This post is part of our Curators’ Corner series. Every so often we’ll feature a different DCN Curator. The series grew out of a community-building activity wherein curators at our partner organizations interview each other “chain-letter style” in order to get to know each other and their work outside of the DCN better. We hope you enjoy these posts!
Alicia Hofelich Mohr is the Research Support Coordinator for Liberal Arts Technologies and Innovation Services (LATIS) at the University of Minnesota. Alicia was interviewed by Sophia Lafferty-Hess in September, 2019.
How did you come to your current position?
I came to this position in a roundabout way, like a few other curators. I was in a visiting faculty position at a small liberal arts college in Massachusetts in Psychology – outside of data management and the library space. I was looking for jobs on the tenure track and outside (alt-track) and I found this one. It was a great opportunity to work with people on a lot of different types of research as well as think about reproducibility, data management and data sharing, which are all things I had encountered as part of my graduate training but couldn’t necessarily focus on except for as one piece of what I was doing. So it really was a good fit for me.
What do you do?
I am the Research Support Coordinator outside of the library in a collegiate-level research group called LATIS, which stands for Liberal Arts Technologies and Innovation Services. I consult with researchers in the liberal arts on everything from data planning, collection, and analysis to data management, reproducible research, and data sharing. But I also have a team of people with different types of expertise, for example: survey methodology research, qualitative research, mixed methods research, programming and computing. I also work as a curator for the libraries.
How much of your job involves data curation?
Not a lot of it – probably about five percent of what I do is data curation for Minnesota’s repository. I usually get curation assignments from the social sciences that include statistical code in R. A lot of my work is pre-curation. I help people when they’re building a survey or an experimental research instrument and make sure how we program it leads to understandable variable names, that we give them the metadata, and they know how to find it, and the tools to make the process more automated so they have a better product to share. Even though I’m not curating a lot, most of my work surrounds trying to make the data better for when people do share it.
Why is data curation important to you?
No one likes messy data. Data are so important – they underlie scientific research, they are what we base the conclusions we draw on. If we are not good stewards of data, then we were squandering this precious resource. So making sure data are understandable on their own, and that they can be used by other people, is important. I also think it’s really important for human subjects data that we take care of the data and they are around for the long-term, as appropriate. It would be a disservice to the people that took the time to participate to put the data in a file cabinet with no variable names.
Why is the Data Curation Network important?
For how important data are there are so many different kinds of data -. even in the social sciences. We have a really heterogeneous variety of data and I know if you look outside disciplines it really takes people with knowledge of that discipline to properly curate it. I really like having this network of people with different backgrounds and different expertise in the different types of data to provide that expert view of the data.
If you weren’t doing data curation, what would you be doing?
The easy answer is that I would be doing psychology research and what I had done my dissertation on – so being faculty or faculty-track. But I think the more exciting thing, if I was thinking farther afield, would be meteorology and modeling weather. That would be fun!
To learn more about Alicia and some of the datasets she’s curated for the DCN see her curator page!