I was one of the lucky winners of the RDA's European Early Career Researcher travel bursary to attend the fifth plenary meeting. To be honest I think a quite remarkable fact given that I just have heard about the RDA and it's programm a few weeks earlier from my supervisor. So what was it like to attend the meeting? What did I think of the conference? Well, of course I could write something trite along the lines of that I listened to intellectually inspiring talks and had exciting discussions with scholars from around the world. I could also write that Margaret Leinen’s excellent keynote speech on data stewardship made me think about replicability of research, or that I was impressed by Stepehn Friend’s talk about how to incorporate open data, patient wisdom and public involvement into biomedical research. And that in particular I learned a lot for how to deal with my own research data. Furthermore, I of course could write that I truly enjoyed the venue and the setting. However, I don't think that long list of rather standard phrases, would do my experience of the plenary meeting justice. And besides other people have already done that. See for example here or here.
Instead I want to focus on the one thing that was truly an eye-opener for me. The most astonishing thing for me about the meeting was to experience and to be exposed to the whole breadth of the agenda of the RDA. Any aspect of dealing with research data that I could think of such as analytics, storage, reproducibility, application, sharing, ethics, ethnographies and many more were discussed at the meeting. And I have to admit that at the beginning I was a bit overwhelmed with breath and all the options for talks that I could choose from. Would I rather go to session about Geospatial and Big Data Analytics or would I rather go to a session about Ethics and the Social Aspects of Data? How do I make that decision when I just, as so to speak, dipped my feet into the whole range of topics the meeting offered?
But after the first few sessions I got the hang of it and realized that I don't necessarily have to be able to comprehend everything right there and then but rather take notes and take the talks as food for thought. And from then on it was a great experience. Furthermore, I discussed the privacy implications of Big Data over lunch and how to measure the quality of life over dinner.
To summarise my experience: While the breadth of the meeting might be daunting for people new to the RDA as myself, do not let yourself deter by that from a great opportunity to experience the workings of the RDA firsthand. While I would still consider myself an amateur in everything data related, I believe the experience greatly helped me on my path to become a better researcher.
Christoph Stich, University of Birmingham & RDA Europe Plenary 5 Early Career Winner
Follow Christoph on Twitter: @Christoph_Stich