Meet Elizabeth Wickes, Data Curation Specialist

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Elizabeth with a rebuilt and functional Colossus computer at the British National Museum of Computing.

This post is the third in our series profiling the expertise housed in the Scholarly Commons and our affiliate units in the University Library. Today we are featuring Elizabeth Wickes, Data Curation Specialist.


What is your background education and work experience?

I started in psychology and then moved to sociology. I also have a secretarial certificate and I use that training a lot! I worked at Wolfram Research as a Project Manager and then Curation Manager before I started library school.

What led you to this field?

Data curation just finds you. It’s a path where people with certain interests find themselves in.

What is your research agenda?

I’m exploring new and innovative ways to teach data management skills, especially computational research skills that normalize and practice defensive data management skills.

Do you have any favorite work-related duties?

My favorite thing to do is leading workshops and teaching. I really love listening to people’s research and helping them do it better. It’s great hearing about lots of different fields of research. It’s really important to me that I’m not stuck in a single college or field, that we’re a resource for the whole university.

What are some of your favorite underutilized resources that you would recommend to researchers?

I think consultation services in library are underutilized, including consultation for personalized data management.

If you could recommend only one book to beginning researchers in your field, what would you recommend?

Where Wizards Stay Up Late by Katie Hafner and Matthew Lyon. It’s a book all librarians should read, and it would be great for undergraduate reading, too. It’s the history of how the internet was born, explained through biographies of the key players. The book also covers the social and political situation at the time which was really interesting. It’s fascinating that this part of the world (the internet, data curation, etc.) was developed by people who were in college before this was a major or a field of study.

There are a lot of statistics out there about how much data we are producing now: For example: “Data production will be 44 times greater in 2020 than it was in 2009” and “More data has been created in the past two years than in the entire previous history of the human race”… How do you feel about the increase in big data?

Excited. When people ask me “What is big data?” I tell them that there’s a technological answer and a philosophical answer. The philosophical answer is that we no longer have to have a sampling strategy because we can get it all. We can just look at everything. From a data curation and organizational perspective it’s terrifying because there’s so much of it, but exciting.


To learn more about Research Data Service, you can visit their website. Elizabeth also holds Data Help Desk Drop-In Hours in the Scholarly Commons, every Tuesday from about 3:15-5 pm. To get in touch with Elizabeth, you can reach her by email.

Image of Research is Open for Submissions!

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In conjunction with the Graduate College, the Scholarly Commons is pleased to host the Image of Research competition for the 2016-2017 academic year!

The Image of Research is a celebration of the diversity and breadth of graduate student research at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Graduate and professional students from all disciplines are invited to submit entries consisting of an image that represents their research (either concretely or abstractly) and a brief written narrative.

Submissions will be accepted through January 15, 2017, after which judges will select a list of semi-finalists. From the semi-finalists, the judges will award four prizes given as professional development travel funds:

  • First Prize: $500
  • Second Prize: $300
  • Third Prize: $200
  • Honorable Mention: $100

Awards will be presented at a reception on April 5, 2017 in conjunction with the Annual Graduate Student Appreciation Week. Attendees of the reception will have the opportunity to vote for a semi-finalist to receive the People’s Choice Award ($100).

For more information about this year’s competition, or to submit an entry, visit the Image of Research website. Past entries and winners can be viewed in the online gallery and in IDEALS.

GIS Spotlight: What3words

What3words is an addressing system that works as an alternative to using latitude and longitude. The system consists of a grid of three meter by three meter squares laid over the globe with a three word code randomly assigned to each square. Their system is based on the idea that three words are much easier to remember, as well as record and relay, than multi-digit latitude and longitude coordinates.

This new addressing system is extremely useful for countries where there are inconsistent or nonexistent addresses or street names.  The Mongol Post has adopted what3words as their addressing system because of the considerable nomadic population in Mongolia and the lack of road names over much of the country.

Even in countries with functional postal systems what3words can be used to identify places that have no address. For instance, the Alma Mater of The University of Illinois has no street address, but in what3words its address is stores.basin.frame.

14251424459_4b27cbbd25_bI think that what3words is a really interesting idea, and since I love maps I find it enjoyable just looking around their website. It’s fun to find a what3words that’s very apt for its location (despite the random distribution of words), or… one that’s not.  For example, worlds.largest.ocean is located just outside of Marshfield, Wisconsin.

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There are some limitations, however. What3words only gives information about the surface of the Earth. It does not give any reference to where things are vertically. Addressing in urban areas would not be able to rely solely on what3words for this reason; an apartment number or floor would have to be added. What3words has said that it’s possible they could incorporate a height dimension in the future.

What3words can be used with ArcGIS, a mapping software that the Scholarly Commons has available on all PCs in our lab. Since the Scholarly Commons is located on the third floor of the library, I can’t direct you here solely through what3words. I can however, specify the best library entrance for getting here.

Enter at and go up the stairs.

Come visit us!