Highlights from Biocuration Careers Workshop

Held on September 2, 2022, the Biocuration Careers Workshop was the third and final installment of the International Society for Biocuration (ISB) virtual conferences in 2022. The workshop’s aim was to determine ways that ISB can assist Biocurators with career progression. 

Organized and led by Nicole Vasilevsky, Lead Biocurator at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, the workshop was facilitated by four field experts: Mohammad Hosseini, Kristi Holmes, Mary Ann Tuli, and Randi Vita.

To set the stage, the diverse set of job titles and roles collected as part of the 2020-2021 ISB survey were presented, as well as current job openings on the ISB website were discussed. One of the key ways the ISB helps biocurators in finding a new position is by posting job openings in the biocuration field. However, the job titles and descriptions of these positions can vary a great deal, which can be confusing for hiring managers and problematic for junior biocurators or those updating their resumes and looking to change positions. 

Biocurators face some unique challenges with tracking our contributions to science. While it is not unusual for some biocurators to successfully work in their field without being a co-author of peer-reviewed articles, some biocurators might not always receive their due credit; making career advancement difficult, especially in academic settings where publications are viewed as the main proof of success. Mohammad Hosseini of Northwestern University presented Contributor Roles, an innovation developed to describe individual contributions to research. By providing a standard list of roles to specify individual contributions to publications, Contributor Roles enhance the transparency and consistency about the reporting of conducted tasks, and accordingly, improve the attribution of credit and responsibilities. The CRediT taxonomy is the most widely adopted Contributor Role schema, offering 14 standard roles, one of which is Data Curation, defined as: “Management activities to annotate (produce metadata), scrub data and maintain research data (including software code, where it is necessary for interpreting the data itself) for initial use and later re-use” (NISO 2022). The Contributor Role Ontology (CRO) is an extension of CRediT to highlight individual contributions to research. Although CRO provides more granularity with ten specific data roles (e.g., data aggregation, data integration, data modeling, data quality assurance), the biocurator roles are not similarly detailed. Mohammad also illustrated how publications with datasets stored in public repositories often do not adequately attribute the associated data processing efforts conducted by biocurators. Clarifying these roles can improve future attribution of credit and responsibilities.

Kristi Holmes, professor of Preventive Medicine and the director of Galter Health Sciences Library at Northwestern University shared ways to track scholarly products, including the traditional metrics that are typically captured on a CV, as well as other research products. By highlighting roles that biocurators play in pushing data-driven research forward, she highlighted the importance of tracking and assigning credit to biocurators in terms of understanding the work that is required to drive research, and ways those contributions can be described more accurately using a narrative approach.

Randi Vita from the La Jolla Institute for Immunology described the generic job description for a biocurator that was drafted as part of a previous ISB workshop in 2018, illustrating how diverse these positions can be. She stressed how different specialized skills are valuable to these positions and hiring managers, but are often overlooked when job candidates are polishing their CVs.

Understanding the wide range of roles that biocurators play in research projects and programs is critical to understand research process itself. The workshop facilitated a brief exploration of relevant topics such as standardization of job titles to support biocurators’ career progression, especially in academic settings wherein contributions are quantified and necessary for promotion, as well as novel and relevant credit and attribution for biocurators. Moving forward, the ISB could provide an excellent platform to advocate for more accurate and encompassing biocurator roles. 

Help us continue this discussion and inform future activities:

  1. The ISB would like to collect titles and qualifications, metrics and accomplishments for different career levels: https://bit.ly/3PvP9uu 
  1. Weigh in on future workshop ideas: 
    • How do you get a job as a curator? 
    • How do you write your resume/CV? 
    • How do you write a job description for a curator?
  1. Answer the study question: Are biocurator positions hard to fill? Could we get stats on how long biocuration jobs are open? 

Email: isb@biocurator.org

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