Meet the team – User Support and Training

Article dated: 1 August 2018

Meet the team


Our User Support and Training team at the UK Data Service supports researchers and those teaching with data around the world. Read on to find out more about the team who focus on the delivery of training via webinars and workshops (including training on the use of sensitive data), and online training resources and helpdesk support.

Who's who in User Training and Support?

Dr Vanessa Higgins is Director of User Support and Training, working with Dr Hersh Mann, User Support and Training Manager, Dr Sarah King-Hele, Training Co-ordinator, Dr Jen Buckley, Research Associate, Dr Ana Morales Gomez, Research Associate, Gill Meadows, Administrator and Valerija Kolbas, Beate Lichtwardt, Simon Parker, Dr James Scott, Dr Deborah Wiltshire and Christine Woods, are all Senior User Support and Training Officers. We have a number of other people who work with us on user support and training activities across the Service in the teams for Census, International Macrodata, Qualitative data and Research Data Management.

What does your team do?

Vanessa: We have an extensive training programme of around 100 events (workshops, webinars and user conferences) per year, a suite of online training materials and one-to-one helpdesk support for users of data. The team works really hard delivering presentations and workshops around the country to teach people about the data and to give people hands-on experience of working with the data. The team also deliver webinars and produce online training resources and we work with other international research data centres to improve our services. We train academics (researchers and teachers), students, librarians and other researchers. The team also helps researchers use our data via a helpdesk query service. This can range from simple to complex queries about a range of aspects around using the data.

Sarah: Our annual user conferences are very popular events. They focus on particular datasets or data themes such as the Health Studies User Conference or the Crimes Surveys User Conference. The conferences are led by the Service but held in collaboration with data producers such as NatCen and the Office for National Statistics. The aim is to bring data producers and data users together to share updates on the data developments and to showcase research that is being carried out using the data. We have been running these for a number of years (some coming up to 15 years) and we receive much positive feedback about how useful they are from attendees.

Hersh: Some of the data we hold are very detailed and we provide face-to-face training for researchers who need to access those data collections via our Secure Lab. This ensures the researchers understand their legal and ethical obligations, and have a wider awareness of their responsibilities to use data and report findings safely and responsibly.

Jen: I'm also working with data archives across Europe to develop new training resources at the moment.

How much data do you hold, and what does that mean for your work?

Hersh: We hold over 7,300 data collections at the moment, and that figure is increasing all the time, so the team has to be very knowledgeable. Our User Support and Training team have backgrounds in a range of disciplines for example political science, demography, criminology, education, sociology, psychology and social statistics.

What projects are you most proud of?

Vanessa: We run a whopping 100 events per year and get consistently excellent feedback from participants – this reflects what a great team we have here. Also, we lead the way in many aspects of training. A few years ago, we were one of the first organisations in our field to run webinars, and now we're regularly asked to train others in delivering webinars. Recently, we've led the way in producing online interactive Data Skills Modules which have been very positively received.

Jen: We developed a range of resources for students including a guide for students doing dissertations that gets good feedback from students and lecturers. I think these are important as many social science students still don’t realise there is a wealth of data out there for them to use in their own projects.

Sarah: We recently ran a series of 'big data' webinars, workshops and summer schools to teach basic skills to social scientists to help them use new forms of data, such as social media or 'internet of things' data. These courses were hugely popular as social scientists are increasingly finding they need programming and database skills to use new forms of data in their research.

James and Deborah: We have been working on improving data citation, and have written a data impact blog on why data citation is important and have also implemented changes to the Secure Lab procedures to encourage researchers to cite the data they use.

Beate: I am collaborating with overseas Research Data Centres to exchange knowledge and find new and innovative solutions to common problems.

What fun things do you do outside work?

Deborah: I’m a weightlifter/CrossFitter in my spare time and have taken part in competitions across the UK.

Beate: Occasionally I run a half marathon. I used to enjoy distance swimming across lakes in Germany.

Simon: I once had a sword fight with a Paralympian.

James: I play in a hardcore punk band that plays all over the UK and recently completed our second tour of mainland Europe in support of our third album. I also sing in an Anglo-Swedish band and DJ soul and reggae from time to time.

Gill Meadows, Administrator: I once told Mark E Smith to get back on stage when The Fall had finished their set and he did!

How did people with such different backgrounds and interests get into this line of work?

Deborah: By accident! I took a break from teaching at another university, and saw this advertised.

James: After my Sociology PhD at Essex, I was in the right place at the right time and had the skills required. It’s quite a niche field so people tend to fall into it.

Beate: I have a lot of international experience producing and analysing large-scale surveys, and many years of experience in user support services. My research, professional and personal background were right to start this job while still working on my research.

Simon: My fiancée saw the role advertised and pointed out that the requirements were so esoteric that hardly anyone else would be qualified. It combines data, supporting, and teaching all of which I enjoy.

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