The Research Data Alliance (RDA) aims to build the social and technical bridges that enable open sharing and re-use of data on a global level, which will certainly boost the EU Open Science Strategy. To do so, the participation of students and early career professionals are strongly encouraged as they bring alternative perspectives enriching the discussion.

Pictures of Elli Papadopoulou and Fotis E. Psomopoulos, the two young researchers interviewed

RDA Europe, the European antenna of the network offers for instance support to Early Career European researchers & scientists working with data and gives them the possibility to attend RDA plenary meetings. The aim is to give visibility to the young European researchers & scientists, highlight what data scientists are doing and leverage on the knowledge of the new generation to support RDA activities. 

We have asked few questions to two Early Career European researchers who benefited from RDA EU programs and are currently co-chairs of the RDA Early Careers Engagement Interest group: Elli Papadopoulou from ATHENA Research & Innovation Center (Greece) and Dr Fotis E. Psomopoulos, Bioinformatician from the Institute of Applied Biosciences (INAB) and the Center for Research and Technology Hellas (CERTH) in Thessaloniki (Greece).

As Early Career European researchers working with data, you have been able to attend RDA plenaries: how was it? What did you learn from that experience?

Elli Papadopoulou: For me, this was quite a surreal moment and that’s because I had been religiously following RDA news and webinars of quite a long list of groups’ that I was subscribed to for years, in order to get informed about research data trends and new achievements. The fact that I had the opportunity to meet all those people that I looked up to and have face-to-face conversations with them is memorable!

Given my library science and information systems background, I primarily aimed at attending sessions related to subjects such as repositories trustworthiness, national perceptions in Open Access and libraries best practices around data management. However, being always intrigued and motivated to learn more with an upper goal to contribute to interdisciplinary research, I was open to attend more discipline- and project-specific sessions which were happening in parallel. The most exciting thing for me though, apart from new knowledge portfolio building and networking, was my active involvement in those sessions which, together with blog posts authorship or posters presentation, is the expected contribution when awarded with an early career researchers’ travel fund. Overall, I think that witnessing this flow of knowledge shared openly to everyone and collaborations as well as diversity been utterly supported by RDA, made me realise the importance of this alliance.

Fotis E. Psomopoulos: I immediately identified a plethora of activities within the scope of RDA that, although not always directly linked to my particular field of Bioinformatics, allowed me to gain some unique insights on research data standards and best practices. Some of the most notable activities that I was, and continue to be, directly benefited by are (i) the Big Data Interest Group  through which I became aware of the best practices in dealing with various data and computing issues associated with Big Data solutions, (ii) the BioSharing registry working group  that provided with concrete information on standards, databases and data policies in Life Sciences and beyond, and finally (iii) the Data discovery paradigms Interest Group which focuses on all aspects of data discoverability. The benefits of being an active member of the RDA community were evident from day one; beyond the (relatively) strict constraints of the formal groups, equally important at each plenary were the lively discussions both in ad-hoc groups during coffee breaks as well as within the semi-structured bird-of-a-feather sessions. Recognizing the usefulness of this setup, especially to people in their earlier stages of their career, we’ve recently launched a new Interest Group aptly named “Early Career and Engagement”, attempting to create a safe and positive space for RDA newcomers as well as for any early career professional that are interested in networking and knowledge exchange around research Data and beyond.

How important are data sharing and re-use and Open Science practices in your daily work of researchers?

EP: My main responsibility as the National Open Access Desk (NOAD) for Greece working in the Open Science world is mostly stakeholders' engagement and support-driven. Especially for researchers, supporting them in all stages of research lifecycle entails the need to be located at the epicentre of Open Science practices and developments. RDA has been an important source in keeping up with international trends allowing for networking and collaborations across borders. Being a young researcher myself, I find Open Science as the perfect opportunity to make my voice heard but also as the means which will lead to good science by eliminating barriers pertaining data sharing and re-use and creating new incentives and rewards mechanisms which reflects this new era of scholarly communication.

FP: I would strongly argue that Bioinformatics, in its current form and scope, is integrally linked with both data sharing and re-use, and therefore is (or should be) heavily dependent on Open Science practices. One of the standing anecdotes within the community is that “Bioinformatics is spending 90% of your time converting data to different formats so that different tools can work together”. Open Science in its core is all about participation, not only about reusability; and this is clearly evident in Bioinformatics given the daily use of multiple different data sources, publicly and freely available, as well as of the various software tools and platforms that are being constantly developed, released and updated. Supporting several different research groups with Bioinformatics activities requires a continued and deep understanding of the best practices and approaches throughout the entire community. Open Science practices can break the “virtual isolation” and given the multidisciplinary nature of Bioinformatics, facilitating collaboration through Open Science practices is the key component for producing quality research.

As young researchers how do you see your future? What are your objectives and how can RDA support you in achieving them?

EP: Undoubtedly, there are many difficulties reflecting the early stages of a researcher’s career. This has actually been one of my “arguments” when I proposed the creation of a group explicitly focusing in early career researchers. Little did I know back then that this was underway, moreover that I would be welcomed by the amazing Devan Ray Donaldson (Indiana University) and Fotis Psomopoulos to co-chair and help with its activities! The mentoring programme that we have recently launched is a derivative of the need to build a communication bridge between early career researchers and more experienced ones. Moreover, it’s open to everyone and encourages knowledge exchange, research promotion and open conversations in an attempt to bring together the two channels which it’s comprised of: mentors and mentees.

FP: My particular interest in Bioinformatics is the development of data mining algorithms that can be applied within the context of integrated genomic data. Considering this particular topic it is therefore quite expected that I have been consistently encountering most of the common bottlenecks in research: lack of standards in data and software, code unavailability and general absence of a unified perspective on what is expected in research. All these issues introduce serious hurdles in any automated data analysis process. However, the push for Open Science around the globe, together with the explicit support and overall activities of RDA, is targeting all these issues and is providing researchers with concrete implementation solutions, standards that can be adopted as well as best practices that can be followed. Towards reaching this bright and Open future, my aspiration is to lead by example: from advocating Open Science practices in Bioinformatics through direct adoption in all of my research output, to providing training for fellow researchers in the bioinformatics community.

How can the EU support the future of Research?

EP: In my opinion, the European Commission (EC) has done very meticulous and responsible steps towards realising the benefits of opening science via the Digital Single Market and European Research Area strategy. Priorities that have been set by the EC are expected to result in new job openings and growth in public investments and eventually fill in the gap of unexploited research that could lead to new products, positioning Europe higher in the international competitive market. The European Open Science Cloud (EOSC) that is currently being developed, as well as the updated Recommendation on access to and preservation of scientific information are two notable achievements. Open communication and collaboration are perhaps of the most vital aspects of Open Science for me, hence why I look forward to seeing them been followed and strategically anchored at EU Member States' level.

FP: The Red Queen effect of academia is well known: it takes all the "running" one can do to keep up to date with data analysis protocols, tools and standards, especially in the rapidly evolving field of Bioinformatics. Moreover, research shows that most researchers often pick up data management skills throughout their careers, but rarely have direct training on the data sharing, storage and management opportunities that are available to them. This phenomenon, combined with the fact that Open Science encompasses a huge number of potential structural changes to academic practice, whose culture can often be hierarchical and conservative, poses a direct challenge that should be better addressed at a European level. Convincing researchers of the need to change their practices will require a good understanding not only of the ethical, social and academic benefits, but also of the ways in which taking up Open Science practices will actually help them succeed in their work. Therefore, the establishment of targeted, concise and practical training opportunities for both the current and the future generation of researchers that encompass all aspects of scientific research can act as the catalyst in the adoption of Open Science and the support of high quality future research across Europe.

Background

RDA was launched in 2013 by the European Commission, the United States Government's National Science Foundation and National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the Australian Government’s Department of Innovation. More than 7000 RDA members representing 137 countries (June 2018) come together in focused Working and Interest groups aiming to develop infrastructure that promotes data-sharing and data-driven research and accelerate the growth of a cohesive data community. RDA Europe is mandated to ensure that European stakeholders are aware of, engaged with and actively involved in the global RDA activities.

The EU is supporting RDA activities through Horizon 2020, the EU Research and Innovation programme with the funding of some RDA Europe's specific projects: as RDA Europe 3 which ran from September 2015 until February 2018 and received close to EUR 4 million of EU funding. To build on the achievements of the predecessor project, RDA Europe 4 has been launched in March 2018 and will run until May 2020. Different funding opportunities will then be available for European stakeholders that want to engage with RDA, stay tuned!