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Dr Allyson Lister inspires students through the Rice University Center for Career Development's Owl Edge Externship Program

Rice students completing the externship gained hands-on experience in research data management

Allyson Lister

Rice students completing their externship, gained hands-on experience in research data management through their engagement with Allyson. 

The Rice University Center for Career Development connects students to the global Rice network through It’s Owl Edge Externship program. Students gain hands-on experience in research data management, collaborating with Rice University alumni.

The Center presents it’s 10th annual Owl Edge Externship Program. The Externships are a high-impact practice whose mission is to educate students on their career options, connect them to industry professionals, and empower students to take charge of their career development. 

Despite there being an ocean between herself and Rice University, Dr Allyson Lister (Biology and Ancient Mediterranean Civilizations) infused passion into her externship experience and inspired her externs to think differently about their career paths. Congratulations to Rice students Ava Baraban, Ashley Song, and Victoria Liu for completing their externship and gaining hands-on experience in research data management through their engagement with Allyson. 

The CCD has matched over 3,700 students to an externship since the program's inception and relies on the generosity of volunteers and donors to ensure its continued success.

Read on to learn about what it was like for an alumnus participating for the first time in the Externship program, as Allyson describes her experience this past December.


The Owl Edge Externship Program is an amazing opportunity to connect undergraduate and graduate students with alumni in a practical and immediately beneficial way. Because I live abroad, the flexibility of the program as well as its short timescale (our externship group met four times over the course of a single week, for a total of five hours) made it particularly well suited to my situation. 

Through the externship program, I wanted to let students know that uncertainty and change - even once you start a degree course - is a common part of our career journey. As an undergraduate, the choices we make - about majors, projects, graduate work (or not) - can sometimes seem all-encompassing. But the choices you make when you’re 17 or 18 aren’t set in stone.
I met new people and kept making new choices until I found a research area I loved, and I wanted to give the externs the opportunity to discuss any concerns they might have about their own career paths. As such, during our meetings I focused on two topics: my current job and the non-standard career trajectory I had along the way. 

I am the Content and Community Coordinator for FAIRsharing based at the Oxford e-Research Centre within the University of Oxford. FAIRsharing is a curated, informative and educational resource on data and metadata standards, inter-related to databases and data policies, across all disciplines. It guides consumers to discover, select and use these resources with confidence, producers to make their resource more discoverable, more widely adopted and cited, and powers third party tools by providing trustworthy content to promote standards and databases. As part of this project, we work with communities across all disciplines (Natural Science, Engineering, and Social Sciences / Humanities). 

It’s fantastic having a career within the open and FAIR research data management community, however the road to get here was decidedly windy with more than the occasional crossroads. My BA from Rice showed me that, as much as I loved science, traditional biological research wasn’t for me. This left me unsure of my next steps and I doubted my choices, my research area, and ultimately my career path. I took a gap year and discovered a cross-disciplinary Bioinformatics MSc from University of York (UK). This course allowed me to learn new computing skills that I could apply to my foundational knowledge in the Life Sciences at a time when the Human Genome Project was in full swing, and such skills were needed. A gap of 6 years in my education followed while I worked at the European Bioinformatics Institute, which gave me fantastic experience and additional knowledge of open science, before gaining my PhD from Newcastle University and then coming to Oxford. 

This was my first time participating in the Externship Programme, and I was happy to be guided by the externs as to what they might like to focus on. And, happily, three engaged and eloquent externs joined me over the course of a week. As I expected, we spoke a little about my job in open and FAIR research data management, however we spent the majority of our time talking about what academic life is like, and the reality (both positive and negative) of working in such an environment. We talked about non-standard career trajectories, how they might recognise when changing direction might be the right thing to do, and when to embrace new opportunities and connections. We even had time for a mini project where they helped me create a FAIRsharing record for R3, the Rice institutional repository. Ashley continued the externship by independently creating an additional FAIRsharing record describing the MathRepo institutional repository. Her high-quality curation shows the knowledge the externs have gained on the basics of research data management.  This small project has created an active collaboration between FAIRsharing, the externs and Fondren Library, which means that not only have the four of us had a positive experience, but we’ve also gained new connections with Fondren.

More information about creating FAIRsharing records describing databases, standards or data policies can be found within our Educational Material, or get in touch with us at


As a follow-up to the externship, Alexander Rodriguez, Program Administrator for Experiential Education and Data at Rice University’s Center for Career Development, and Lisa Spiro, Assistant University Librarian for Digital Scholarship and Organizational Development at Rice University’s Fondren Library, met with Allyson to discuss R3 and FAIRsharing and the collaboration opportunities the externship program provides.

“As the Assistant University Librarian for Digital Scholarship and Organizational Development at Fondren Library, I was excited to hear that Rice undergraduates were exploring data curation and open science. I will soon be meeting with the externs to learn more about their experience and gain their insights on how Fondren can raise awareness of these issues among students. I am also delighted that they helped to create a FAIRsharing record for the Rice Research Repository (R-3), raising its visibility.” - Lisa Spiro

Current Rice students and externship participants Victoria, Ava, and Ashley also shared their experiences from participating in the Owl Edge Externship Program. 

“Up until my externship with Dr. Lister, I had only heard about research and academia explained to me from a formal bird's eye point of view. However, what I truly needed to hear as I considered whether I want to go down this journey were the realistic, not-always-so-sunny aspects of working in academia, as well as the interpersonal skills that people usually don't mention that come with interacting with other fellows. Dr. Lister not only shared all of that in great detail, she also conveyed to us her passions about metadata and data curation, and inspired me to be more open minded in reaching out to people and not fearing an unconventional pathway.” - Victoria Liu 

"I have truly learned a lot from my externship experience with Dr. Lister, from how FAIRsharing works, especially in relation to metadata and data curation, to the ins and outs of academia. Creating a record has helped me realize how difficult it can be to find information about certain resources alone, emphasizing the need to make them easier to understand and more accessible. Overall, this experience has been incredibly insightful, encouraging me to explore new opportunities beyond what I know." - Ashley Song 

"My externship at FAIRsharing opened my eyes to the world of metadata and data curation. Through Dr. Lister's explanations, I learned about the principles of findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable data, and how essential they are in the world of research. I also got an inside look at academia, including the realities of being a woman in this field. Dr. Lister encouraged us to embrace uncertainty and nonlinear career paths. My experience at FAIRsharing sparked new thinking about the many opportunities at the intersection of data, technology, and research, with a broader perspective on potential career directions."- Ava Baraban

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Rice University Center for Career Development externships