July 5, 2019

Search underway for new academic director of Prairie Regional Research Data Centre

Facility has become an indispensable source of social science research data for UCalgary researchers

As a hub for research data and a statistical analysis computing laboratory, the Prairie Regional Research Data Centre (RDC) on the fourth floor of the Taylor Family Digital Library (TFDL) has been a valuable resource for scholars at the University of Calgary for almost 20 years.

The Prairie Regional RDC is one of 32 facilities within the Canadian Research Data Centre Network, a collective of centres and branch offices at universities across the country. It is the place on campus where researchers access data collected by Statistics Canada. Many other countries, including the United States, have similar models for sharing government-funded research data in a secure environment

In Canada, these centres provide researchers with microdata - survey data on individuals - from Statistics Canada. This information is not publicly available. These data are carefully guarded with stringent security measures because they often include sensitive personal information even though the names of respondents are deleted.

  • Photo above: Analyst Dina Lavorato, left, academic director Richard Wanner and analyst Stephanie Cantlay of the Prairie Regional Research Data Centre at the University of Calgary. Photo by Dave Brown, Libraries and Cultural Resources  

Access to this information enables researchers to analyze nationally representative data sets and tailor them to their research. RDC microdata are used to investigate social, economic and health-related issues in Canada such as child poverty, teen pregnancy, eldercare, stress, work-life balance, racial and ethnic discrimination and mental health.

Every year, data from the Prairie Regional RDC contributes to the work of dozens of University of Calgary researchers, resulting in approximately 20 peer-reviewed journal articles, 25 to 30 conference presentations, books and book chapters. One-third of scholars who access the centre are graduate students, so the data are also widely used for master’s theses and doctoral dissertations.

“This facility has had a tremendous impact on the quality of research at the University of Calgary, because it provides access to data that wouldn’t otherwise be available on campus,” explains Dr. Richard Wanner, PhD, professor emeritus of sociology and academic director of the Prairie Regional RDC since 2005.

Wanner was a co-investigator on the initial grant from the Canada Foundation for Innovation that established the national network of centres in 2000. Before that, scholars needing access to nationally representative information for research purposes had to travel to Statistics Canada headquarters in Ottawa.

Now, through a highly secure and advanced digital infrastructure system, these data are shared with RDCs across the country.

“Our data sets have become larger over the years and the nature of the data has also changed over time,” notes Wanner.

During his time with the Prairie Regional RDC, Wanner has observed substantial advancements in technology and a growing sophistication of data. He oversaw the expansion of the centre when it moved from the basement of MacKimmie Tower to the TFDL in 2017. The facility nearly doubled in size and now includes space for research teams to collaborate and a training room to host courses on data and statistics.

Wanner retires from his role this summer and the search has begun for the centre’s next leader. The recruitment committee is chaired by Dr. Mary-Jo Romaniuk, PhD, vice-provost (libraries and cultural resources) and executive director of the Prairie Regional RDC.

Wanner says the new academic director will lead the centre during exciting times.

“There have been significant advancements in the field of high-performance computing, so over the next few years we will see a dramatic increase in the ability of researchers across the country to collaborate with each other with the installation of our CFI-funded HPC system.”

More information about the Prairie Regional RDC academic director position may be found here. The website of the Canadian Research Data Centre Network offers a wealth of information the public may access, including information on data sets and publications produced with data housed in RDCs.