ScienceOnline2011 – interview with Kristi Holmes

Continuing with the tradition from last three years, I will occasionally post interviews with some of the participants of the ScienceOnline2011 conference that was held in the Research Triangle Park, NC back in January 2011. See all the interviews in this series here.

Today my guest is Kristi Holmes of VIVOweb.org (Twitter).

Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Where are you coming from (both geographically and philosophically)? What is your (scientific) background?

Thank you for welcoming me, Bora!

It has been a bit of a journey to get to where I am now: a scientist completely immersed in the library environment. I was always incredibly interested in science – even from a very early age and spent many hours with my nose in a science book. In college, I had a great mentor who encouraged me to pursue advanced studies in chemistry, and I am grateful for his kindness and support (Thanks, Dr. Mosher!). I eventually graduated with a PhD in Biochemistry from Iowa State University where I worked on small ribosomal subunit assembly, learned how to think critically and had some fun along the way (Thanks, Dr. Culver!). Iowa State also gave me a great introduction to the library, as I served as the Graduate Student Senate representative to the University Library Committee. Upon graduation, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life – I knew that a traditional academic career wasn’t for me, as I find so many (too many?) topics of interest. I thought that intellectual property law might be a good fit, so my family and I moved to St. Louis so that I could go to law school. While in St. Louis, I stumbled into a career in the library, left behind law school, and I have been here ever since!

I have the good fortune to have a career that allows me to be able to bring my science background to a service-based library environment. I work as a bioinformaticist at the Becker Medical Library at Washington University in St. Louis. My job duties there are incredibly varied: I teach classes and coordinate training opportunities on campus on software platforms and databases, offer research consultations, support collaboration at our university, and I even work on projects related to research impact and genomic medicine.

Tell us a little more about your career trajectory so far: interesting projects past and present?

I am fortunate to have an opportunity to work on a number of other exciting projects and I’ll describe a few of them for you. A great deal of my efforts in the library support the mission of the Washington University Institute of Clinical and Translational Sciences (WU-ICTS). The WU-ICTS is one of 60 Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) institutions that “… are transforming the way biomedical research is conducted [by accelerating] the translation of laboratory discoveries into treatments for patients, [engaging] communities in clinical research efforts, and [training] a new generation of clinical and translational researchers.” (CTSA Consortium, 2011) I am a member of the WU-ICTS and also serve as a member of the WU-ICTS Tracking & Evaluation program where we work to track research output and understand the impact of the Institute’s efforts. One particularly exciting project I’m involved with which is supported by the WU-ICTS and carried out in partnership with the Becker Medical Library and the Washington University Departments of Medicine, Genetics, Pediatrics and Pathology & Immunology is the interdisciplinary seminar series, Introduction to Genomic Medicine. The series offers attendees a practical background in topics related to genomic research and applications of genomic technologies in the research environment and aims to increase understanding of the clinical application of gained knowledge. The 2011 series was a resounding success and we look forward to the 2012 series.

I also serve as the National Outreach Coordinator for an open source Semantic Web-based research discovery platform called VIVO (www.vivoweb.org). VIVO facilitates research discovery by providing verifiable information about researchers and their interests, expertise, publications, grants, courses, and more. Across institutions, VIVO provides a uniform semantic structure to enable a new class of tools that use this data to advance science. I have been working in this role for about two years as part of a National Institutes of Health–funded ARRA award. This role necessitates that I am on the road a lot, visiting universities and organizations and attending conferences (like Science Online!). I conduct webinars for groups wishing to know more about the VIVO software and work on a number of policy- and data-related tasks, as well. We’ve had a national conference for two years now, with the third scheduled for August 22-24, 2012 in Miami, FL. We also sponsor other events such as workshops, an implementation fest, and hackathons. The open source VIVO community is vibrant and growing and it has been great fun to collaborate with amazing people from across the country and around the world.

Locally, our library is interested in how we can support our researchers in areas related to data management and preservation, dissemination, and so on. I’ve been working with a group of librarians from across both campuses at Washington University as part of the Association of Research Libraries/Digital Library Foundation (ARL/DLF) E-Science Institute. As part of this work, each team carries out an environmental scan of their university, conducts interviews with the major stakeholders, performs a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Opportunities, Weaknesses, Threats) and eventually develops a game plan to support the needs of our research community around data. We’re in the middle of this process right now and I anxiously await the end so that we have a good perspective of how best to move forward at our university.

What is taking up the most of your time and passion these days? What are your goals?

I find that I tend to be a “jack of all trades” at work. There are so many interesting projects and ideas flowing right now, I find it hard to restrict my time to just a few areas! Beyond my daily responsibilities supporting WU researchers, I have several other projects that occupy my time. Certainly my roles on the local and national VIVO projects are a major effort, as is my work on topics related to “e-research” topics at our institution. I am collaborating with the Scholarly Communications Specialist at Becker Library, Cathy Sarli, on updates to the Becker Model – a framework for moving beyond citation counts to track the impact of biomedical research. I have also been spending a great deal of time working to develop programs that educate and provide information support for a wide range of stakeholders on topics related to genomic medicine (e.g. researchers, various health care providers, patients and their advocates).

What aspect of science communication and/or particular use of the Web in science interests you the most?

My work on VIVO has given me a good perspective of the limitations in the discovery process in the academic environment. Data are spread out, often out of date, and poorly structured and maintained. There is an increasing recognition by a variety of stakeholders of the value of semantic web standards and technologies to facilitate research discovery. I’m eager to share the opportunities that the Semantic Web presents for not only connecting people, but also for building a rich open web of information that can be used for a variety of purposes for everyone – researchers, journalists, patients, librarians, and physicians, alike. I’m also very excited about some of the recent efforts related to scholarly output and impact, such as microattribution, nanopublications, and various alternative metric efforts by a number of groups. A good discussion of many of these issues can be found in a recent article from Nature Genetics, The value of data. (Mons, 2011)

How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook and others? How do you intergrate all of your online activity into a coherent whole? Do you find all this online activity to be a net positive (or even a necessity) in what you do?

I have a couple of blogs and I use them primarily as a way to share information with readers. While I don’t often write long posts, I have found that the blog medium fits my needs. My library blog, Bioinformatics@Becker, serves as a place for me to share resources, advertise classes, and post interesting ideas that pop up. I also have a VIVO blog where I post project announcements and press releases.

As far as other social media goes, even though I feel as though I was a late adopter, I really value Twitter as a way to stay up to date in a variety of topic areas. The tweets are short, relevant, and contain extra information such as links to websites if I want to learn more about the topic. I also like Twitter because it allows me to virtually attend conferences by following a conference hash tag – a great way to stretch tight travel budgets.

My online activities allow me to be more productive than ever. I depend on blogs, wikis, and Twitter for information and I depend on other tools like Google Docs, Dropbox, Skype, and GoToMeeting to make online collaboration and communication easier.

When and how did you first discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any cool science blogs by the participants at the Conference?

There are far too many good blogs to mention them all – especially this year with the increased attendance. I am definitely looking forward to chatting with some of my favorite bloggers (old and new!) at Science Online 2012.

What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2011 for you? Any suggestions for next year?

Science Online 2011 was a great opportunity to have a front-row seat to different aspects of science communication. There are so many interesting people doing very interesting work – what a great community! It was also wonderful to see many library-based folks at Science Online. Libraries tend to be on the bleeding edge of information and technology and I loved hearing about work in other organizations.

I’m really excited for Science Online 2012! I think that the preliminary program looks amazing – although I will certainly have a difficult time deciding which sessions to attend. I look forward to participating in sessions related to things I do at work related to the Semantic Web (VIVO) and Genomic Medicine – it will be fun to share some of my interests with the other attendees. There is an amazing session of three full tracks of Techno Blitz presentations planned for Friday afternoon on topics related to doing science, communicating science and issues related to credit, identity, and discoverability in science. Most of all, I look forward to seeing familiar faces and to finally meeting a lot of the people I follow on Twitter and through blogs.  This is going to be the most amazing weekend to hear about all of the cool things that are happening in this great big beautiful online world!

Thank you, Bora. See you soon!

Thank you – see you in two weeks!

 

References:

CTSA Consortium. (2011). Retrieved January 1, 2012, from https://www.ctsacentral.org/ctsa-consortium

Mons, B. et al. (2011). The value of data. Nature Genetics, 43, 281–283. doi:10.1038/ng0411-281

 

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