Christine Borgman, a Distinguished Professor and Presidential Chair in Information Studies at UCLA, is an exemplary role model with a passion for interdisciplinary research. Borgman, who holds degrees in mathematics, library and information science and communication research, dedicates a large amount of her time toward mentoring students and young researchers entering fields that have captivated her interest including scholarly communication, information seeking, human-computer interaction (HCI) and information retrieval.
“What excites me about interdisciplinary research is the opportunity to combine disparate perspectives and to learn from each other,” she said.
Borgman, who has been teaching at UCLA since 1983, has taught classes about information retrieval, library automation, and information-seeking behavior. Prior to joining UCLA, she developed the first HCI course at Stanford University. When she came to Los Angeles, she not only established new courses in HCI, information policy, electronic publishing, bibliometrics, and data curation, but also expanded existing IT courses in the then Graduate School of Library and Information Sciences (GSLIS). She was recently promoted to Distinguished Professor and named the co-chair of the Academic Senate-Administration data governance task force, which was formed to recommend a campus governance mechanism in response to the increasing demand for data about UCLA students, faculty and staff.
Borgman has also been hard at work on her new book titled Big Data, Little, Data, No Data: Scholarship in the Networked World, which was published in January 2015 by MIT Press. This book builds upon earlier assessments of the global information infrastructure and examines data and scholarly research. Borgman points out that “having the right data is usually better than having more data; little data can be just as important as big data.” The first part of her book lays out the challenges of data-intensive scholarship. The middle part includes a series of case studies of data practices in the sciences, social sciences, and humanities. Finally, the concluding portion assesses data sharing, reuse, credit, attribution, and discovery. She argues that we need to make a huge investment in knowledge infrastructures to support the management, curation and use of data in the future.
“While I don’t claim to have the answer to these challenges, my goal is to provoke a much fuller and more comprehensive conversation about the diversity of data and practices, the infrastructure required to support them, and the roles and responsibilities of varied stakeholders,” Borgman explained.
Recently, her research group, the Center for Knowledge Infrastructures, was awarded a three-year grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation titled “If data sharing is the answer, what is the question?” Their goal is to challenge prevailing assumptions about the value of sharing data.
“Data are complex, compound, heterogeneous, and messy objects that rarely lend themselves to easy sharing or reuse,” said Borgman. By studying four different research projects in astronomy, biology, and medical sciences, her team plans to simplify the complexities of data practices. They aim to influence policy by presenting their findings to these scientific communities as well as funding agencies, government policy agencies, publishers and other key stakeholders.
Despite her incredible achievements, Borgman remains a humble leader. She noted, “The most rewarding outcome of these projects is guiding my brilliant team of graduate students and post-doctoral fellows to making their own discoveries.”
When asked about her proudest accomplishments and what she looks forward to achieving in the future, Borgman remained modest. “My proudest accomplishments are my students, who have gone on to lead their own research teams, win their own grants, found companies, and take on leadership roles in professional societies,” she said. “My future accomplishments, in addition to successful research and influencing policy, are to advance my current students, to mentor my graduates, and to learn from all of them.”