March 2023 - Dr. Heidi Imker

Dr. Heidi J. Imker is an Associate Professor and the Director of Research Data Service at the University Library. The Research Data Service was established in 2014 with Dr. Imker at its head to provide data management services to the Illinois researcher community. It is also responsible for maintaining and operating the Illinois Data Bank, which serves as a repository for publishing research data collected at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Along with her responsibilities as director, Dr. Imker also conducts research on data management and how it can lead to more efficient research. 

While she works within data management now, Dr. Imker holds a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of Illinois. Before joining the Library, Dr. Imker served as Executive Director of the Enzyme Function Initiative at the Institute for Genomic Biology.

From the University Archives:

Dr. Imker is not the first Biochemist at the University of Illinois to take a strong interest in libraries. Evelyn J. Weber (1928-2008) was a Professor of Plant Biochemistry at the College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences from 1965-87. Beyond her duties as a professor, much of Dr. Weber's time, especially later in her life, was given to philanthropy. While she donated a great deal to both the University of Illinois and Iowa State University (where she received her Ph.D.), Dr. Weber was particularly interested in helping the library and supporting women in science. Here at the University of Illinois, she was responsible for sponsoring a study alcove in the Chemistry Library.

At Iowa State University, Dr. Weber was a frequent donor to the library and was particularly involved in the creation and continuation of the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Archives. Not only did she donate some of her papers and regularly financially donate to WISE, she also helped the WISE archivists with their work. In this letter, Dr. Weber gives one of the curators at WISE the contact information for members of the Women Chemist Committee. The WISE archives was trying to convince the group to donate their papers and as a former member, Dr. Weber was happy to help.

 One of Dr. Weber’s most notable philanthropic accomplishments was her contribution that allowed for the purchase of Iowa State University Library’s Two-Millionth Volume. For this notable volume they purchased Marcia Gaetana Agnesi’s Instituzioni analitche…. Agnesi was one of the first female mathematicians in the Western world, so this volume was a particularly meaningful one, given Dr. Weber’s continued dedication to supporting women in the sciences.

While Dr. Weber was in high demand and had a successful career, Biochemistry has not always been a field that welcomed women. William C. Rose was a Professor of Chemistry at the University of Illinois from 1922-55. Within his papers are a number of letters from colleagues at other institutions who were looking to recruit biochemists for their departments and looking for his recommendation. In all of these letters, the common theme is that they are looking for a “promising young man.” These are letters from Harvard, the University of California, Saint Louis University of Medicine, and the University of Nebraska. For all of these schools, there wasn’t even a thought that they could hire a woman as a biochemist for their department.


In contrast to the sexism shown in hiring practices in the early 1900s, this is a letter Dr. Weber sent out shortly after starting at the University of Illinois in which she turned down another position. While women are still underrepresented in the sciences and women scientists are still often subject to sexism, the very fact that Dr. Weber had options on where she wanted to work is indicative of the impact women like Dr. Weber have had in making the biochemistry field more inclusive.

Dr. Imker is also able to help and encourage other women scientists through her work as Director of the Research Data Service (RDS). One of ways the RDS does this is through their “Data Nudge” program piloted in 2017.  This program is “a monthly, opt-in email service to ‘nudge’ Illinois researchers toward good date management practices, and toward utilizing data services on campus” (“Better Data Management”). This Data Nudge from 2021 was sent out in celebration of the program's five year anniversary and features some facts about the nudges that were sent out. Through tools and programs like these, Dr. Imker and the Research Data Service (RDS)  are responsible for helping many of the women scientists at the University of Illinois manage and steward their research data.

Sources and Further Reading:

  • Evelyn J. Weber Papers, 1945-2007, Record Series 8/6/29, University of Illinois Archives
  • Orlowska, Daria, Colleen Fallaw, Yali Feng, Livia Garza, Ashley Hetrick, Heidi Imker, and Hoa Luong. “Better Data Management, One Nudge at a Time.” IASSIST Quarterly 45, no. 2 (September 26, 2021).
  • Research Data Service. “2021-12 Data Nudge 5 Years Celebration.” University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, December 14, 2021.
  • William C. Rose Papers, 1923-62, 1966, Record Series 15/5/27, Box 1, Correspondence, 1943, 1947-52, University of Illinois Archives