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From A “Newbie” To An “Expert” In Less Than Two Years – How To Engage In The RDA Activities?

By Tomasz Miksa


At the plenary in Berlin I have met many newcomers who were excited about the RDA, but did not really know in what way they could engage into its activities. Where to start and what to do apart from singing up to a mailing list? These were the most common questions.

In this blog post I would like to show how my perspective and involvement in the RDA activities has changed over the last two years: from a student to a chair of a working group. To do this, I compare my experiences between my first plenary in Denver and the most recent plenary in Berlin. I hope this blog post will be useful for all those who wonder whether the RDA is the right place for them and look for hints how to become part of it.

Being a “newbie”– 8th Plenary in Denver

Here (not yet migrated) you can find my first blog post that I wrote for the RDA website. It was published after the 8th plenary in Denver that was held in the fall of 2016. This was my first RDA plenary. I have received a grant from the Early Career Programme to attend it. Below I present my main observations and impressions from that plenary.

When I was submitting my application for the Early Career programme I was very enthusiastic about the possibilities that the RDA opens, such as meeting new people and getting in touch with other professionals who either have real problems to solve, or are experts who look for interesting problems to solve. This was reflected by things I have written in the application form. I guess this text was not very original, but I am also aware one cannot expect more from a newbie.

I remember also very well that I wrote that I would like to establish my own working group in the future – at that time I did not understand well the structure of the RDA, but had a feeling that this is likely the way to go. I was concerned a bit that this could be a too ambitious goal, but on the other hand there was no reason not to be ambitious!

When I arrived to the plenary, I was impressed how huge it is. There were so many people and I knew only a few of them and this actually did not mean that they knew me – they were people I had googled in the past when looking for related work for my papers. Luckily there were also some familiar faces from the European projects with whom I had worked, but only a few.

What also impressed me was the fact that everyone seemed to know each other. Since I had prepared a short list of people whom I would like to meet during the plenary, I was waiting for a good moment to approach them. They were always talking to different people, seemed super busy and I found it quite hard to find the proper timing to interfere. At that time I was wondering, how is this possible that people from all over the world know each other so well? How much time does it take to establish such vivid relations? Luckily, breaking the ice was very easy, since everyone is very nice and open.

Having a poster also helped me. I could explain better what I was doing and what my research focus was. Poster made it also easier for others to approach me. That’s how I managed to exchange my first few business cards.

However, the most exciting moment was when I had a lightning talk at the Active DMPs IG meeting. Afterwards I got some questions and I could see there was an interest in the topic I presented. Unfortunately the session was one of the very last at the plenary and many people had to leave for an airport, so there were not many chances to continue discussions, but after all I was very happy with the plenary. It was not clear what happens next and if anything happens, but I knew there were few more people I could mail to discuss ideas.

Being an “expert” – 11th Plenary in Berlin

So what has changed over the three plenaries? A lot! I took part in the 11th Plenary in Berlin thanks to the support from the RDA Expert Programme – 2 years ago my eye would not even spot a link to the programme on the RDA’s website! But now, this seemed feasible and in fact was!

One of the reasons why this was possible, I guess, was that I have established a working group – DMP Common Standards! (The goal was not too ambitious as you can see!) This would not have happened without the help I received from the chairs and members of the Active DMPs interest group! A short presentation during the 8th plenary resulted in follow-up e-mails and calls. We have officially started the working group during the 10th plenary in Montreal. Hence, this time when applying for support to attend the plenary my goals were more precise than in my first application – it was not only networking and a lighting talk, but presenting results of our ongoing work and reaching out to new people.

In Berlin, I was co-chairing and co-organizing a 90 minutes session of the DMP Common Standards working group. I had a pleasure to moderate it and to co-present the results of our group’s activity – results of an open consultation for requirements towards machine-actionable data management plans. We also had a line-up of interesting speakers who presented their DMP tools. The session was very successful, because we managed to get most of the key people in the world of DMPs in the same room at the same time! We had more than 70 participants in person and online! Unfortunately, there were not enough chairs in the room.

During the coffee breaks, I was amazed how many faces I recognize and how many people I know. This seems to be a secret magic thing specific to the RDA. I have no idea how it happened and when it happened. Naturally, being a chair of a working group definitely helps – people who attended the DMP Common Standards session often came to me during the plenary and shared their valuable insights. Furthermore, I had more reasons to approach others. When chairing a group, one must always look for synergies with other groups. For this reason when I go to another session I want to find out what is interesting there for me, but also what our groups could do together. This leads usually to very productive discussions, for example, with Storage Service Definitions WG or Research Data Repository Interoperability WG. Our groups are working on related problems, simply looking at them from different perspectives or addressing different steps in a bigger workflow. Thanks to the RDA we can meet and synchronise our actions, so that our concepts remain compatible and we do not duplicate efforts.

Last but not least, this time when planning my plenary I have also decided to dedicate some time to working – to take the opportunity that my colleagues from America, Australia and Europe are all in the same place. We have been working on joint papers and discussing possible future projects. Meeting people in person makes things easier – no network delay, bad microphones, construction works in the background, etc. Yet another reason to attend the plenaries!

Getting ready for the next plenary

When a plenary ends, then a preparation for the next plenary begins. The DMP Common Standards WG is now working on the second consultation and is discussing a draft of the common model that will be presented in the 12th plenary in Botswana. Like in all other disciplines, nothing happens on its own and requires motivated people who want to achieve the common goal. RDA is the place to meet these people! However, this is just a beginning. You still need to invest your own effort and contribute ideas. RDA will help in sharing the ideas, meeting the right people and disseminating the results, but will not solve the problems for you. You and the people you have met must identify the challenges and solve them . Having said that, I am going back to work. See you at the next plenary in Gaborone!

To learn more on the activities of the DMP Common Standard WG see our webpage and sign up to the group. In case you have any questions concerning the plenaries please do not hesitate to send me a direct message or simply leave a comment below.