First Day of School

5 Sep

September 4, 2012

This isn’t my first day meeting with the team. We met to collaborate on the grant proposal, of course, and I’ve met with several team members here and there over the past month, but today marked the official beginning of my time on the project. You can probably guess what it started with… as with most anything at work, it started with a meeting. Two of them, in fact.

First, was the monthly meeting where many of the people involved (there are approximately 25 people across 4-5 campuses and/or institutions working on this study!) either attend in person or call in. It’s an update call, a time to document the progress on everything from the number of participants recruited and/or interviewed, to the number of glitches in the various computer programs fixed.

Mostly, it is a time for Process Evaluation. This is an important term, I quickly learn. A large research study is continually evaluated to insure that each step, each part, is producing the data required to ultimately answer the research question. In this case, the National Cancer Institute is giving the researchers a substantial amount of money over several years to investigate what type of intervention works best and is the most cost-effective to insure that women get mammograms, a proven measure in the early discovery and treatment of breast cancer. Without the correct data, the question will go unanswered – or worse, answered incorrectly.

For me, the interesting aspect of the emphasis on process evaluation is that it is the reason the PIs were most excited about adding an informationist to their team. With multiple people and multiple sources of data involved in the study, communication – or better put, troubles with it – are a big concern. My first, and perhaps primary, role on the team is to discover, create and implement the tools necessary to decrease these miscommunications. People are using different terms to describe the same thing. Variables lack clear definitions. We need some controlled vocabulary. Now there’s a good librarian word! And with it, I can see my value pretty quickly.

Meeting #2 involves talking about this role more specifically. My first task is spelled out, “Create for us a Data Dictionary.” Fortunately, I have about 10 months to do this, but by next week, I’m to present my ideas on how I’m going to do this. What am I going to create? What software might I need? What will work best?

I spend the rest of my day thinking about this. I read the grant proposal again. I read a published paper on the study. I sketch out a picture of the methodology, trying to figure out when and where each data source comes into play. It’s no easy task. We have 4-6 (depending on who’s describing it to me) sources of data; 4-6 codebooks; countless variables in total. And of course, they are interconnected in countless ways.

In the end, I determine that I need to make something interactive, something that will allow the users to see not only the definitions of the variables, but also where and how they relate to others. A static document won’t do. I wish I had the programming chops to use ThinkMap (the software behind the Visual Thesaurus), but lacking that, I take time reviewing some other mind mapping and/or visualizing tools. I download a free trial of MindJet and play around with it for awhile. This might work, but I’m not ready to recommend it yet. There are other things out there, I know. I need to look at them, too.

Bottom line: This first day of class was WAY more than a “just hand out the syllabus and leave” day. I think I deserve a new pencil!

15 Responses to “First Day of School”

  1. Andrew Creamer September 5, 2012 at 6:56 pm #

    Sally, this is beyond-words exciting. I am looking forward to following your work on the team here and learning from your experiences on the inside:) I hope you continue to post about what you learn about the tools you use; otherwise, I’d have to stand up and walk across the library and ask… You earned a pencil!

    Also, your last sentence reminds me of a funny story. Last year an English teacher friend had ordered some pencils to hand out to star pupils on the first day of class– on the pencils was a message: “(sic)Your a star”…

  2. Maxine Schmidt September 5, 2012 at 6:58 pm #

    You’re blazing a trail for all of us. I think in the not-too-distant future this will be a big part of the job for some of us.

  3. salgore September 5, 2012 at 7:26 pm #

    Thank you, Andy and Maxine! I’m looking forward to tracking my adventure here. It will be worthwhile, I know.

    Also, I just came upon a great example of a “Data Dictionary,” this one currently underdevelopment by our friends at NCBI. It corresponds to the new database, ClinVar. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/projects/clinvar/ClinVarDataDictionary.pdf

  4. Donna Kafel September 5, 2012 at 7:45 pm #

    Sally, your blogging about this project and your learning process as you go along will be invaluable to those of us who want to get a grasp of what team research is like and its ensuing data challenges. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences.

    May I also say that I’m looking forward to perusing your data dictionary when it’s done? The vocabulary may be controlled, but there’s no controlling mandosally’s creativity!

  5. Ellen Brassil September 5, 2012 at 10:41 pm #

    Bravissimo! Sally this will be a live testimony to the skilled and invaluable role librarians play every step of the way as the research process unfolds and evaluates. Looking forward to checking in and following your work, insights etc. All the best!
    – Ellen B.

  6. Nicky Pallotti September 6, 2012 at 7:42 am #

    How splendid and impressive. I can understand why you are welcomed and will be a very valuable member to this team. Two questions: 1. ThinkMap and MindJet…How did you know about those resources? 2. You mentioned it began with two meetings. How were you invited? How’d that come about. Way to go, Sally.

    • salgore September 6, 2012 at 12:36 pm #

      That’s a great question – and the seed for another post, Nicky! I’ll write about how I came to get this role within this study. Stay tuned. 🙂

      Re ThinkMap and MindJet – I knew of the concept of mind mapping, and simply began searching the web for discussions and/or recommendations on tools to do such. I also knew of the Visual Thesaurus and knew that they created ThinkMap as the platform to build it.

  7. Regina Raboin September 6, 2012 at 10:46 am #

    Sally, I can’t tell you how much your blogging about your experiences will mean to not only STEM librarians, but other research information specialists. Bravo and I look forward to reading your entries and learning from you!

  8. Lisa Palmer September 7, 2012 at 9:01 am #

    Sally, thanks for blogging about all this. We created something similar to a data dictionary way back when we were working on the Cumulus database, do you remember? It identified all the elements/fields in the database, allowed values, etc. it wasn’t interactive, and it didn’t clearly identify the relationships, but hopefully there are great tools out there now to help you achieve your goals with this. We’ll make a metadata librarian out of you yet! 😉

    • salgore September 7, 2012 at 2:13 pm #

      Thanks, Lisa! Oh, the metadata! The metadata! 🙂

  9. Eleanor September 7, 2012 at 1:22 pm #

    Wow. I am impressed and a tad overwhelmed by the task(s) that await you. It IS exciting, but I fear I would not know where to start. Do you consider yourself a tech-savvy person (prior to starting in this position)? I now want to poke around ThinkMap and MindJet etc, just to see what they do…

    • salgore September 7, 2012 at 2:18 pm #

      Hi Eleanor. Thanks for the nice comments. Yes, I do consider myself tech-savvy, but not in any programming sense. Mostly I find that I’m not afraid to try new things. I believe that this trait, along with curiosity, will get me far in this new role; and that this is true for any librarian in any new role. I do have a background in science and research, so that will help, too, but curiosity, the willingness to try, and a tendency towards creativity can take you a long way. At least that’s what I believe. Stay tuned to see how it all plays out.

  10. readkev September 9, 2012 at 12:19 am #

    This is an excellent Blog! I am an Associate Fellow at the National Library of Medicine and am very interested in pursuing work in this area. I will be sure to track your progress closely over the next 12 months. Keep up the great work! I’m so glad to see a librarian staking a claim in this area.

    • salgore September 9, 2012 at 8:42 am #

      Thanks, Kevin. I’m not the only one staking, but I’m happy to share my adventures here. 🙂 Thank you for following along.

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