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Re: Biodiversity Informatics - Job title?

Relating to the posts here http://forums.nbn.org.uk/viewtopic.php?id=607 should the term "Biodiversity Informatics" be adopted by workers here? I really like the term as it captures the nature of the work and, like I've mentioned before, don't see myself as an IT worker. I know the term IT is very, very broad but to most it is related to business and corporate environments.

I had a very quick look via Google for any professional associations relating to BDI, which seem to be the abbreviation, but could not find one. If there are none, might it not also be worthwhile setting one up? I did notice Reading University offer an MSc in this area.

Just a thought as I feel that the career structure for those of us working in LRCs, wildlife trusts etc seems none existent.

Comments appreciated.

Dave Cope,
Biodiversity Technology Officer,
Biodiversity Information Service for Powys and Brecon Beacons National Park.

2 (edited by davec 01-05-2008 12:17:58)

Re: Biodiversity Informatics - Job title?

Just to clarify what I meant by the last sentence in the above post.

If we adopted a common way to describe the job, and from that the roles of the work, then it may be easier for the various LRCs, ngo, trusts etc to place job ads with a common job descriptive language.

Also, it creates a structure and focus for the type of work we do. This in turn would allow us to publish a set of standard skills which suit Biodiversity Informatics as an aid for new people who might like to enter and specialise in this field. To help us stand out from the corporate IT crowd.

From that we can encourage a deeper understanding of the particular data and processing needs of taxonomy, biological data recording and dissemination.  And if we can gain role specific qualifications, we can advance up a career structure which reflects that training and experience.

Again just food for thought.

Dave Cope,
Biodiversity Technology Officer,
Biodiversity Information Service for Powys and Brecon Beacons National Park.

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Re: Biodiversity Informatics - Job title?

All seems like a good idea to me Dave. I've always struggled with defining exactly what I do and I think it definitely does help having that definition, structure and focus.

Charles Roper
Digital Development Manager | Field Studies Council
http://www.field-studies-council.org | https://twitter.com/charlesroper | https://twitter.com/fsc_digital

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Re: Biodiversity Informatics - Job title?

I fully support you chaps in this idea.
A firm and accepted definition would, in addition, serve to inform managers of the nature and value of our work.
Perhaps this is something that can be worked out in conjunction with ALERC when they examine the whole range of tasks in LRCs. As an ALERC Steering group member I shall certainly be canvassing for standards to be examined when it comes to LRC Accreditation.

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Re: Biodiversity Informatics - Job title?

I agree too.

JNCC, CEH and GBIF have all used it in this context and I think it describes the scope of our jobs rather well. A broader use of the term would definitely be useful when advertising for posts. IT is too broad a term and I get the impression a lot of applicants don't really know what our jobs entail or how they can develop.

Wikipedia has a reasonably good definition I think:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biodiversity_informatics

GBIF has recently appointed a new head of informatics too:
http://www.gbif.org/Stories/STORY1206456814

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Re: Biodiversity Informatics - Job title?

Would be great to see ALERC take this up Darwyn. Ultimately I think it would be highly desirable to have a biodiversity informatics degree, or at least a masters. As Andy says, IT is too broad and the various ecology and biodiversity related courses aren't teaching the necessary technical skills. Seems like it might be an ideal time for a university to start exploring the idea.

Charles Roper
Digital Development Manager | Field Studies Council
http://www.field-studies-council.org | https://twitter.com/charlesroper | https://twitter.com/fsc_digital

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Re: Biodiversity Informatics - Job title?

I doubt if there's a single one of us in the trade that possesses all the skills that we would ideally like to see within a Local Records Centre - we seem each to have our specialisms and interests. The grim inevitability of this situation is that outside skills are obtained by LRCs to fulfil certain functions (IT departments, web developers, consultants, Recorder resellers!). Do they know what they are doing? Are LRCs getting proper value for hard-earned money from them? Between us all we have the knowledge to answer these questions so sharing our knowledge about necessary Biodiversity Informatics skills would be of great economic benefit to all LRCs too.

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Re: Biodiversity Informatics - Job title?

Knowledge sharing and collaboration (the foundations of "WeThink") will help with the support and development of LRCs. The other point is that a lot of skills are available not just from people directly invovled in the LRCs but that there are lots of volunteers out there who might otherwise not get invovled. So it may be worth revisiting your Development Plans to look at what skills are in short supply and then assessing how you can fill that either locally or by sharing with other LRCs.

(ePlanning Project Manager) Aberdeenshire Council

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Re: Biodiversity Informatics - Job title?

Some very sound suggestions here. Darwyn, the ALERC could be a platform for moving this forward. I have been thinking about training and Charles is right that a degree would the right way to go. In the meantime, is there something that we could offer - such as a professional diploma - within the LRC network. I take Nick's point about volunteers as a good source of new talent.

The informatics skills required for an LRC are broad indeed. In a large organisation or company, these would be spread across four maybe five different specialists.  As Darwyn notes, we each have our own specialisms but, pragmatically, become jack of all trades.

I know that here we have had no luck attracting an additional informatics worker, and WWBIC (West Wales LRC) were unable to fulfill a post there. I think the problem is that we can all can see jobs which involve just a fraction of the skills being offered for more money in the commercial and public sectors. Catch 22, as we are perhaps depending on drawing from those same sectors.

I'm throwing out this thought - Should we set up a national course to train new and existing Biodiversity Informatics workers?

Given that there will not always be a match of available jobs per new student, the possible potential for a small pool of freelancers would, I think, benefit LRCs in general. I know that here we have had instances when we could have employed someone on a project basis.  I realise this may all depend on the dreaded funding - I understand budgets are tight but maybe, long term, we are shooting ourselves in the foot if we do not attract new people into the fold.

In the seven years I've worked in this LRC I've seen technical demands soar.  Our partners are becoming ever more aware and active in new networked technologies and the ubiquitous web. BIS is being asked to provide electronic services to partners that stretch my own systems, time and skills  fully.

Dave Cope,
Biodiversity Technology Officer,
Biodiversity Information Service for Powys and Brecon Beacons National Park.

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Re: Biodiversity Informatics - Job title?

I like Nick's idea about looking wider for those skills. Some may know that I've been involved with the NBN's National Schemes & Societies group and within that was a member of a small team tasked to look at tools, applications, technical, standards, resources etc.. Members of this group include Mark Hill of CEH (you should also know him as one of the top biodiversity statisticians) and, at one time, Mark Telfer (ditto - with work on biodiversity hotspots). Also Andy Brewer and, very recently, Dan Jones (and even attracted Stuart Ball to one meeting). The larger NSS group is now disbanded but there clearly remains an awful lot for this "Technical & resources" subgroup to address in the realm of "Biodiversity Informatics" - in fact Jim Munford indicated to me that whilst the main group had folded our small group needed to think about ways of taking some of the issues forward.
I did some presentations to the broad NSS group, looking at the overall needs for "Resources & standards" within the biological recording community but inevitably, because this was delivered to a more general group, it was difficult, as I think Charles suggests below, to express some of the concepts adequately to a mixed audience.
Biodiversity Informatics should perhaps be taken to be a very broad concept. Not only are we dealing with training and appropriate use of technology but we inhabit a realm where there is a strong need to address the standards which form the foundations of our work.
Here's a sample of topics discussed by the NSS subgroup:
1. The need to address archives adequately (see National Archives website and start worrying about forthcoming legislation) - supported quite strongly by NSS
2. Broadening the scope of metadata beyond the current (NBN) specific GIS subset (the general perception is that all Biodiversity Informatics is geospatial) - NSS less convinced about this need
3. GIS standards, there's a lot of exchange going on with GIS layers but oh what a mess in terms of accuracy, precision and underlying table structure, purely as a result of the absence of guidelines/standards (classic examples are downloadable from internet) - NSS probably unsure of what this meant to them.
Plenty to discuss.
How about putting together a Biodiversity Informatics conference under aegis of ALERC and supported by CEH, NBN etc.

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Re: Biodiversity Informatics - Job title?

Hi Darwyn

I am pleased that the NSS group discussion included data quality within the GIS standards. I would add that there are many ways of categorising spatial data quality but the four main components that managers may wish to consider are as follows:
• Completeness  - the  lack of errors of omissions in a database
• Consistency -  the absence of apparent contradictions in a database
• Accuracy - the discrepancy between the encoded and actual value of a particular attribute
• Precision or Resolution – the degree of detail that can be displayed in space, time or theme.

The above was some information that I produced in relation to GIS data management and specifically for the ePlanning Programme's draft 'Best Practice Guidance: Creation and Maintenance' document. Whilst this document is aimed at Online Local Plan production, there are elements within it that could be used to create a similar document for LRCs to help them manage their data with the objective of maintaining good quality (fit for purpose) data. That would be a useful piece of work to support LRCs and we could do it using a Wikki to get people's input - unless such a document already exists :|

Cheers

Nick

(ePlanning Project Manager) Aberdeenshire Council

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Re: Biodiversity Informatics - Job title?

Just a quick response to Nick's list. I would add:
"Structure" - appropriateness and relevance of database structure wrt intended function
an example (outside GIS) being any one of Charles Copp's table structures in his Recorder Data Model.

A wiki's a sound idea, so is another forum like this, a journal, workshops, a university course curriculum, a book ...

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Re: Biodiversity Informatics - Job title?

The trouble is, as I perceive it, is that we're all so busy actually doing work, that even thinking about these 'meta' issues, let alone actually doing anything practical about them, seems, regrettably, like a low priority on most worker's event horizons.

I think what we probably need, although I may be wrong, is a champion (or a core group of champions) who can focus on the idea of developing a biodiversity informatics community from the grass roots up. Ideally someone with that task in their job description. We can but dream, eh?

To kick things off, though, I suggest we need to start at the bottom and define what it means to be a biodiversity informatics worker. Perhaps we need to solicit some response from those already working the field (most of whom aren't reading this forum, I'll bet). Here are some key questions:

What are the core skills required/desired?

What are the secondary skills required/desired?

What resources are available for filling those skills gaps (courses, books, conferences, etc.)?

What sort of career path is there for the biodiversity informatics worker?

What are the broad issues a BDI worker faces (e.g., systems engineering, user support, data management, standards, analysis, general IT, etc., etc.)? Once these are defined we can then perhaps define sub-categories if necessary.

Anything else? Seems like a good idea to define the question before we go too far down the road of trying to answer it. :)

This is, btw, the first I've heard of the NSS subgroup which is, of course, one of the problems of developing anything using a top-down, face-to-face focus group approach. Case in point being Recorder; I believe most progress has been made when the community has been fully involved.

Charles Roper
Digital Development Manager | Field Studies Council
http://www.field-studies-council.org | https://twitter.com/charlesroper | https://twitter.com/fsc_digital

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Re: Biodiversity Informatics - Job title?

It was initiated by Jim Munford some time ago. He gathered together a large group of "movers and shakers" as the focus of NBN shone more strongly on National Recording Schemes and less so on LRCs. It was a useful sounding board for the various societies and schemes, helping out with the Annual NSS Conference and Trevor James' work.
There were also some valuable outcomes via a handful of specialist groups/task forces within it. Chaired at various times by Jim, Mark Avery (RSPB) and Amy Coyte (Bat Conservation Trust), I was invited on to it due to my wearing both LRC and NSS hats (and being able to speak through either of them), although LRCs were not on the agenda. It was wound up in April.
I suggest that Mandy Henshall, who secretaried throughout, or Trevor James might be able to package together the minutes and other valuable outcomes for your edification but I strongly suspect that this is all under prep. by NBN as part of their new website.

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Re: Biodiversity Informatics - Job title?

Hello everyone,

Great topic, but appears to have gone quiet?  Has any progress been made on this?

Just joined the forum because I am trying to get into the above field.  To cut to the chase I would like to know if it is still the case that LRCs and their ilk are struggling to find suitable people, or have their skills/experience expectations gone through the roof as it has in other fields of ecology?

Probably very difficult to define, but are there any opinions out there as to the real entry requirements for this profession, rather than those advertised?  I put it in these terms because I have seen another type of assistant level ecological job receive c. 250 applicants and those being interviewed are probably at least one promotion level above what is being asked for. 

Cheers for any replies,

Mike Beard

Mike Beard
Natural Course Project Officer
Greater Manchester Local Records Centre

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Re: Biodiversity Informatics - Job title?

Mike your question is an interesting one, but perhaps more because of the way you phrased it.

I would contend that if there is one thing which Biodiversity Informatics is not, that would be a "field of ecology". This I think may be key to the problem we have getting staff. Graduates in ecological disciplines are pretty easy to come by and jobs with ecologist in the title occur frequently, which is no doubt one reason why staff turnover in LRCs is so high. So oftent he talent is lured away by the private sector and higher salaries.

I'd be interested to hear the views of a few of my colleagues on this though so I will shut up for now.

Rob Large
Wildlife Sites Officer
Wiltshire & Swindon Biological Records Centre

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Re: Biodiversity Informatics - Job title?

Mike,

Welcome to the forum.

As I think Rob hinted at, it's the IT skills that seem to make the difference. It is the IT skills that tend to be lacking when it comes to applicants for jobs here. Those with strong IT skills (and they don't even have to be *that* strong), tend to stand out a mile. Here in Sussex, all staff have strong IT skills: you need to be adept at GIS and be able to wrangle data effectively (at least in Excel). Perhaps most crucially, we are not only *able* to sit in an office all day in front of a computer, we *enjoy* it.

It depends on the job, though. If it's a job as a field surveyor, then obviously the computer skills aren't as important, although being hot on GIS will give you a distinct advantage. If it's an office job in an LRC, then being skilled, experienced or just plain passionate about IT (particularly GIS, programming and databases, I'd say) will put you ahead of the pack. Not only this, if you have the skills and interest in IT, then an LRC is an ideal place to grow, experiment and really make a difference to the direction of the organisation (unlike in a large corp where you're just another cog in the wheel).

Here are a couple of interesting articles that I think capture, at least in part, the kinds of skills LRCs are looking for:

http://flowingdata.com/2009/06/04/rise-of-the-data-scientist/
http://dataspora.com/blog/sexy-data-geeks/

Charles Roper
Digital Development Manager | Field Studies Council
http://www.field-studies-council.org | https://twitter.com/charlesroper | https://twitter.com/fsc_digital

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Re: Biodiversity Informatics - Job title?

Thanks for the replies Rob and Charles,

Charles, are you saying that the 'core skill' is ecology but the differentiator that will actually get you the job at a LRC is having more than basic IT skills?  Having had the pleasure of meeting most of your colleagues at SxBRC (including yourself at the last Recorder's Seminar) I suspect that they fit into this model, but I understand that your own background is IT and I don't know much about Andrew other than the website saying he is your GIS man.

Or, from Rob's opinion that we are not discussing a field of ecology, is it that the 'core skill' is computers with ecology an added  bonus?  However, other parts of his comment seem to suggest that ecology graduates get recruited into LRCs but are then tempted away by better paid private sector ecologist roles once they have some experience.  How about IT graduates, or do they just never apply for the jobs?

Of course the ideal candidate would have proven expertise and experience in; the local area, biodiversity, geodiversity, legislation, wildlife surveying, wildlife data, GIS,  IT,  (etc), but how many of them are available?  How close a fit would be expected and achieved?

There might be as many different answers to this as there are different ways to run an LRC?!

From a personal point of view, I suppose I am trying to gauge whether I need to get an ecological qualification to backup my business information systems degree and 15 years in commercial IT.  If LRCs are not getting many applicants and/or IT is very much the key requirement then I should be OK as I am, especially if I can get ever more exposure to the recording and GIS software.

A skills survey of current LRC people would be very interesting and would further the profession as discussed in previous posts: ideally via a questionnaire but I guess looking at staff descriptions on LRC websites would be a good start.  Or gather recruitment 'person specifications', although many of them just say 'relevant degree' rather than ecology or IT, and then list a variety of IT and diversity skills as above.  I don't have time at the moment but will keep the idea on the back burner.

Cheers

Mike

Mike Beard
Natural Course Project Officer
Greater Manchester Local Records Centre

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Re: Biodiversity Informatics - Job title?

I have answered my own question by getting an IT (Ecology) job in Edinburgh :)

Mike

Mike Beard
Natural Course Project Officer
Greater Manchester Local Records Centre