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Scholarship winners reflect on RDAP21 Summit - Alicia Cappello

April 13, 2021 8:33 PM | Cameron

The following post was written by an RDAP 2021 Summit Scholarship recipient. Scholarships were prioritized for those from under-represented groups, first-time RDAP attendees, early career professionals, and current students. Each recipient was asked to write a brief post on their conference experience.


To me, academic conferences are both exciting and disappointing. They’re exciting because they provide us with so many new ideas and concepts to think and ponder about. But they’re disappointing because after attending a conference you realize how little time you actually have to spend on these exciting new ideas and concepts.

Dr. Tonia Sutherland’s keynote is the quintessential example of the Summit’s theme “Radical Change and Data” and drove me to think not only about the specifics of her presentation, but to also consider all the tangents associated with her topic (of which there are many). Dr. Sutherland’s presentation is a great example of a new idea or concept that I would love to spend more time thinking about, but it is also representative of a topic that is quite complex and difficult to integrate into existing research data management practices at a university. Along with ideas and concepts around Indigenous data sovereignty, the concept of feminist data practices require a systemic change not just to written policies and procedures, but to the very way researchers think about, collect, use, and share data (and we all know how flexible and adaptable academic researchers can be!!).

As a librarian at Canada’s largest university -- the University of Toronto -- I would love to see Indigenous, feminist, and racialized data policies put into place. I would also love to see the university promote and drive such changes from the highest levels, rather than leaving it up to individuals to try to push the change from the bottom up. If a university with the prominence and size of the University of Toronto were to promote such changes, there’s a higher probability that other universities and colleges in Canada would follow suit.

I suppose this is another disappointing aspect of attending conferences. You learn about great ideas and concepts that you’d like to see implemented more widely, but then you realize the massive challenges that exist to even convince people to listen to the idea, let alone implement the idea. Why does doing the right thing always require such a crazy uphill battle? It makes me realize how much resilience and perseverance long-term activists have and how exhausted they must be.

At the moment, I fear that many universities (in Canada and beyond) simply implement equity, diversity, and inclusive (data) policies and procedures at the lowest level possible in order to satisfy the most minimum of requirements. These policies and procedures are implemented in order to make some people feel less guilty, but they do very little to make people truly feel equitable, diverse, and included.

While difficult, this uphill battle is worth the effort. Plus, the journey associated with such a battle is just as important (and educational) as the destination. I am looking forward to investigating how I may be able to contribute to these systemic changes by creating or updating policies and procedures in my department. I am grateful to Dr. Sutherland, and other academics and librarians I’ve heard speak previously about these topics, for providing me with the ideas and concepts to pursue in my own organization.

I would also like to thank the Research Data Access and Preservation organization and sponsors Figshare, Northeastern University Library, Syracuse iSchool, and generous RDAP members for the opportunity to attend the RDAP Summit at no cost.

By Alicia Cappello MA | MLIS

Dataverse Preservation & Policy Coordinator

Scholars Portal | University of Toronto Libraries


The RDAP community brings together a variety of individuals, including data managers and curators, librarians, archivists, researchers, educators, students, technologists, and data scientists from academic institutions, data centers, funding agencies, and industry who represent a wide range of STEM disciplines, social sciences, and humanities.


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