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!

Jen Darragh is a Senior Research Data Management Consultant for the Duke University Libraries. She was interviewed by Liza Coburn in May 2020.

How did you come to your current position?

I’ve been involved in some aspect of research data since I graduated from college. I started out working on a longitudinal research data project at the University of Pittsburgh, and then I moved on to Penn State for a Data Archivist position with the Population Research Institute. While there I realized a lot of the cool things people were doing with data was in libraries so I went to library school. My first job out of library school was at Virginia Commonwealth University as a Behavioral and Social Sciences Librarian, so not as focused on data. Because I missed that, I went to Johns Hopkins University where I was a Data Services Librarian in the main academic library, as well as a data librarian and restricted data projects coordinator for the Hopkins Population Center.  After feeling like I’d done just about everything with research data in the lifecycle, I moved to Duke for my current position, which focuses solely on research data management education and support and data curation. I arrived at Duke a little over three years ago.

What do you do?

Along with my counterpart, Sophia Lafferty-Hess, we’ve built a research data management program pretty much from scratch. While our existing department did support researchers with DMP help and other RDM concepts before we arrived, we built a curriculum around research data management (part of our Responsible Conduct of Research Program), we do still review data management plans, we consult on data workflow structure, advise on tools to use for active data management, and generally anything that helps keep people organized during the research data lifecycle. We also built the curation program for the Duke Research Data Repository, and along with colleagues in Digital Collections and Curation Services, serve as product owners of the platform.

How much of your job involves data curation?

It’s hard to delineate. Only part of my job is strictly curating datasets (15-20%), but if you consider how much of my job revolves around data management as a whole it’s probably closer to 50%.

Why is data curation important to you?

I think it’s one of those things where we’re at a time when there’s so much data out there, but there’s a lot of reinventing the wheel. This isn’t good asset or business management for funding agencies. If we can make existing data discoverable, and usable beyond its initial purpose, people can analyze it in novel ways instead of recreating the same data over and over again.

Another reason why is when I was at Penn State I was working primarily to obtain and archive secondary demographic datasets. One of the most popular was the National Longitudinal Study of Adult to Adolescent Health. I managed a restricted data contract that had nearly 50 researchers on it at the time. We always had a robust annual report to send back that showed how all the faculty and students were making use of these data in their research. We were just one institution of many with researchers working on this well-curated data.

Why is the Data Curation Network important?

The thing I like the most about the DCN is that we’re a network of data professionals setting a standard for what data should look like – at least a minimal level of what data should look like – before it goes out in the world. It’s a novel organization, a lot of people are looking at what we’re doing, and it’s an important part of the data ecosystem. 

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

I really don’t know, I’ve been in this field for such a long time. When I was young I really wanted to be a hairstylist, but my parents insisted that I go to college. What’s bad about making people happy all day while making money? Anyway…I guess if I wasn’t doing my current work I’d be a hairdresser, or if I found a way to be independently wealthy, retired.

To learn more about Jen and some of the datasets she’s curated for the DCN see her curator page!

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