Dave Brown, Libraries and Cultural Resources
Abdie Kazemipur to lead Prairie Regional Research Data Centre as new academic director
Research facility has become an essential resource for UCalgary scholars
A hub of valuable Statistics Canada data, the Prairie Regional Research Data Centre (PRRDC) in the Taylor Family Digital Library has become an indispensable resource for campus scholars since it was established in 2001.
The PRRDC has a new academic director, Dr. Abdie Kazemipur, PhD, professor in the Department of Sociology and Chair of Ethnic Studies at UCalgary. He previously served as Stephen Jarislowsly Chair in Culture Change and Immigration at Memorial University of Newfoundland, and was the founding academic director of the research data centres at the University of Lethbridge and Memorial University.
Kazemipur’s predecessor, Dr. Richard Wanner, PhD, retired in June. As the new academic director, Kazemipur acts as the liaison between Statistics Canada, the university and the research community.
Within the organizational structure at UCalgary, the PRRDC falls under Libraries and Cultural Resources as well as the VP Research Office.
As part of a collective of 32 centres and branches at universities across Canada, the PRRDC 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 every year. Currently, the PRRDC has 86 active projects and 108 active researchers.
When RDCs were first established in Canada nearly 20 years ago — the PRRDC being one of the first — researchers generally were not aware of the huge impact RDC data could have on the quality of their work.
“Researchers who access RDC data have realized it’s as close to a gold mine as you can get for social science research,” says Kazemipur. “In fact, research has taken new directions as a result of the availability of RDC data.”
Through a highly secure and advanced digital infrastructure system, the RDCs provide researchers with microdata — raw data from StatCan surveys — that is not publicly available. RDC microdata are used to investigate social, economic and health-related issues in Canada such as child poverty, immigration, teen pregnancy, eldercare, stress, work-life balance, racial and ethnic discrimination and mental health.
Data are carefully guarded with stringent security measures because they often include sensitive personal information even though the names of respondents are deleted.
Access to this information makes it possible for researchers to analyze nationally representative data sets, break down information into detailed categories and make the data more meaningful.
“In the public-use data, certain sensitive variables are removed and data are categorized very broadly,” explains Kazemipur. “In order to understand what is happening accurately, however, you have to break it down into smaller categories, and that’s where you start to notice certain patterns or different types of experiences for different groups.”
This makes the results more precise, applicable and actionable for purposes such as policy-making, he adds.
Many exciting developments are on the horizon, thanks to the growing sophistication of data and advancements in technology, particularly in high-performance computing (HPC). In the coming years, a much-anticipated HPC system funded by Canada Foundation for Innovation will enable researchers across the country to work with larger data sets and collaborate on a much greater scale.