Get to Know the RDS Team: Tobin Magle

In this series, we introduce the team members who make up Research Data Services (RDS). This interview is with Tobin Magle, RDS consultant and Science and Engineering Data and Information Specialist at Steenbock Memorial Library.

Describe your role at Steenbock Memorial Library.

I’ve only been at Steenbock since October 1, so the specifics of my role are still in a little bit of flux. However, my general plan is to provide instruction and consultation on research data management topics. I’m interested in helping researchers save time by automating their workflows where appropriate and documenting their process so they don’t have to reinvent the wheel when it comes time to publish. Stay tuned for announcements about workshops on R programming in the spring!

What’s the most interesting project you’ve worked on recently?

Because I haven’t been here that long, I’ll describe a contract proposal I was written into at my previous institution, Colorado State University. Researchers there were proposing a system to test immune responses to tuberculosis vaccines in various animal models, which would produce a massive amount of RNA sequence data. My role in the project would have been to interview the research groups involved about their data format and documentation, develop a standard for how they stored their data and metadata (or figure out a way to automate standardization) so that their data could go into a central database that the data scientists on the project could use to do large-scale analysis on the data to determine which vaccines might be most effective in humans. I think this project was so exciting to me because it marries my interest in medical microbiology and data.

Tobin with wild penguins in Ushuaia, Argentina
What excites you about supporting research data management on campus?

I’m excited about a lot of things here! First, I’m excited to engage with the other RDS consultants and the Carpentries community here. It’s very comforting to be able to work with like-minded people. I’m also excited about helping people. Research data is only going to get bigger and more unwieldy, even in fields that don’t traditionally teach computational skills in the curriculum. In many cases, it’s literally impossible to do the data analysis by hand so these skills are vital going forward. I’m hoping to fill some of these gaps outside of the curriculum. Finally, the many emerging developments in other units on campus in the realm of research data and data science are also very exciting, because I can only see support for these topics improving in the future.

If you had an unlimited budget, what would you institute on campus?

I would do so many things, but first on my list would be to improve the campus research cyberinfrastructure. Most research data is born digital, and it takes good infrastructure to preserve it in the long term as required by funder, publisher and university requirements. Many researchers are having to cobble together solutions with what they and their departments have on hand, or spend money outside of the university for cloud services to meet their needs. One large gap I see is secure, user-friendly research data storage that is connected to places where the data is generated (often core facilities),  where the data will be analyzed (like lab computers and CHTC), and overlayed by software (like the Open Science Framework) that facilitates versioning and tracking who makes what changes when. We could also use this type of storage system as a backend for MINDS@UW, our institutional repository, to facilitate data sharing. All of these improvements would need to be staffed by knowledgeable facilitators that understand the research process and can communicate with IT staff to meet the needs of researchers.

Do you have a favorite UW building or landmark?

I have a special place in my heart for the Microbial Sciences Building, where I completed my PhD, but I am also charmed by Science Hall., because it has a period at the end of its name on the building.

What do you like to do outside of work?

At heart, I am a generalist, so I don’t really have one thing. I like cooking, cycling, hiking, playing nerdy board games, and traveling. One of my favorite trips was when we went to Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world. We took a boat tour to an island where two penguin species naturally nest. I was really excited to take a selfie with a wild penguin.