of that communication is done through how we organize, display, understand, and convey the data generated through research. Yosemite National Park’s recent research on climate impacts on high alpine glaciers is the perfect case study in communicating data – and not just any data. Field research provided the data you might expect: glacier measurements, sensor data, meteorological station data streams, mass balance calculations, tree cores, and stream flow measurements. But that wasn’t even the beginning. Prints going back to the mid-1800s, articles from Harper’s Magazine written by John Muir, maps drawn by IC Russell, USGS markers from World War II, 70 years of Parks Service trip reports, photos and sketches and stories and notes and drawings in the margins. Not to mention the stories told by those familiar with the glaciers and the questions asked by those who were intimately familiar with the changing landscape. With the right understanding and management, all of these pieces could somehow fit into a more complete image, adding incredible depth to the research. Such a huge amount of data, in so many forms, demanded attention and a coherent form of communication. And that was only step one.
Step two was to convey such a story to scientists, researchers, the public, park managers, and volunteers. This required making the data useable and approachable for a vast audience without diluting or overcomplicating the message. And because it’s infeasible to address everyone at once, we must find ways for each user to get what they need from the data through an interface that doesn’t require any additional support. The platforms for communicating the data suddenly become as numerous as the packages the data originally came in.
I’m passionate about communicating data to anyone, be it researchers, scientists, other data managers, students, policy makers, the public, or guests at a dinner party (sorry, Mom). It affords me a way to communicate the science that pulled me in originally and challenges me to be constantly transforming and innovative in the quest to build the link between scientists and end users. As the field of data management grows, I am thrilled to be growing with it and finding ways to communicate science with any audience that wants to learn.
Please pass the cake.