My job at the Cornell Lab is to design and manage the databases that hold participants’ data for our Citizen Science projects. These projects include eBird, Project FeederWatch, Nestwatch, Great Backyard Bird Count, and others.
Database management includes design, performance and security. For example, I design data structures so that data is stored efficiently and in a logical and easy-to-use way. The data we collect from our participants is used by a lot of people both inside and outside the Lab. Here inside the Lab, programmers write interactive web pages and mobile apps and their programming is easier if the data is easy to work with. The scientists and other data analysts both inside and outside the Lab who use the data in research also benefit from straightforward data design.
My duties also include working on database performance. We need to store the data in a such way so that it can be retrieved quickly. One good example is the eBird species maps that shows points for the locations where a bird species has been observed. Generating one of those maps can require retrieving hundreds of thousands of records from the database very quickly, between the time when the map is requested by a user and when it is displayed. If the database is too slow, a species map that a user requests would take a long time to display. We come up with innovative ways of storing the data so that features like species maps can work.
Database security is also an important part of my work at the Lab. We must keep the data safe and secure, and a lot of careful effort has gone into protection. We also must plan for potential disasters so that our data can be recovered in the event of equipment failure or even a site-level disaster such as fire. Multiple copies of backups are kept offsite and we perform regular practice disaster recoveries so that in the event of an actual disaster, we’ll be familiar with the steps necessary to get the data back.
I’m truly grateful to be working on projects I genuinely care about while being part of a tight-knit team of talented, passionate, and good, dedicated people. It’s very gratifying seeing the data from our participants being used for meaningful scientific research, and affecting land-use decision making out there in the world.
B.A., Computer Science, SUNY New Paltz, 1984
A.A.S., Forest Technology, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Ranger School
I like birds a lot, but I like fish even more. I keep a large tropical planted aquarium with primarily Amazon fish, a minnow pond, a koi pond, and a couple of moist terrariums with local mosses, ferns, and lichens. I also have a small collection of extremely cool tropical carnivorous pitcher plants in the genus Nepenthes. The Lab is now working together with a conservation group in Peru to monitor migratory fish in the Amazon River, much like a fish version of eBird—and I have the good fortune of managing the database for that project as well. I never expected to manage fish databases at the Lab of Ornithology, and now I do.