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!

Dave Fearon is a Senior Data Management Consultant at
Johns Hopkins University. He was interviewed by Alicia Hofelich Mohr in January, 2020.

How did you come to your current position?

I originally got a PhD in Sociology from UC Santa Barbara. Neither I nor my wife wanted to be professors (nor were the offers coming), so we both went to get our I-school degrees at UCLA. I kind of fell into data services and curation support through working with Dr. Christine Borgman. She liked that I had a research background, so I was a research assistant for many of her projects. Through that work, I got on the Data Conservancy grant run by Sayeed Choudhury here at JHU and we were doing work on astronomy data curation. That was part of what helped me get my current job at Johns Hopkins. They were one of the early ones to start data management services in support of the NSF policies and planned to start a data archive.

What do you do?

We are one of the lucky few who have more than one person doing what I do. So we currently have three data management consultants. We do the traditional data management plan support, trainings on different data management topics, and we are starting to branch into more applied data analysis tools like R and Python. We also run the JHU Data Archive, so we do data curation through that.

How much of your job involves data curation?

I would say it’s about a quarter of our actual time currently, given the number of curation requests that come through. These requests are mostly for our archive, rather than finding other places to archive the data. That could change because there is a push for our School of Medicine to do more data archiving, especially if the NIH data management plan requirements come through. We are hoping to do it in a way that builds in more automation and efficiencies so that it stays about a quarter to a third of what we do.

Why is data curation important to you?

We started right from the beginning deciding to be a managed, hands-on archive, where there is no self deposit. The depositors don’t even do their own metadata entry. Originally, we were trying to make a model where we met with the researchers before they deposited to go over their data. We don’t necessarily spend as much time with people now, but we do try to keep it more personal. In that sense, we are able to curate and take a bit more time, asking questions of the researchers, like can you give us a readme file? And sometimes we just need to put out the spreadsheet they gave us that week, but I think we are able to successfully do curation. What we have in our repository is pretty well curated overall. We also try to keep up with preservation standards as well.

Why is the Data Curation Network important?

I was a little skeptical at first about how it would work, but I think it’s a great networking opportunity to get our smaller community interested in what good data curation is and the practical and beneficial practices that we can all share. We can share standards and be examples for the broader community in our field. As far as workflow, I haven’t been able to take assignments and submit data to the network as much as I would want to so finding ways to make that part of the shared curation work for us is something that we want to do.

If you weren’t doing data curation, what would you be doing?

I might have stuck with my academics, which specialized in communications and social psychology. I tell myself if I won the lottery I would do research and writing, but not have to do the other 70 hours a week of work that comes with being a professor (which was part of what didn’t appeal to me about that career). But as a practical matter, if I won the lottery I’d probably be traveling around and eating things I shouldn’t.

To learn more about Dave and some of the datasets he’s curated for the DCN see his curator page!

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