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Five minute profile: interview with Vicki Madden

Vicki Madden stands in a field of pumpkins, holding a pumpkin
Five minute profiles

Research Data Scotland

27 Oct 2023

Our interview series shines a light on what it’s like to work at RDS. We spoke to Vicki Madden, Content Designer, about the highlights and challenges of her role.

What’s your role at RDS and what does your typical workday involve?

I’m a Content Designer in the Digital team. Something that I quickly realised at RDS is that no two days look the same! There are a lot of fast-paced projects happening and they all require different things from a content design perspective. One day I will be writing a blog post, the next I'll be working on the application form prototype for the new Researcher Access Service, and then I'll be working on content for the website.

Content design is all about communicating a service and creating an experience for your users that makes their lives a little bit easier - something that aligns a lot with RDS’s mission. It’s all about thinking “how can we make this easier to interact with? How do we ensure that information is clear, accessible, and that we don’t lose people’s interest?” That includes copywriting, but also things like layout and design. It’s looking at the user’s experience holistically. 

What’s your background and how does it give you additional insight to your work at RDS?

I have a background as a freelance copywriter, which I've been doing for about the last ten years, often alongside full-time education. After finishing a PhD in English Literature – specifically in Gothic and Horror Studies – I worked in a role that involved a lot of content writing at the University of Edinburgh before joining RDS in February 2023.

Coming from copywriting and academia, RDS felt like a great fit for my experience and a natural next step. While it may be in a different field, researching for my PhD means I can relate to the experiences and mindsets of a lot of our users – many of whom are researchers from academic organisations. It’s been really useful when designing content for our website to be able to step back and think “what would I have found helpful a few years ago?” 

“It’s been really rewarding to see the concrete impact that our work has made in just a few months.”

Vicki Madden

What’s a highlight and a challenge of your role?

I joined RDS just before we began a complete overhaul of our website, which meant there was a lot of rapid learning and upskilling in my first few months. I love working on fast-paced projects, and it’s been really rewarding to see the concrete impact that our work has made in just a few months. I love that the purpose of our work at RDS is to improve systems to genuinely help real people. I think that’s special.

That said, there are also challenges! A lot of our work is across multiple teams and partner organisations, and there are lots of moving parts involved. What we’re essentially doing is co-design. You don’t want to design content in a silo – but it can be difficult to keep everyone on the same page and to slot everything together. It’s a challenge, but the end goal is worth it! 

What difference do you hope RDS will make? 

I think people who aren't familiar with the research landscape don't always have an appreciation for how complex and convoluted the current processes for accessing data can be. And I think making that process easier for everyone – not just people who are applying for data, but also people who control the data – can only be a good thing.

I also hope that we can help people who are often undervalued and underpaid. For example, if your PhD has funding for three to four years and it takes two years to get hold of the data you need, it can only increase costs and stress for everyone. I’m hopeful that we can speed up these systems and make it a little bit easier for cutting-edge research to be done.

What would be your "Mastermind" specialist subject?

A couple years ago I would have said ‘celebrity heights’. I have a weird, uncanny memory for the heights of famous people. Otherwise it would be anything gothic, or A24 horror films.

Who, real-life or public figure, has inspired or motivated you in your career or life?   

In terms of a public figure who’s had some kind of impact on my life, that would have to be Stephen King. On Writing and Danse Macabre are brilliant and beautiful, but I really admire that regardless of what kind of day he’s having, he writes something like 2,000 words every day. His work ethos is really inspiring.

The other person who’s had a massive impact on my life is my mom. She was only 12 years old when the Red Guards came to her house and took everything during the Cultural Revolution in China, but she has the most optimistic worldview of anyone I know. Nothing fazes her, and she always has a Chinese adage for every situation. 

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