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22 Nov 2018

My first RDA plenary and the IDW2018 in Botswana

This November I traveled more than ten thousand kilometers south to travel to the 12th RDA Plenary in Gaborone, Botswana. It took me three flights and twenty six hours (waiting at airpots included) to reach it from my home country, Slovenia. With what purpose did I travel so far, what I was doing there and what did I take from the conference?

I am one of the eight young researchers that won the RDA Europe Early Career Grant. As I wrote in the application, I started learning about open science and data management in the two years after my PhD and I am interested to continue to develop my career in this direction. At the Innorenew CoE Renewable Materials and Healthy Environments Research and Innovation Centre of Excellence one of my tasks is to implement the institute's open data policy. Although we are a very small research institution we are also very interdisciplinary and active in various fields, from wood materials, construction and chemistry to psychology and other social sciences. My background is in social science methodology and statistics so I am familiar with metadata standards and available repositories in social sciences but I am still learning about data management for other fields to be able to better consult my colleagues at the institute. A part of the learning was also my becoming a member of the RDA about a year ago. At the plenary I wanted to get feedback on our data management plan and meet potential collaborators that are producing or using similar data than we do at our institute.


The RDA plenary was part of the International data week that was co-organized by the ISCU WDS, the ISCU CODATA and the RDA, It was officially opened on Monday, the 5th of November, by the president of the Republic of Botswana. Within the ceremony the conference theme of “The Digital Frontiers of Global Science” was introduced by prof. Ismail Serageldin, the Founding director of the new library of Alexandria. The day continued with breakout sessions - I attended the meeting about persistent identifiers and about repository platforms for research data - and a very interesting plenary session and panel discussion on data and health that made us think about issues related to the open sharing of health data. The day concluded with the welcome reception and poster session at which I presented my poster on Data management at the InnoRenew CoE. I got very valuable feedback, especially from dr. Tomasz Miksa from TU Wien who is one of the RDA expert grant winners.

The second day I attended and took notes at the meetings of two work groups that I indicated in my grant application, on DMP common standards and on data usage metrics. Metrics are one of the incentives that motivate researchers to share their data and, as such, a very important topic. After lunch I was on the SciDataCon session on building, managing and maintaining data and knowledge-sharing for medium-sized research centres where my conational Maja Dolinar and ex-coworker who is also an early career grant winner presented, and later at the session on supporting FAIR data. In the evening I was invited to a social event organized by the WDS early career researchers network where I met some of the other grant recipients and other researchers in the early stages of their careers.

Image courtesy of the WDS early career research network 

The morning of the third day I was at the SciDataCon session on data integration for science which is a major global challenge for interdisciplinary research. Some presentations were a bit too technical and hard to follow but the topic is important for the interdisciplinary data management situation we are dealing with at my institution. After lunch the IG early career and engagement meeting took place where I had a short pitch about my work at the InnoRenew CoE and my expectations. I used the opportunity to present also the Eurodoc’s WG Open Science that I am co-coordinating and to welcome new active members. Later in the afternoon the CODATA plenary session took place featuring a presentation from Matthew Burgess (Google Dataset Search) and the WDS convened session where the Wouter Beek, the 2018 Data Stewardship Award Winner, presented the LOD Laundromat infrastructure which is a very interesting solution for cleaning data. The evening ended with the Cultural Dinner and Botswana’s traditional dances.

On the fourth and last day at the conference I was looking forward to attend the BoF meeting titled Big data: How Data Science can be Serving the Public Interest but for some reason the organizer didn’t show up. The room was full and everyone was looking around in confusion. Then two RDA members made the initiative and moderated the discussion even if they were not prepared for it and nd several other people contributed by presenting what they do or by asking questions. It turned out to be one of the most interesting sessions in the week and it showed the strength of the RDA community. After that I attended the session on citizen science data which was not as interesting as it sounded so after lunch I didn’t stay in the same session but changed to motivations and recognition for good data stewardship. The four presentation all showed good open science practices and were very inspiring. In particular, I liked the data stewardship programme at the Delft University of Technology presented by Yasemin Turkyilmaz-van der Velden who is also one of the winners of the early career research grant. I wish more rectors would recognise the importance of open science and fund similar projects. The last plenary session and panel discussion was on data and scholarly communication. I really enjoyed Elizabeth Marincola’s presentation that outlined what’s wrong with traditional science publishing and how to advance open publishing.

So, was the long trip worth it? Yes, I learned plenty in the four days there and a lot of content was relevant for my work. I have only known four of the attendees before the conference and now I know several more. Not to mention the warm spring weather, the delicious food, the morning walks among monkeys and peacocks in the hotel surroundings and the giraffes and antelopes that I saw in the Mokolodi game reserve on a short visit before my departure.

I hope to stay involved with RDA also in the future. At the InnoRenew CoE we are working on improving the data sharing culture in the research fields in which we are active, in the particular wood science and technology. There is a lot of experimental data studies using samples of wood or wood products that has potential to be reused but it is uncurated. We want to continue to raise awareness about open data initiatives and one of our ambitions is also to establish a disciplinary repository for this research area. Establishing a working group on this topic could be a step in that direction.

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