Piloting a Community of Student Data Consultants that Supports and Enhances Research Data Services


Research ecosystems within university environments are continuously evolving and requiring more resources and domain specialists to assist with the data lifecycle. Typically, academic researchers and professionals are overcommitted, making it challenging to be up-to-date on recent developments in best practices of data management, curation, transformation, analysis, and visualization. Recently, research groups, university core centers, and Libraries are revitalizing these services to fill in the gaps to aid researchers in finding new tools and approaches to make their work more impactful, sustainable, and replicable. In this paper, we report on a student consultation program built within the University Libraries, that takes an innovative, student-centered approach to meeting the research data needs in a university environment while also providing students with experiential learning opportunities. This student program, DataBridge, trains students to work in multi-disciplinary teams and as student consultants to assist faculty, staff, and students with their real-world, data-intensive research challenges. Centering DataBridge in the Libraries allows students the unique opportunity to work across all disciplines, on problems and in domains that some students may not interact with during their college careers. To encourage students from multiple disciplines to participate, we developed a scaffolded curriculum that allows students from any discipline and skill level to quickly develop the essential data science skill sets and begin contributing their own unique perspectives and specializations to the research consultations. These students, mentored by Informatics faculty in the Libraries, provide research support that can ultimately impact the entire research process. Through our pilot phase, we have found that DataBridge enhances the utilization and openness of data created through research, extends the reach and impact of the work beyond the researcher’s specialized community, and creates a network of student “data champions” across the University who see the value in working with the Library. Here, we describe the evolution of the DataBridge program and outline its unique role in both training the data stewards of the future with regard to FAIR data practices, and in contributing significant value to research projects at Virginia Tech. Ultimately, this work highlights the need for innovative, strategic programs that encourage and enable real-world experience of data curation, data analysis, and data publication for current researchers, all while training the next generation of researchers in these best practices.

[This paper is a conference pre-print presented at IDCC 2020 after lightweight peer review.]

Conference Pre-prints