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Two SIS Grads Lead the Newly Relocated World Data System

Two alumni of the School of Information Sciences master’s program have taken the lead at World Data System (WDS) International Program Office (IPO), which relocated headquarters to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville this year after a successful bid to have the international institution move from Japan to East Tennessee.

Meredith Goins

Meredith Goins, who not only graduated with her master’s degree from SIS but is also a doctoral student at the College of Communication and Information, is executive director of WDS. Sarah Gonzalez, a UT employee of 20 years, earned her SIS graduate degree in 2020 and is program manager for WDS. Together they are building a new foundation for the organization to continue its work in ensuring the long-term stewardship of, and access to, quality-assured scientific data.

The organization provides support and resources for data repositories and a variety of members who host data, data products, and data services. WDS helps their members to network with each other, and also provides guidance and other resources to assist members in managing, storing, and sharing quality scientific data. The WDS-IPO is supported by the Department of Energy Office of Science, and the principal investigator for it is SIS and Chancellor’s Professor Suzie Allard.

All About Data

Sarah Gonzalez

For both Goins and Gonzalez, entering their respective positions at WDS was a natural segue that utilized the various skills they gained through their graduate education and their career experiences.

Prior to coming on as executive director of WDS, Goins was a group manager in research, review, evaluation, and technology at ORAU. She also had worked in various library settings, including public, special, and medical libraries.

“I believe in the mission of World Data Systems and what we do, and I believe it can make a difference. It’s international, but also highlights the United States and UT, so anything I can do to help the US and UT to get a little acknowledgement, I’m going to do it,” Goins said.

Gonzalez got her first taste of information sciences when she was an undergraduate student and chose to minor in it—that minor inspired her to pursue her master of science in information sciences, with a focus on research data management. She previously worked as a research administrator in the UT Office of Research, Innovation & Economic Development, so this current positions combines her interest in research and data in a way that made her jump to apply for the job when she saw it posted.

“I graduated with my MSIS in May 2020 in the middle of the pandemic. I was working in research administration, and I was happy to stay put until the right opportunity to put my degree into practice. When I heard about the opportunity with WDS, I realized that waiting was the right decision,” she said. “I want to work with research data, being able to support these data repositories was an opportunity I immediately acted upon.”

Putting Education Into Practice

Goins graduated with her masters in 2000, so returning for her doctoral degree was a decision she made to refresh and push her knowledge of information sciences to the next level. She is hoping to have completed the PhD program by fall 2023, but in the meantime, is enjoying taking all of the career and academic knowledge she’s acquired and applying it to her current role. While she knows many in the data field relate more to the information sciences aspect of what she does, at heart, Goins said she is a librarian.

“We’re bridging gaps, which is what a lot of librarians do. People resonate and know that you know how to meet their needs and are able to ask questions. I think about my reference interviews in school, how to ask questions and then sit back and shut up and let people talk about what their needs are—I’m doing that now with our members,” she said. “It isn’t just about information or data visualization. If you don’t know your audience and how best to talk to them, it doesn’t matter if you know your data or how pretty it is.”

Much of what Goins does is connecting, networking, and ensuring that members have the support and resources they need. WDS ensures its members are sticking to certain standards for managing their data, and that each repository is doing a good job of making their data accessible and also communicating what standards they are using so others can utilize their data. Goins is also involved in policy-making decisions, lending her expertise to various councils and committees around the world as they navigate the ins-and-outs of what needs to be done to maintain high-quality data and data management processes.

“I’ve had a lot of opportunities to be in working groups through Research Data Alliance, and it’s amazing to see individuals come together from a dozen countries all on one call and see that there is only want to do good for the field. Those are the kind of people I want to work with, and I think our school prepared us to do that, no information scientist works in a vacuum,” she said.

Managing the WDS Program

Being the program manager for WDS means doing a wide variety of work, all of which Gonzalez has taken on with gusto, Goins said. First on the list was to build and launch a new website for WDS’s re-launch. The website is now in its final stages and just about ready to be rolled out, though Gonzalez made sure to apply her information science knowledge to the task.

“We did user testing with the User eXperience Lab, which it is lovely to have access to be able to do this testing,” Gonzalez said, noting that her time in the master’s program really hammered home that websites need to be designed in a way that will best serve the intended users.

Additionally, she conducted an in-depth membership audit and will use information from that to build a customer relationship management system that will aid WDS in supporting all of its members. The membership of WDS ranges from large data repositories to libraries and academic institutions, so there’s a variety of people and institutions that need to be served in different ways, Gonzalez said.

Goins said that Gonzalez’s comfort with technology has been a boon to the intense process of building the WDS headquarters in East Tennessee, and that her knowledge has extended even beyond the regular day-to-day business of the organization. WDS recently hosted its International Data Week Conference, and Gonzalez was integral in setting up the necessary tech for the hybrid conference.

“A lot of the work is connecting members. At International Data Week, one thing I did work heavily on was the members forum. We want the members to come together because some of them can be pretty siloed because they’re working on their own data. At International Data Week, 12 WDS member organizations gave us video presentation updates and that allowed the rest of the members to see what these trendsetters are doing. We want to keep them in touch with each other so they’re sharing best practices,” Gonzalez explained.

A true lover of data, Gonzalez said she is also excited to be conducting her own data project wherein she’s taking a deep dive into data repositories’ strategic plans. She is doing so in conjunction with WDS IPO’s sister office, the WDS International Technology Office in Victoria, Canada, with the intent to learn more about how plans can aid repositories in their missions and visions.

“We really want to see what they have, what’s missing, how can we help them model what is best practice for strategic plans and moving data forward, and I’m excited about that,” she said.

Gonzalez also recently joined the National Association of Information Science and Technology’s (ASIS&T) Council’s Research Engagement Committee. She was president of the student chapter of ASIS&T at UT while she was in her master’s program, so moving into a position on the national council has been an honor, she said.

“It’s such a cool opportunity for me because I’m all about research with my background in research administration, it’s such a good fit,” she said.

What’s Next for WDS

Both Goins and Gonzalez see their roles at WDS as the perfect application for their information science backgrounds, and they are looking forward to seeing where they can next guide the organization and its members. They will continue to build the membership base and to connect people and institutions around the globe with each other in an effort to build a world of good data that is accessible to those who need to use it.

“WDS, an affiliate of the International Science Council, provides global leadership and agenda setting. We aim to enhance access, quality and accessibility of data worldwide by creating trusted communities of scientific repositories,” Goins said.