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!

Briana Ezray Wham

Briana Ezray Wham, PhD is the Research Data Librarian – STEM, Data Learning Center Manager, and Eric N. and Bonnie S. Prystowsky Early Career Science Libraries Professor at Penn State. Briana was interviewed by Reina Chano Murray in August 2022.

Can you tell us a little bit about how you came to your current position?

My background is actually in biology, so I have my PhD in entomology studying Bumblebee disease dynamics and color mimicry. It was really fun; I got to do fieldwork, museum work and wet lab or molecular lab work.

So that’s where I really got exposed to the idea that you need to manage your data well, and the challenges that come when you don’t manage your data well. I was actually doing my PhD here at Penn State one building over from the library, where I am now. And I was one of the first graduate students in my lab so there were still  processes and systems that weren’t quite in place yet so I helped build some of those. I found interest in that side of things and entomology also has a lot of what I’m finding now in this role similarities to some of the work we do in libraries, around organization of information, especially like specimen data in collections, which is where I started with my work.

I was scouring job ads looking for something that looked interesting to do, and this position at Penn State, the data librarian for stem position, popped up and I went, that’s the dream job I never knew existed! I talked to some folks in the library, applied, and was fortunate enough to get the position.

The position that I first came into is the Research Data Librarian for STEM role, and it came along with an endowed professorship (the Eric N. and Bonnie S. Prystowsky Early Career Science Libraries Professor). It’s an early career professorship. I feel really, really fortunate to have it. Its main purpose is to help with professional development, for those early in their career and teaching in the sciences.

It worked out perfectly for me, as someone that really needs to network in a field that I had no exposure to before. It’s allowed me to attend conferences, take trainings, hire graduate students, those kinds of things.

And then, in maybe spring 2020, I got the additional role of Data Learning Center Manager.

What do you do?

That’s a good question. So primarily my role is there to support researchers with their data management and research reproducibility. I also manage the unit, the Data Learning Center, where we support researchers from data management planning, through analysis, through sharing data and open-access articles in our institutional repository or elsewhere and curation. I do not do all of those things, I primarily support the data management planning side, and then the data curation and sharing side, with some overlap with the folks that support data analysis, analytics, and visualization in that I offer workshops on how to use R for data wrangling and data management skills. So a lot of my work comes in [the form of] workshops, consultations, presentations and engagement with researchers.

How much of your job involves data curation?

I wish more my position involved hands-on data curation. I do some curation for our institutional repository, ScholarSphere. But I think, ultimately a lot of my job supports data curation because I am working to support researchers in managing their data so that it is well curated in the end. So taking those kinds of practices and principles of data curation but flipping them for researchers. I do wish thought that more researchers worked with us all the way through the research process, but we’re working towards that.

Why is data curation important to you?

So for me, it’s extremely important, both as a researcher I reused data and there were some datasets that were really easy to reuse, you could understand them, everything was well documented and then there were others where that was not the case and it was kind of a loss or there was data that was really hard to get your hands on but was important for a project, and so I think data curation is really vital to the future of research and being able to kind of take past research and combine it with the current research that’s being done. 

Also, as I mentioned at the beginning, I’ve been there, where you don’t manage your data well or don’t curate it well and it’s really hard to understand it even yourself a couple years down the road.

Why is the Data Curation Network important?

Lots of reasons why it’s important but, for me, one of the biggest things, has been, coming from a non-libraries background and a background not in this field, [the DCN] has been a really useful and supportive community for being able to ask those questions [that] you’re maybe not so sure it’s a reasonable question and also being able to learn from others in the field in a safe space.

And the resources that the DCN creates are amazing for self-learning, so that’s been really important for me for my career as I was kind of transitioning from a biology researcher into supporting other researchers with their actual data.

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

Yeah that’s an interesting question and I’m going to go far out from if I was to have not gone this direction at all, so, not becoming a biology researcher, not becoming a data librarian? I think I would have gone into physical therapy. I’m currently having to do physical therapy, and I think their job looks really fun, like you get to be up working with people. Which I guess in a sense is similar to the work we do in libraries, it’s a service role and I like helping people. That was part of the reason I transitioned from my individual lab research to this type of role. But with physical therapy it seems like you get to kind of move around more than I currently am.

What is your favorite cuisine?

I like this question. I’m a big foodie and I will eat any Asian food that you give me. I think my comfort one is probably Chinese food. If I’m ever celebrating something or upset, it’s Chinese food, but any Asian food.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I do embroidery and have embroidered patches for a couple quilts for the nephews. I also like to go  hiking or on walks. Being outside, that kind of thing. There’s actually really good hiking just like a five minute drive outside of State College, where Penn State is, so we’ll go there and there’s like water and forests… So that’s really nice. Nice just kind of get outside, walk around, not be looking at my computer.

What is your favorite city?

Good question, so my favorite city is Newport, Oregon. And it’s primarily because that’s where my family used to go on vacation every year as a child. It’s a really small kind of coastal town on the Oregon coast, that has kind of cliff features and caves and you can go tide pooling. they also have a really cool like, these like highway signs they’re [just for] artists so like glass blowers, and things like that, and so I’ve spent a day, where I just drove up the coast and anytime there was a blue sign followed it to wherever like the art exhibit was so.There’s also a really nice aquarium and Rogue Brewery is there. You can eat fresh seafood like dungeness crab and stuff so I look forward to going there.

Where would you most like to travel to next?

So on my bucket list is Japan. My husband and I were supposed to go for our honeymoon but obviously the COVID-19 pandemic has derailed that. It’s still on the list. He’s been before and likes to talk about how neat the culture was, the food, everything and so I’m really excited to go someday.

[So my husband] went previously, he is a coral biologist originally now turned data scientist. We met in grad school. He got sent there for research, so he spent a couple weeks in Tokyo and then was in Okinawa doing research. We would go all over if we got the chance to go. 

We also watch a lot of like travel documentaries to see places we want to go and Japan is always on the list.. 

To learn more about Briana, and the datasets she has curated for the DCN, see her curator page!

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