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Amanda Liford Hopes to Start Career Through USGS Practicum

Recent graduate Amanda Liford (’19) transitioned from a student practicum into an assistantship at the US Geological Survey this past year, and now she’s hoping it could turn into a full-time career as a data manager at the organization.

Liford was part of the User Experience Assessment Cohort that was funded by a grant and led by Chancellor’s Professor Carol Tenopir, Professor Dania Bilal, and Associate Professor Rachel Fleming-May. The program aimed to train information sciences professionals to perform assessment and UX research in both libraries and science-intensive information environments. It was the latter area in which Liford, who has an undergraduate degree in ecology and biodiversity, was interested.

“I was thinking maybe I could be a science librarian at an academic facility, and then I started working at ORNL my first semester at UT, and that opened up my eyes to different possibilities outside of the academic track that I could take to incorporate science into my degree and career,” she said.

Then an opportunity arose for her to do a practicum at the U.S. Geological Survey. There, she worked with the online data repository Science Base, checking data, metadata, and communicating with scientists to get their data releases ready. What was a practicum at first, turned into an assistantship at the end of 2019. Liford said it’s looking very good for that assistantship to turn into a full-time job for her, and she couldn’t be happier.

“I knew I wanted to work with the scientific realm, but I didn’t know that it would be with data. Data is a big part of the field now, and this all came about because of my classes,” she said. “The job will be pretty much the same thing, except full-time and more responsibility. It’s really a science support area, so I wouldn’t be doing any actual science – which is fine, I realized that isn’t my thing awhile back. But it is science adjacent.”

Liford said that one of the most impressive aspects of the MSIS program at the University of Tennessee is how in tune the school is with the job market, and opportunities within it. From class projects to the real-life applications – such as practicum and assistantship opportunities – she said the faculty helps students realize their aspirations.

“I feel like they have a finger on the pulse of what employers are looking for, and what is new and needed in the field, which I appreciate,” she said. “I think they’re on the cutting-edge of the trending topics in information sciences, and really preparing graduates to get a job at the end of it.”

While Liford said she doesn’t yet have specific long-term career goals, she does hope that this latest opportunity will open even more doors over time. One unique program that USGS implements for employees is allowing them to swap positions with someone else in order to learn other jobs and to work together as a team even better.

“I really like that idea because you don’t want to get bored in a job and master it and not have anywhere to go. They call them ‘swapportunities’ and it lets people try something new,” she said.

While the practicum was a required part of her involvement with the UXA cohort, Liford said it has provided invaluable hands-on experience for her, and she would recommend it to any other MSIS student who can do one. She said any student who is interested should reach out to faculty to learn more.

“The professors are great, Suzie Allard was invaluable in connecting me with USGS, and my advisor, Dr. Fleming-May, was really helpful through the whole process,” she said.