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!

Sarah Wright

Sarah Wright is a Research Data and Life Sciences Librarian at Cornell University. Sarah was interviewed by Laura Bowman in April 2023.

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

I have a Master’s in Botany that is really more geared toward biochemistry and cellular and molecular biology. I worked in a lab studying protein import into chloroplasts for seven years and then really started questioning whether I wanted to have a faculty position. I was looking for something with a bit more work-life balance. I had actually worked in a veterinary library as an undergraduate and realized that I could be a science librarian which would let me use my passion and appreciation for science.

I graduated right after the economic collapse in 2009 when no academic positions were hiring, so I worked for the US Geological Survey for a year at their National Biological Information Structure as an information specialist. I kept looking for jobs through that and academic jobs started popping up again in 2011. I saw a post for a job at Cornell and went through the job listing, and it was a really nice fit.

What do you do at Cornell?

I began strictly as a Life Science Librarian, but it was about the same time as the NSF began requiring data management plans, so that very quickly became part of my position, and the data piece has grown ever since. Now, I am the Research Data and Life Sciences Librarian here at Cornell University. Besides curation, that consists of research data management and instruction around that, and a small piece is still life sciences reference, though the majority of it is definitely research data management.

How much of your job involves curation?

This is not an official number, but I would estimate it in the range of 30-50%. There are two of us at Cornell, myself and Wendy, doing all the curation for our institutional repository, e-commons. (Supplemented by DCN help, of course!)

Why is data curation so important to you?

It’s hard to narrow it down. One reason is that having worked in a lab and inherited data from graduate students who worked there before me, I had a really early introduction to the importance of documentation. I’ve always been drawn to documentation too. My PI during my graduate degree in Botany would show my lab notebook to other graduate students as an example of thorough documentation. It’s necessary to make any data we create reusable and it’s the whole idea of science: we stand on the shoulders of the folks who came before us. Data curation helps make that possible.

Why is the Data Curation Network important?

So many reasons. Wendy and I are just two people working in a really big library here at Cornell, so the DCN has given us a really wonderful, lovely circle of colleagues to talk to– and be vulnerable with – about our work. It’s been a great resource when we don’t know what we’re doing or we are trying to think through a problem. We learn from one another and have built this community. It’s a really positive influence in our lives and helps us realize that we’re not the only people who are really interested in this kind of thing. Beyond the community, there is also an educational and professional development aspect.

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

That’s a really hard one. If I wasn’t a librarian, I might be working in a plant nursery or a raft guide, which I have done previously. I really like academia though, so I would probably still be somewhere in academia, maybe even a field biologist.

What is your favorite cuisine?

I love all cuisine. I am a big food person. I love to eat, I love to cook. I have a bookshelf in my house that is devoted to cookbooks. I don’t have one favorite cuisine though – I go through stages. I could eat Mexican almost every night of the week, but then I could also do that with Indian or pizza – the trifecta. Food. Period. You can quote me on that.

Do you have a favorite cookbook from that collection?

King Arthur Whole Grain Baking or Bittmann’s How to Cook Everything. Those are the two that I use a lot.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I have an 8-year-old and a 13-year-old, so I spend a lot of time doing kid-related activities like running to swim team and lessons and ski club. I personally really love hiking and reading and being outside.

What is your favorite city?

I don’t have a favorite, but I like traveling to different cities. I tend to like to try different things rather than visiting the same place over and over again. I love to go find new interesting foods and explore, get to know the place, and spend enough time there to be like “this is my coffee shop”.

Where would you most like to travel to next (state/country/continent/city)?

We have a few trips planned, including one to Paris on the way to Germany for work. I started playing with ChatGPT to make an itinerary for that trip, and it actually gave me a pretty good list of things to do. It was mostly the big tourist things that you would expect, but it gave a good initial structure. It was actually awesome.

Beyond planned trips, I haven’t been to either China or Vietnam yet and I would like to. I would like to experience the culture, the history, and of course, the foods.

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

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