Until recently, Daphne van Beek worked as a data steward at the division of biomedical genetics of the University Medical Centre Utrecht (UMCU). She has developed a Data stewardship roadshow for scientists, featuring practical data stewardship solutions. In addition, she has initiated the DTL Data Stewards Interest Group.
What would happen if your laptop was stolen today? Would you still have access to your research data or would you lose four years of work? And would the thief be able to identify your study subjects? Van Beek: “I start my roadshow with in interactive session, posing questions like these. I also explain how good data stewardship can prevent these problems and save time. And sometimes, I introduce the FAIR data principles as a guideline for good data stewardship. Then, I introduce data stewardship services at the division of biomedical genetics. For instance, we have a data access committee that ensures that research data are stored in a proper repository. Scientists can transfer their data to this committee, which will manage the data’s availability to other scientists and evaluate data access requests from an ethical, legal, and scientific point of view. I also refer roadshow participants to our website, which contains many practical links.”
Van Beek stresses the importance of compelling examples of how adequate data stewardship can save time, during and after a research project. “I like the example of the cancer genomics Bring Your Own Data workshop that UMCU and DTL organised in June 2017. Here, we made four Cancer Genomics Centre datasets FAIR with the aim to link them. In just three days, we were able to efficiently link the data sets. It usually takes weeks if this is done manually! I also try to explain how linking datasets with the FAIR approach may lead to scientific breakthroughs. Unfortunately, there are not so many inspiring examples of this yet. This actually is one of the things that we are working on in the DTL Data Stewards Interest Group: we are compiling a list of success stories and failures in data stewardship. My hope is that the list of success stories will rapidly grow because this will help us engage more scientists.”
Van Beek has started the DTL Data Stewards Interest Group in 2017. “We are now a group of approximately 12 people working at different institutes in the Netherlands. We meet approximately five times a year during DTL Programmers Meetings, where we exchange practical data stewardship solutions. In addition, we are compiling a list of courses, workshops, and events related to data stewardship. In the future, these will be included in the course overview and the events list on the DTL website. You can subscribe to our mailing list if you want to join our Interest Group or visit our page on the DTL website.”
The Interest Group also addresses the definition of data stewardship, data steward, data management, and data manager. Van Beek: “The role of a data steward is so new that even the people that get the title are still figuring out what it all entails. In my opinion, data management mainly refers to activities during the research project, whereas data stewardship is broader, also encompassing activities before the start and after the end of the project. So, data stewardship is more like the helicopter view. Where data stewards such as myself focus on the practical implementation of policies and guidelines, data managers mostly focus on policy making.”
At the UMCU, data stewardship is mostly organised at the level of divisions. Van Beek: “The field of biomedical genetics is quite data-intensive, so properly organising data stewardship is crucial for this division. That is why they appointed me as a data steward. Data stewards are still rare at the other divisions, but data managers are more abundant: the UMCU has appointed one or more data managers at each division. Many of these people predominantly work with healthcare data rather than research data. They join the meetings of Utrecht University’s Platform for Data Managers, an initiative of the university libraries. Utrecht University has organised research data management at the university level (uu.nl/rdm). For instance, they are establishing one central help desk that can refer scientists to the right data expert. And some of my colleagues are working to incorporate data stewardship into the education programmes for MSc students and HBO students, for instance for bioinformatics and biomedical science students.”
Van Beek has started a new job on 16 May 2018. “My successor at UMCU is not known yet, but I trust that my work will be continued. With research funders increasingly demanding data stewardship plans, the engagement of scientists and other stakeholders is naturally growing. Many roadshow participants still consider data stewardship as a time-consuming burden, but I focus on the people that already see the enormous added value of adequate data stewardship. I am confident that we will be able to convince people that are still hesitant with many success stories soon,” concludes Van Beek.
- Research Data Management at Utrecht University: uu.nl/rdm
- Webpage of the DTL Data Stewards Interest Group
- Report about the cancer genomics Bring Your Own Data workshop