Last night in Chicago I was awarded the Jim Gray eScience Award. I didn’t know Jim personally but I know I benefit from the fruits of his work. Before Tony Hey gave me the award he played a video about the previous award winners. To be recognized for my contributions and to join scientists of the caliber of the previous winners was, to say the least, very emotional. My entire career has been focused on doing what I thought was the right thing for the role I was charged with. And when I didn’t want the role I was in I would move on. That’s migrated me through various roles in science from lab manager in academia, in industry, to start-up cheminformatics company product manager, through marketing, through sales, to community website for chemistry, to where I am today at RSC, a publisher. If I had been asked to map out my career path there is no way I would get to here…but which of us would be able to really?
Last night I presented on “The Possibilities and Pitfalls of Internet-Based Chemical Data”. I talked about how much data I have generated in the lab over the years that is now lost. And how we can change this moving forward for the existing generation of scientists. I talked about the history of ChemSpider from hobby-project to present day as one of the web’s primary sites for chemists. I talked about how scientists should PARTICIPATE in annotating and curating data online…how data sites specifically should enable commenting to capture issues. I talked about the measure of scientists and how efforts including ORCID and ImpactStory will be important to deal with the impact and notability of scientists. I hope I was able to share my view that while technology will continue to improve in terms of allowing us to contribute that it is personal choice to make a difference that is crucial in terms of correcting errors, annotating data and continuing the journey of creating improved resources for the chemistry community (and of course other branches of science).
I also announced our intention for RSC to create a Global Chemistry Hub (a topic for a separate post) and to “data enable the RSC archive”…extracting chemicals, reactions, data etc from our archive going back to the 1840s. We do not have all of the technologies, the processes or the approaches yet defined. But we have the intent and the courage to go for it, learning as we go and producing beneficial outcomes in an iterative manner. It’s an exciting time for the RSC cheminformatics team and it is my privilege to work alongside a great team of individuals to create a step change in terms of how we manage and deliver chemistry data to the community.
I have had a lot of trusted advisers over the years and last night I acknowledged a list of those closest to me in recent years. They include: Jean-Claude Bradley, Sean Ekins, Lee Harland, Gary Martin and Martin Walker. The closest to me however is Valery Tkachenko. I was happy that Valery was able to be at the conference with me. So much of what has been achieved to data with ChemSpider (as well as MANY projects we worked on together while at ACD/Labs) rests squarely on his shoulders. The future technical implementation of the cheminformatics projects we are undertaking at RSC is under his guiding hand. I am glad to have such a great “partner in crime”….
My thanks to Microsoft Research, to the judges for selecting me for the award and to the community who has chosen to embrace some of the fruits of my work. I am leaving Chicago proud, tired and looking forward to making an ever bigger impact with some of our new projects.