Spotlight Remote: Accommodating a remote community, the Data & Statistical Services Lab transforms into a virtual service and expands hours

Stock photo of bell curves

Led by data and statistics consultant Oscar Torres-Reyna, Princeton University Library (PUL)’s Data and Statistical Services (DSS) in Firestone Library offers year-round in-person consultation services to Princeton students, faculty, and staff. But in the face of COVID-19, Torres-Reyna and his team - data services specialist Courtney Conrad and six Princeton University graduate students - worked quickly to transition the service into a virtual one. 

Located on A floor, DSS provides the Princeton community with various data and statistical consulting services, as well as software assistance, to help them choose the appropriate data for their research, apply quantitative research methods, interpret statistical analyses, and convert or visualize data. Additionally, DSS is open for students who need to use the computers for particular software or to run larger datasets on the Lab’s supercomputer, lovingly nicknamed OLGA. 

However, when Princeton announced that classes were to resume virtually due to the coronavirus, the DSS team responded speedily, meeting with members of the extended library’s leadership team, staff from PUL’s Research Services, and staff from Information Technology teams and in less than a day, determining how the service could proceed virtually and how they could provide remote access into the Lab’s computers. 

Since then, “the capacity for DSS to provide assistance to students grew exponentially,” said Torres-Reyna. He noted that it wouldn’t have been possible without the support from Research Services and Information Technology and the flexibility of the DSS team to accommodate the new situation.

Now, the team fully operates the service via Zoom, utilizing screen sharing to consult the datasets visually (one of the reasons the service often requires meeting in person), and staff also now offer extended hours to accommodate students in different time zones. 

“Keeping the same hours [that DSS regularly operates] would be difficult for some,” said Torres-Reyna. Each team member now offers ten-minute sessions for two hours a day, and the service is often available from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Students are welcome to join multiple sessions a day, and on a regular day, the service can accommodate up to 60 sessions. During their first week of remote consultations, with the expanded service, they held 85 sessions. 

In the spring, as students finalize their independent research projects such as junior papers and senior theses and handle copious amounts of data, DSS is particularly invaluable to guide them through the research and analysis process.

To contact or learn more about the DSS Lab, visit their website.

Written by Stephanie Ramirez, Communications Specialist and Staff Writer

Media contact: Barbara Valenza, Director of Library Communications