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Talking data: interview with ANDS’ placement students


12 December 2016

Placement students

Aleksei Talanov, Callum Waugh and Tom Fitzpatrick (pictured, left to right) are studying Information & Knowledge Management at Monash University. For the past three weeks, they have been undertaking a professional practice placement with ANDS, as part of their course.

ANDS asked them for their thoughts about their course, their future careers – and what it’s like behind the curtain at ANDS!

How did you end up doing a course about information management?

Callum: I was working in geophysics dealing with geospatial data and enjoying the data management side more than the scientific work. So when that ended I decided I would go off and actually find out the theory behind what I’d been practising!

Aleksei: For me, I’ve worked in information management for 11 years [in Russia] but without a diploma or other documents so I decided it was time to get something.

Tom: I have a mixed employment history. I’ve worked in a library, I’ve done a little bit of academic research and teaching and I also worked on a digitisation project with a university records department, so I wanted to put some formal knowledge behind my experience.

And why did you choose Monash University over others?

Tom: The main reason is the courses are delivered in person [instead of online], which for me is a big thing.

Callum: Yes, being on campus was a major draw for me too. Most alternatives for information management or archiving are online only.

Tom: And I also liked that there were some technical units within the course too, like we did a database course, as painful as that was! I don’t have a technical background so it was good to get some of that.

Aleksei: To be honest Monash was the only uni that offered this course. I actually looked at the UK, the US, Canada and I think New Zealand, but they didn’t have it. And it’s a new field in Russia. All the information management specialists [in Russia] are from Europe as  it’s  a more developed discipline there.

What is the most interesting thing you’ve covered so far on the course?

Callum: I’m really interested in the changing digital nature of things. In the information field, the archiving field, the librarian field, the record keeping field – it’s all still doing representations of what we were doing physically.

Aleksei: I liked all the units. I saw some things that I already knew from my work though it was challenging because I couldn’t understand some of the Australian accents at the beginning!

And what is the most challenging aspect of the course you’ve come across so far?

Callum: Separating the practice from the theory. I immediately look back to how we would have done things in the office but have to come to terms with thinking ‘that was probably really bad practice’!

Aleksei: The same for me, connecting the theory to the practice. But it’s good we had tutorials to discuss this and ask the tutors.

Tom: Yes, it’s a different way of thinking. My background is in humanities and linguistics. It’s just a different approach, based on structure and models. It’s getting myself on the same wavelength.

So have you learned anything at ANDS?!

Callum: We’ve studied how organisations deal with information and now we’re seeing how that plays out in practice. And it’s scarily linked! The theory is actually a lot more grounded than it appeared to be when we were studying it.

Tom: For me as well. A lot flies over your head because we don’t know the acronyms… even the university structures. I have learnt lots but there is also so much to take in.

Aleksei: Also interaction with researchers – I’ve never met people who do real research, and they told me about data storage… and this interaction between data centres and researchers, it was quite interesting.

And further to that, is it [working at ANDS] what you expected?

Tom: In the courses we do a lot of big picture stuff and we get the broader overview – then we see what people are actually doing and it’s very involved. People have a lot of technical knowledge.

Callum: They do. Everything people work on is very specific – working with this uni on this project. But it all ties into the big picture really well.

Aleksei: The organisational culture... we don’t have this in Russia. The style of work, how people get together for coffee and morning tea. How you can come to your boss’s office and talk.

What job role are you aiming for when you stop studying?

Callum: My idea is to not stop studying! I want to go into more research into information and data management.

Aleksei: I hope to continue to work within information and data management, but now with a broader knowledge.

Tom: I really wanted a job in an academic library. I like idea of embedded librarians. But I’ve got other options I’m currently looking at.

What do you think the future holds for information and data management – how do you think it is likely to change over the life of your career?

Callum: I think it’s going to be a bit of a bubble. Probably for the next couple of years it’s going to be really pushed by government around industry and big data. That will allow it to mature and hopefully become embedded in research culture.

Aleksei: I’m not sure about Australia but in Russia this is a growing field. The Government has started to create databases along the lines of and It’s a very long journey… I hope I’ll get a very good job!

Tom: We will probably have a ‘black swan’ [a significant unexpected event] that changes what happens in data management. But I think humans are notoriously bad at predicting the future and we have no idea what is going to happen!

ANDS would like to thank Callum, Aleksei and Tom for all their time, hard work and enthusiasm during their placement, and wish them the best of luck with their research data careers.