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Introducing James Wilson: Head of Research Data Services

16 May 2016

Dr James Wilson joined us in April as our new Head of Research Data Services. He'll be leading the group providing our Research Data Storage service, and developing our archive for long-term preservation of research data. We've asked him to introduce himself and tell us about the priorities for his team.

What is your role and what does it involve?

As the new head of Research Data Services my role involves ensuring that the Data Storage service continues to provide reliable and accessible data storage for currently active projects. Beyond this, it will involve developing new services to support research data management at UCL. A secure, long-term data archive is a high priority, along with the interfaces to enable appropriate descriptive information to be added. We will also need to implement search and access services so that researchers can find relevant datasets to inform future research.

What did you do before joining UCL?

I was both a project and service manager for IT Services at the University of Oxford. I had a significant role there coordinating research data management services, so in some respects my new job is not too much of a departure, although the institutional contexts are quite different, and my work at UCL will definitely constitute a new challenge.

My academic background is in eighteenth-century English poetry, which is certainly a very different field. That said, I find my research experience useful in terms of seeing and assessing IT services from a researcher’s perspective.

What’s top of your to-do list?

In order to make myself useful I need to rapidly get up to speed with the existing situation and services at UCL. That and help stabilize our existing data storage service, which has been a little up and down over my first few weeks.

What’s the biggest challenge for your group at the moment?

Research Data Management is a fast-evolving field with little real consensus about how best to address new requirements and challenges. Yet we need to find and implement solutions that will be scalable and sustainable over the long term.

What should we look out for in the next 12 months?

The research data archive. With major research funders increasingly insisting on long-term data preservation and sharing, it’s become important for universities to provide means to facilitate this.

If you could change one thing, what would it be?

It would be nice if more credit were given to researchers who share their data. Preparing data for sharing can be quite time-consuming, but doing so can have a lot of impact, sometimes in quite unexpected ways. This is recognized by HEFCE, and datasets can be included in the REF, but there needs to be greater clarity about how exactly data is evaluated and its quality more formally recognized.