Faces of UMSI: Dharma Akmon

When scientists produce data, they may not see the value of sharing it with other scientists. Even if they consider their data as a resource, they may not have the means or tools to preserve it. Understanding how scientists think about, value and share the data that they produce is the subject of doctoral candidate Dharma Akmon’s research and dissertation.

Her interest in the topic developed as she worked alongside her advisor, Margaret Hedstrom, on some of the professor’s grant projects. Since 2009, Dharma has been a fellow on Hedstrom’s research project, “Open Data IGERT: Graduate Training for Data Sharing and Re-use in E-science.” That project, funded by the National Science Foundation, trains graduate student to identify basic principles for acquiring, managing, sharing and archiving data in the fields of bioinformatics and materials science and engineering, with the goal of producing a new generation of archivists and scientists with new ways of thinking about open data sharing and reuse.

“The National Science Foundation has mounted a strong push to make scientific data more available to the public,” Dharma says. “Unfortunately, scientists aren’t always willing to share their data. I hope that one outcome of my work will be that we will have a better understanding of how they view and value their data. Right now we have an incomplete picture, which poses an obstacle to good data stewardship practices.”

Dharma’s academic career began at Michigan State University, where she majored in history. Following graduation, she moved to northern Italy where she taught English in the town of Bolzano. An interest in archives which began when she was an undergraduate drew her back to Michigan, where she enrolled in the MSI program in 2003 and earned her degree in 2005 with a specialization in archives and records management. “Then, I wanted to get some real world experience,” she says.

She took a job at JSTOR, the Ann Arbor-based non-profit digital library of academic journals, books and primary sources. A few years at JSTOR convinced her that she was ready for the challenge of a doctoral program. “I didn’t even consider other programs,” she says. “I knew that everything I wanted was right here at Michigan.”

In addition to her IGERT fellowship, her recognitions include a Rackham Regents Fellowship in 2008-09, a Rackham Graduate Student Research Grant in 2012, and being named a Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Advanced Collaboratory (HASTAC) scholar in 2011. Her dissertation, The Role of Conceptions of Value in Data Practices: A Multi-Case Study of Three Small Teams of Ecological Scientists,” was successfully defended in September, 2013. Members of her dissertation committee were Beth Yakel, Carl Lagoze, and George Alter; Margaret Hedstrom was the committee chair.