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:
The ISB would like to collect titles and qualifications, metrics and accomplishments for different career levels: https://bit.ly/3PvP9uu
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?
Answer the study question: Are biocurator positions hard to fill? Could we get stats on how long biocuration jobs are open?
We are pleased to announce winners of “Excellence in Biocuration Award” for the year 2022 in two categories:
Early Career Award – Shirin Saverimuttu, SciBite Limited, Wellcome Genome Campus Hinxton, Cambridge, UK
Shirin started her biocuration career in 2019 at University College London (UCL) as a Gene Ontology biocurator. As a biocurator at UCL, she focussed on the curation of microRNAs and helped to develop a resource for more consistent annotation of microRNAs. During this time, she helped master students with their annotation projects. After being awarded a COST grant she spent a week in Italy with Dr Panni, Università della Calabria, where she exchanged information about microRNA annotation. In late 2020, Shirin joined the Polygenic Score (PGS) Catalog at EMBL-EBI as an intern biocurator and got trained to identify suitable PGS publications and extract polygenic scores from them, along with relevant metadata, for inclusion in the PGS Catalog. Later, she continued to work as a full time biocurator for both the PGS Catalog and GWAS Catalog at EMBL-EBI. Since 2021, Shirin has been working at SciBite as a scientific curator. At SciBite, she is involved in developing ontologies for customers as well as updating SciBite’s pre-existing vocabularies. Shirin enjoys working as a biocurator and would like to thank the ISB community for this recognition.
Advanced Career Award – Antonia Lock, European Bioinformatics Institute, Hinxton, Cambridge, UK
Following a PhD in molecular biology, Antonia started her career as a curator at the PomBase database in 2011. From 2016, she split her time to work with the drug discovery company Healx. From 2020, she started working full time biocurator at UniProt. Antonia has enjoyed being part of a varied range of projects over her career from curating model and pathogenic organisms to human, drugs, and diseases, developing new procedures, encouraging community data submissions, and problem-solving data display and software specification. Antonia is proud to have developed standards to describe metadata for genome-wide HTP data sets, mapped controlled vocabularies to ontologies, and done ground-work curation for a genetic disorder with drugs currently in clinical trial. In all her roles she has promoted the efficient use of curated data by training users, students, and novice curators.
Four biocurators have been nominated for this award. As an ISB member you are invited to vote for one of the nominees described below. If you are an ISB member and did not receive an invite, please send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The winner of the Early Career Award will be awarded a prize of 500CHF and will give a 15 minute talk at a virtual ISB conference. In addition, they will have agreed to give their name, bio and photograph included on the ISB website, newsletter (circulated via the ISB distribution list) and twitter account.
Lauren Chan, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR, USA.
Lauren Chan is a Nutrition PhD Candidate with three years of experience in biomedical ontologies under the supervision of Melissa Haendel. Lauren’s educational background is focused in nutrition and dietetics, which she leverages in her work focused on investigating nutrition and environmental exposure impacts on disease. Lauren is a regular contributor to a variety of OBO Foundry ontologies including the Food Ontology, Compositional Dietary Nutrition Ontology, and Mondo Disease Ontology. Her work has been integral for quality improvement of existing ontology content, as well as creation of essential hierarchies focused on nutrition and environmental exposures.
Lauren is a lead curator for the Environmental Conditions, Treatments, and Exposures Ontology (ECTO) She conducts this effort as a part of the Monarch Initiative, and she is working towards integration of exposure content with disease and phenotype information within the Monarch knowledge graph. She is also a passionate collaborator, working with multiple international, interdisciplinary teams on curation projects.
Lauren is an active member of a variety of biocuration community efforts, including serving as a Program Committee Member for ICBO 2021, and as a Coordinating Team Member for the 2021 and 2022 Integrated Food Ontology Workshops (IFOW). Her commitment to learning and the dissemination of knowledge benefits the biocuration community, and also individuals in the nutrition community who are eager to harness opportunities using biomedical ontologies.
While she is still early in her career, it is evident that Lauren has and will continue making meaningful impacts to the biocuration field and exposure sciences.
Chan, L., Thessen, A., Duncan, W. D., Matentzoglu, N., Schmitt, C., Grondin, C., Vasilevsky, N., McMurry, J., Robinson, P., Mungall, C. J., & Haendel, M. (2022). The Environmental Conditions, Treatments, and Exposures Ontology (ECTO): Connecting Toxicology and Exposure to Human Health and Beyond. https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.6360645 (submitted for the ICBO 2022 conference and proceedings).
Chan, L., Vasilevsky, N., Thessen, A., Matentzoglu, N., Duncan, W., Mungall, C., & Haendel, M. (2021). A semantic model leveraging pattern-based ontology terms to bridge environmental exposures and health outcomes. CEUR Worshop Proceedings. This paper was presented at ICBO 2021 and published in the 2021 ICBO Conference Proceedings.
Andrés-Hernández, L., Blumberg, K., Walls, R. L., Dooley, D., Mauleon, R., Lange, M., Weber, M., Chan, L., Malik, A., Møller, A., Ireland, J., Segovia, L., Zhang, X., Burton-Freeman, B., Magelli, P., Schriever, A., Forester, S. M., Liu, L., & King, G. J. (2022). Establishing a Common Nutritional Vocabulary – From Food Production to Diet. Frontiers in Nutrition, 9. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2022.928837
Chan, L., Vasilevsky, N., Thessen, A., McMurry, J., & Haendel, M. (2021). The landscape of nutri-informatics: a review of current resources and challenges for integrative nutrition research. Database: The Journal of Biological Databases and Curation, 2021. https://doi.org/10.1093/database/baab003
Dooley, D., Andrés-Hernández, L., Bordea, S., Carmody, L., Cavalieri, D., Chan, L., Castellano-Escuder, P., Lachat, C., Mougin, F., Vitali, F., Yang, C., Weber, M., Kucuk McGinty, H., & Lange, M. (2021). OBO Foundry Food Ontology Interconnectivity. CEUR Workshop Proceedings.
Shirin started her biocurator career with a MSc project at University College London (UCL) in 2019 and then as a Gene Ontology (GO) biocurator at UCL. In addition to her biocurator role, Shirin supervised the next cohort of MSc students, checked their annotations, and provided them useful and supportive feedback. During this time, Shirin identified the need for a decision tree to support more consistent annotation of microRNAs and was involved in developing this resource.
Shirin is quick to grasp scientific concepts and the variety of different projects she has undertaken demonstrates her ability to apply herself. During her time at UCL she was awarded a COST grant to exchange ideas about microRNA annotation with Dr Panni, in Italy. Additionally, she has worked as both an intern and scientific curator at EMBL-EBI for the PGS and GWAS Catalogs and is now at SciBite.
Having only been in SciBite for 7 months, Shirin has quickly understood the complexities of the role and the software required to perform her tasks. She has worked on tricky customer projects with patience and confidence. Shirin is keen to take on new challenges and has a great attention to detail in her work and often volunteers to undertake tasks that are tedious or unpopular. Shirin participated in the UK local Biocuration Conference “FAIR” workshop in May 2022 and presented a clear and knowledgeable talk on how SciBite creates FAIR data.
Although Shirin is an early career biocurator, she is already showing a maturity in her attitude to her work and will continue to grow and be an asset to the biocuration community.
Talk presented by SCC Saverimuttu at the “FAIR Data and Ontologies in Industry” workshop at the UK-local Biocuration Conference in May 2022, Wellcome Genome Campus, Hinxton: “FAIR at SciBite”.
Saverimuttu SCC, Kramarz B, Rodríguez-López M, Garmiri P, Attrill H, Thurlow KE, Makris M, de Miranda Pinheiro S, Orchard S, Lovering RC. Gene Ontology curation of the blood-brain barrier to improve the analysis of Alzheimer’s and other neurological diseases. Database (Oxford). 2021 Oct 26;2021:baab067. PMID: 34697638.
Kramarz B, Huntley RP, Rodríguez-López M, Roncaglia P, Saverimuttu SCC, Parkinson H, Bandopadhyay R, Martin MJ, Orchard S, Hooper NM, Brough D, Lovering RC. Gene Ontology Curation of Neuroinflammation Biology Improves the Interpretation of Alzheimer’s Disease Gene Expression Data. J Alzheimers Dis. 2020;75(4):1417-1435. PMID: 32417785.
Gene Ontology Consortium, The Gene Ontology resource: enriching a GOld mine, Nucleic Acids Research, 2021, 49(D1), D325-D334. PMID:33290552.
Poster presented by Shirin Saverimuttu at the CompBioMed conference 2019, London: Saverimuttu SCC, Kramarz B, Lovering RC. “Describing the role of microRNAs in Alzheimer’s disease using a bioinformatic approach”.
Mahima Vedi, Rat Genome Database, Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, WI, USA.
My career as a biocurator started at the Rat Genome Database (RGD) in 2020. I have a Ph.D. in Pharmacology and Toxicology, and my educational background helped me learn how to read scientific literature and capture important details. Following a comprehensive mentorship with senior curators, I now play an essential role in conducting data curation into the RGD database for genes to disease, phenotype, gene function, biological process, cellular component, pathways and interactions, and drug/chemical interactions. This is in addition to rat strain disease and phenotype association curation. This rigorous manual literature review and curated data input is the foundation for building the RGD dataset. However, arguably my most crucial role at RGD is in community outreach by handling RGD social media accounts and presenting research work at different scientific conferences. In the past two years, I’ve presented posters and oral presentations at the GLBio-21, Rat Genomics and CTC meeting-21, Virtual Research Week at MCW-21, and Swine in Biomedical Research Conference-22 for RGD.
Vedi M, Nalabolu HS, Lin CW, Hoffman MJ, Smith JR, Brodie K, De Pons JL, Demos WM, Gibson AC, Hayman GT, Hill ML, Kaldunski ML, Lamers L, Laulederkind SJF, Thorat K, Thota J, Tutaj M, Tutaj MA, Wang SJ, Zacher S, Dwinell MR, Kwitek AE. MOET: a web-based gene set enrichment tool at the Rat Genome Database for multiontology and multispecies analyses. Genetics. 2022 Apr 4;220(4):iyac005. doi: 10.1093/genetics/iyac005. PMID: 35380657; PMCID: PMC8982048
Kaldunski ML, Smith JR, Hayman GT, Brodie K, De Pons JL, Demos WM, Gibson AC, Hill ML, Hoffman MJ, Lamers L, Laulederkind SJF, Nalabolu HS, Thorat K, Thota J, Tutaj M, Tutaj MA, Vedi M, Wang SJ, Zacher S, Dwinell MR, Kwitek AE. The Rat Genome Database (RGD) facilitates genomic and phenotypic data integration across multiple species for biomedical research. Mamm Genome. 2022 Mar;33(1):66-80. doi: 10.1007/s00335-021-09932-x. Epub 2021 Nov 5. PMID: 34741192; PMCID: PMC8570235
Gene Ontology Consortium, The Gene Ontology resource: enriching a GOld mine, Nucleic Acids Research, 2021, 49(D1), D325-D334. https://doi.org/10.1093/nar/gkaa1113
Vedi M, Sabina EP. Assessment of hepatoprotective and nephroprotective potential of withaferin A on bromobenzene-induced injury in Swiss albino mice: possible involvement of mitochondrial dysfunction and inflammation. Cell Biol Toxicol. 2016 Oct;32(5):373-90. doi: 10.1007/s10565-016-9340-2. Epub 2016 Jun 1. PMID: 27250656
Samuel Rund, Center for Research Computing, University of Notre Dame, IN, USA.
Dr. Rund is one of several VectorBase staff members who facilitate the biocuration of international arbovector bioinformatic and ecoinformatic data, assist and mentor data donors, and instruct end users of new features and datasets in VectorBase in person and via webinar. More generally Dr. Rund has helped develop minimal information standards on depositing arthropod disease vector occurrence records, and through talks and symposium organizing encouraged the deposition of data.
Rund, S.S.C., Moise, I.K., Beier, J.C.,Martinez, M.E. ** (2019). Rescuing troves of data to tackle emerging mosquito-borne diseases. Journal of the American Mosquito Control Association. 35:75-83.
Giraldo-Calderón GI, Harb OS, Kelly SA, Rund SSC, Roos DS, McDowell MA. (2021) VectorBase.org updates: bioinformatic resources for invertebrate vectors of human pathogens and related organisms. Current opinion in insect science. Dec 3.
Rund, S.S.C. et al. (2019)MIReAD, a minimum information standard for reporting arthropod abundance data. Nature Scientific Data. 6:40
(Magazine article) Lord, C., Bayer, B., Carlson, D., Rogers, A., Smith, R., Rund, S.S.C. The collection and public dissemination of mosquito abundance data: Perspectives and options. (2019) WingBeats.
“The collection and public dissemination of mosquito abundance data: Perspectives and options.” American Mosquito Control Association annual meeting. San Diego. Co-organizer. February 2017.
The fourth and final session of the ISB2021 14th annual conference (virtual) took place on October 5th, 2021, featuring the Annual General Meeting (i), a Panel Discussion on Strategic Planning with former ISB Executive Committee (EC) members (ii), talks from the Biocuration Awards recipients in 2021 (iii) and a Poster Session (iv).
During the Annual General Meeting, Nicole Vasilevsky, chair of the ISB EC, talked about the current status of ISB and the future directions of the Society. Four invited Panelists joined the Panel Discussion on Strategic Planning: Pascale Gaudet, Mike Cherry, Andrew Su and Monica Munoz-Torres, all of them being former members of the Executive of ISB. Finally, talks from the recipients of this year’s Biocuration Awards were presented: Amos Bairoch (2021 Exceptional Contribution to Biocuration Award) and Anne Niknejad (2021 Biocuration Award).
A Poster Session was carried out in gather.town, on a dedicated space entirely set up for the ISB, and followed by a social hour for ISB members and conference participants to interact and exchange ideas.
Annual General Meeting
The talk – led by the ISB EC Chair Nicole Vasilevsky – started with an overview of the current ISB Executive Committee, composed by nine members, that in 2020-2021 included Nicole Vasilevsky, (USA, Chair), Ruth Lovering (UK, Secretary), Robin Haw (Canada, Treasurer), Rama Balakrishnan (USA), Frederic Bastian (Switzerland), Jane Lomax (UK), Randi Vita (USA), Mary Ann Tuli (UK), and Sandra Orchard (UK). Three members, Sandra, Frederic and Jane, concluded their mandate in the ISB EC, while Mary Ann was re-elected along with three newly elected ISB members for the 2021-2024 term: Federica Quaglia, Sushma Naitani and Parul Gupta.
The ISB EC work in the past year included also the activities of several subcommittees, composed by ISB EC members and external members too:
Outreach and Training (Chair: Randi Vita)
IT infrastructure (Chair: Ruth Lovering)
Fellowships and Awards (Chair: Frederic Bastian)
Conference coordination (Co-chair: Rama Balakrishnan, Sue Bello)
Elections (Officer: Petra Fey)
Equity, Diversity and Inclusion
The ISB was founded in 2009, and since then the main goals of the society have been to promote the work of biocurators and encourage best practices in biocuration, and to foster communications and connections amongst the members. To this end, there are formal memberships in the society – currently including 232 members – although anybody in the community is welcome to participate in most of the activities. Relevant information on how to join the society (https://www.biocuration.org/membership/membership-levels/) and on the benefits associated with the ISB membership (https://www.biocuration.org/membership/join-isb/) can be found on the website.
A report of ISB finances for the last year, 2020, shows that we have collected over 7000 CHF – the society is based in Switzerland – and the expenditures include sponsorships and some administrative fees and taxes while currently operating on a balance of over 121.000 CHF. The ISB offers travel fellowships, funds attendees to join our conferences (when meeting in person), but also funds micro-grants and various proposals including smaller gatherings for curators to meet and work together, e.g. to visit another group and learn about new techniques or workflows. For members of the ISB we offer a discount on the publications in our affiliated journal, Database: The Journal of Biological Databases and Curation (https://academic.oup.com/database). To promote the work of our members in the society and in the field of biocuration we have a mailing list and a quarterly newsletter – organized by Mary-Ann Tuli – to communicate and disseminate information to our community of over 700 members. Finally, the ISB Twitter account (https://twitter.com/biocurator) actively advertises news related to the society and to the biocuration field. There are also two dedicated ISB awards that we offer yearly, the exceptional contribution to biocuration award and the biocuration career award, the recipients this year being Amos Bairoch and Anne Niknejad.
In an effort to assess the work of biocurators the ISB sent out a survey during the last year, that shed light on biocuration-related work positions, satisfaction, work environment, leadership levels and scholarly products. Highlights are shown below and the results of the survey are available here.
The survey had over 130 respondents – 74% out of them are women and 25% men. Interestingly, the majority of respondents have been in the field for over 10 years (62%), suggesting their satisfaction and identifying biocuration as a stable career choice. For what concerns salary range of biocurators, half of respondents (54.2%) earns between 50 and 100k a year in US dollars. Further inquiring on the the work environment highlighted some flexibility in the work schedule (identified as flexibility during regular business hours) for 62% biocurators, while 30% are actually able to choose their own working hours. Among the biocurators involved in the survey, 84% are satisfied with their job, with their work environment (79%), professional success (62%) and career progression (56%) – people are overall highly satisfied – with under half of respondents (49.65%) that have also been promoted during their career. In terms of leadership opportunities, we were able to identify four main areas of leadership for biocurators, namely manuscript drafting and publication (82%), project leading (72%), staff management (47%) and writing grants applications (38%), pointing up to the involvement of biocurators in managerial positions and further supporting the high rate of satisfaction in biocuration careers. Finally, the survey identified the five main types of scholarly products generated by biocurators, i.e. curated datasets (87%), publications (41%), talks at conferences (15%), softwares (12%) and codes (6%), identifying a need for ways that could increase the articles published by biocurators.
Panel Discussion on Strategic Planning with former EC committee members at the Biocuration2021 virtual conference
The Panel Discussion on Strategic Planning was joined by former members of the Executive Committee of ISB, Pascale Gaudet, Mike Cherry, Andrew Su and Monica Munoz-Torres.
Andrew Su: Professor at Scripps Research. Representative projects include the Gene Wiki, and BioThings Explorer. He served on the ISB from 2016-2019.
Mike Cherry: Professor of Genetics at Stanford University. He oversees the Saccharomyces Genome Database. As well, he is involved in ENCODE (Encyclopedia of DNA elements), Gene Ontology Consortium, Alliance of Genome Resources, RegulomeDB, and Lattice: Human Cell Atlas. He served on the ISB from 2010-2016 and acted as chair from 2015-2016.
Pascale Gaudet: Senior Project Manager in the Swiss-Prot group of the SIB Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics. Project Manager of the Gene Ontology project. She is a founding member of the ISB and acted as Chair of the ISB Executive Committee from 2009 to 2013.
Monica Munoz-Torres: Associate Research Professor in the Center for Health Artificial Intelligence at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. Director of Operations for the Center for Cancer Data Harmonization (for NIH/NCI) and Program Director for the Phenomics First Resource (an NHGRI CEGS) and the Monarch Initiative. She served on the ISB Executive Committee from 2012 through 2017, as Secretary in 2012-2016 and as Chair in 2016-2017.
The discussion started with the panelists’ reflections on the very beginning of the ISB and on how those dreams and hopes became reality over the years, while continuously looking at the future of biocuration and at new ways to improve our profession by serving in the Society.
The ISB has a well-established central role in fostering and building connections among the members, in first place thanks to the meetings that took place over the years and now including additional venues that facilitate our interactions, such as a mailing list, newsletter, our Twitter account and a dedicated Slack workspace. Awards and microgrants have also played a crucial role in raising awareness on the centrality of biocuration careers inside the scientific community and in supporting knowledge-exchange between biocurators from different groups. It is fundamental to reach a better appreciation of biocuration as a means to advance scientific research by making research data shareable and accessible in a standardized format, especially at the level of funding agencies. These topics have a particular relevance when paired with the advancements in machine learning and artificial intelligence: these indeed can not replace expert literature curation, vice versa machines can be supported by biocurators via the use of carefully curated high quality annotations.
Over the years following its foundations, the ISB has been growing to be more inclusive and diverse and focused on developing and implementing a code of professional conduct. The introduction of several subcommittees, composed not only of EC members but of the greater ISB members too, raised the opportunity to increase the ability to volunteer in the activities of the ISB. The society is now also exploring new ways to cover a variety of professional experiences by engaging biocurators in poorly-represented geographical areas and by welcoming graduate students, by considering introduction of a dedicated “students section”.
Our society also benefited from the efforts of the ISB EC back in 2008, with the establishment of a dedicated journal, Database: The Journal of Biological Databases and Curation (https://academic.oup.com/database). This peer-reviewed journal is now at the forefront in the publication of biocuration-related articles, providing also a 20% discount on publication fees to members of the ISB. The existence of a specific journal for biocuration positively affected our field – it was usually hard to publish in traditional scientific journals – and provided our community with a specific venue to publish our research work. It is worth considering the option to provide microgrants to cover publication costs in Database, in those situations where a restricted access to funding prevents the submission of manuscripts to a scientific journal. Finally, an additional option would be considering the micropublication system, where no publication cost is involved while still allowing to make research data public (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5836261/, https://www.micropublication.org/).
Although a result of the ongoing global pandemic, this year’s virtual conference overall received great feedback as it has been more accessible by allowing everyone to attend, even those who could not afford to travel e.g. due to family commitments. It was therefore proposed to keep on maintaining some virtual events even once the restrictions related to the pandemic will be lifted and the conference will resume in presence.
Finally, panelists unanimously agreed on the relevance of the ISB in supporting and promoting career development for biocurators, with a great starting point being the establishment of formal training opportunities and professional certificates that did not previously exist in the field. At the same time, creating, maintaining and sharing FAIR training materials (Goblet, ELIXIR TeSS) should be even more supported and pursued, while also providing dedicated learning sessions where to present them.
All these directions will play a crucial role in our job security and will make room for professional development of biocuration careers, actively supported by the International Society for Biocuration.
At the third session of the Virtual Biocuration Conference on August 17, 2021, Sushma Naithani, Associate Professor Senior Research & Lead Biocurator for Plant Reactome at Oregon State University led a Workshop on Addressing Implicit or Unconscious Bias organized by the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) committee of the International Society for Biocuration (ISB). Three invited panelists joined the discussion: Laurie Goodman, Publishing Director, GigaScience Press, Yasmin Alam-Faruque, Senior Biocurator at Healx, and Varsha Khodiyar, Data Curation Manager at Springer Nature. The session recording is available here.
The discussion started with a recap of Picture A Scientist, a documentary film that was screened by the ISB EDI in March 2021 (and is currently available on Netflix).
Impact of ‘Picture A Scientist’
Picture of Scientist is a documentary that follows three women in different scientific careers: Jane Willenbring, a geologist who faced unrelenting harassment during a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity performing fieldwork in Antarctica; Nancy Hopkins, a biologist who documented concrete evidence of discrimination against women in allocating lab space at her institution, and Raychelle Burks, a chemist who has to contend with a hostile work environment as she progressed through her career. The primary consensus from our panel in response to the movie was a feeling of empathy, commiseration, and a recognition that we still need to fight for equity for women in science.
Our panelists called for the need to do more to recognize and acknowledge gender discrimination as well as other forms of unconscious biases that persist in the scientific field. They recognized unique challenges for women, people of color, immigrant scientists, etc. Opportunities to progress in science, particularly in academia, can be very limited without a Ph.D. If someone experiences issues in their lab during their early-career training, it can be really difficult to start over. In addition, training can be very specialized and limited. They called out the need for better strategies to aid scientists-in-training and junior scientists when their progress is impeded. These kinds of challenges may not exist in other male-dominated fields like law, where there are opportunities to move between firms.
For those who are dependent on employment visas from immigration offices, they may feel less empowered to take action or speak up when their immigration status is linked to their employment. In addition, the need for recommendations from previous employers may impact our sense of empowerment to take action against inappropriate workplace situations. We all need to stand up and take action when we see discrimination and inappropriate actions. We need to be allies and support each other. However, the problem with implicit bias is that many well-intentioned folks are not aware of their own biases and how it contributes to the environment of scientific institutions, fraternities and societies. Thus, we also need clear institutional guidelines, support for training the scientist in soft skills, and addressing the implicit bias for resolving the issues related to EDI.
Our panelists brainstormed some strategies and mechanisms to address some of these problems.
Education and training
Regular education and training sessions, such as unconscious bias training are helpful to provide the most up-to-date information.
Tests are available that can give insight on your own potential implicit biases, such as https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html
Institutions have the responsibility opportunity to aid in reporting of harassment and discrimination
Most institutions over a certain size have a Human Resources (HR) department and mechanisms to report harassment or inequity.
For example, the company Healx conducts regular surveys to understand employee engagement and satisfaction in the workplace. The survey includes questions around equity, diversity, and inclusion, and provides a platform for employees to anonymously report any inequality/harassment issues they may have encountered.
When new students and employees are onboarded, they should be informed about processes for reporting issues to HR.
Money talks: if women are awarded large grants earlier in their career, this may significantly help their career trajectory.
More established biocurators have the opportunity to help train women on how to write good grants.
Including women and other scientists, who are marginalized, in formal and informal collaborations, and various professional groups will help to achieve inclusion and diversity of the STEM.
Institutions and funding agencies should implement policies to take away positions and/or grant funding from people who are guilty of harassment or discrimination.
Opportunity for the ISB: Define our job titles
The panelists pointed out that standardization of job titles could help with career progression. The ISB has an opportunity to help define standardized job titles across the ranks. For example, what does a starting position look like, and what qualifications does a more advanced biocurator typically have? What is the difference between a Lead Biocurator and a Senior Biocurator? Our recent survey revealed that the majority of respondents (62%) have been in their position for 10 years or more, but only about half (49.6%) of the biocurators who responded have been promoted since they started their career in biocuration.
Job titles for biocurators vary widely and there is a lack of standardized names and titles for the biocuration positions. The field of biocuration has existed for approximately 20 years, yet there is not a widespread understanding of what a biocurator does and what a typical career progression should look like.
Based on results from a recent survey that was conducted by the EDI Subcommittee, ISB community members reported 24 unique job titles as outlined in the table below. Of note, most respondents identified as (bio)curators, but some respondents distinguished their title as a Scientific curator or Scientific Database curator, emphasizing the need for standardization of the job titles.
A generic biocuration position description is available on the ISB website here, which was created as an outcome of the Careers in Biocuration Workshop at the Biocuration 2018 conference in Shanghai, China. This could be used as a starting point for further definitions and standardization of position descriptions.
We need better data
As scientists, we recognize the need for concrete data and evidence to back up assertions and stimulate change. There is a call for the ISB to collect data from the biocuration community to address key questions such as:
Are women being paid less than men?
What is the gender breakdown of the membership of the ISB?
What percentage of women obtain grant funding compared to men?
Is there evidence of gender or racial discrimination in the biocuration community?
Are biocurators progressing in their career at the same rate as other types of scientists?
The EDI Subcommittee was formed as an outcome of the inaugural Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion workshop at the last in-person Biocuration conference in Cambridge, UK in 2019. This is a volunteer-run committee with members from the ISB Executive Committee and community members. Anyone is welcome to join and all contributions are valued and appreciated. We are extremely grateful to the workshop organizers, Sushma Naithani for moderating this session, and a huge thanks to our panelists, Laurie Goodman, Yasmin Alam-Faruque, and Varsha Khodiyar for their insightful perspectives and for assisting us in thinking about these important issues.