16 November 2022

The future generation of scientists, a data story

Do you ever wonder what happens to your data after you submit them to BCO-DMO? The general workflow looks like this: researchers submit their project-specific data, then we (BCO-DMO data managers) communicate with the submitters, we curate the data (ensuring they have comprehensible metadata and can be easily reused), and — finally — we publish it online.

As a data manager, I have pushed hundreds of datasets through this general flow. However, we are rarely involved directly in the next step, which is reusing our data holdings. It is up to the public and the research community to complete the reuse cycle by actually using these curated data.

But once in a while, an opportunity comes along that allows us to explore our ideas in helping others with completing that last step in the data life cycle. (Don’t let the unassuming term “data manager” deceive you; we have lots of ideas on how to improve the data world!) Here are some examples of opportunities I have recently been involved with:

  • I had the chance to plunge into the world of “The Carpentries “, developing and teaching workshops on the fundamental software and data skills needed to conduct research.

  • On another occasion, BCO-DMO collaborated with the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS). We guided undergraduate college professors through ‘Databytes’, which are packaged data exploration and analysis modules they can adapt and use in their courses at their home institutions.

  • Yet for another opportunity, I sat on a panel at a “career day” for eighth graders, inspiring (hopefully) students to realize the importance of data.

BCO-DMO staff at a BIOS workshop.
BCO-DMO staff at a BIOS workshop.

There is one other magical opportunity I’m particularly fond of…why, you ask? It is because it came absolutely out of the blue and required no action from our side, yet the result was incredibly gratifying.

Let me paint you a picture: one wintery morning in March 2021, the data manager on watch for new, incoming requests (probably sitting behind their desk with some newly brewed, steaming cup of coffee) gets the following, uncommon, question:

“I am a high school math teacher, and am emailing on behalf of a student who is taking a statistics independent study. She is looking into a career in marine biology, with a current interest in jellyfish (or in carbon sequestration in living organisms, specifically oceanic plants). She is hoping to apply what she is learning about statistics to a relevant dataset. I was wondering if there are any datasets that you all would be able to share that she could use for a project? We are hoping to do basic statistical analyses (box plot, t-test, ANOVA, and/or Chi-squared).”

Searching our database with the term “jellyfish”, returns about 27 datasets. So yes, even though none of us are jellyfish experts, we could point the teacher in a helpful direction. Which we did, then we moved on to the next email and the next cup of coffee.

Months go by (18 to be exact) and one late summer morning in September 2022, the following email appears in our inbox:

“I know this was forever ago, but I wanted to reach out and let you know that the data was super useful, and my student was so grateful and excited to play with the information. Thank you so much for the time you put into finding the data and emailing it to me.”

And that kind email just made my week! Something so small, having an impact on this student. Maybe it was improving their statistics skills, maybe it sparked more interest in jellyfish, or maybe they decided vertebrates are more compelling after all. Whatever the outcome, it was incredibly rewarding to see how my job might have left the littlest impression on a future generation of scientists.

Have you ever used BCO-DMO data for your science project? Or do you have a data question? Let us know at info@bco-dmo.org !


Last modified: 2022-11-16 12:47:00


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