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29 Jun 2020

From the very beginning to VP15 - an experience report

When I finished my master degrees and became part of the research data management team at the Data Center for the Humanities (DCH) at the University of Cologne in September 2017, I was very soon introduced to international initiatives, e.g. GO FAIR and the Research Data Alliance (RDA), as well as to several national and regional research data organisations and competence centers. Later, taking part in the German RDA Society formation in March 2018 in Berlin and becoming its founding member meant that I could really come into contact with the Research Data Alliance. This was the moment where I began recognizing how the level of impact of RDA was pushing forward both on a national and international level.

The following two years I got involved more and more into research data management structures and practices within the Humanities at my University as well as in the German research data landscape. I concretized my points of interest in aspects concerning the organization and structuration of research data management. I began thinking about workflows, description standards and instruments of measurement for helping develop a formal and sustainable framework for research data management, which ultimately became the focus of my PhD.

When I read about the RDA Europe 4.0 Early Career Researcher grants and the possibility to apply for the 15th RDA Plenary Meeting in Melbourne, it was clear to me that this was an opportunity I had to take. My application was one of the seven accepted submissions, so I was very honored. I received my acceptance mail on the 9th of March, so there were only very few days left to plan the whole trip from Cologne to Melbourne. After I organized everything on the same day (I also designed a poster for presenting my research, maybe the fastest design I had ever did), I started getting very excited: I was in fact beginning realizing what a great opportunity it was to be part of the 15th RDA Plenary Meeting in Melbourne and I was looking forward to a couple of days full of fruitful discussions, inputs and impressions.

But there was more to it: as a matter of fact, I have a big fear of flying and in those days, I was about to get on one of the longest flights one could ever take from Germany! Unfortunately, this excitement only lasted for three days. In the morning of Thursday, 12th I received the message that the actual gathering for the 15th Plenary Meeting was canceled because of the outbreak of COVID-19. After organizing flights, a flat in Melbourne, a Visa and some things at home, I had to try my very best to cancel everything just two days before I had planned to take off.

After this personally very intense week, a lot more things changed in nearly everyone's life, marking the beginning of an epoch-making period for mankind. However, particularly because of the amazing work and the immense investments of the local organizers and all participants the 15th Plenary Meeting could take place virtually. So, I will take the chance to thank all those helping hands who made this possible.

There are two experiences I made within the Virtual Plenary Meeting, which I would like to talk about: as Early Career Researchers, we were originally asked to present our research at the poster session in Melbourne. So, when I was asked to participate in the virtual poster session, I was skeptical about the concept of presenting a poster without standing next to it, talking directly to colleagues and answering questions. Nevertheless, and although I never heard of this kind of poster session, I wanted to find out how it worked and so I started preparing my poster. In retrospect I have to say that I am extremely glad I took part in it. Actually, I am now totally convinced by the idea of presenting a poster virtually. Even if you are not able to give answers directly (and immediately) to colleagues and there may be some kind of a barrier for starting a further discussion, so one could say that the quantity of exchange may become smaller, in actual fact the quality increases, because of the opportunity and the time you have to elaborate both questions and answers. In addition, this was the first time I had presented my research to such a wide audience and I will be very happy to be able to refer to this poster session also in the future, if needed. In relation to the RDA Europe 4.0 Early Career Researcher grants, we were also asked to choose some sessions we would like to participate in. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend to all the virtual sessions I was originally interested in. However I would like to report some of my experiences I made in the “BoF - Challenges in Professionalizing Data Stewardship: how can the RDA contribute to solving them?” session. From the perspective of my research focus, the BoF-session was very helpful for me, because it introduced me to a big group of people, that are working on similar topics as I do. In addition, a few months ago, in December 2019, I became founding member of the “Data Stewardship Competence Centers - Implementation Group” (DSCC-IN) of the GO FAIR initiative and a colleague and I were planning to establish a German Chapter of the GSCC-IN, so I was wondering if there were any synergies. First of all, I was very impressed by the professionality and the apparent easiness with which the session was organized (like every session I attended to) even though it was virtual.

Beside very interesting and fruitful shot presentations in the context of Data Stewardship, I also had the opportunity to concretely grasp the whole dimension of RDA. I could see, in action, its high potential to bring people together and build a productive and cooperative environment (even virtually), in addition to effectively contributing to something essential such as finding real solutions to real problems and to do so by motivating, coordinating, organising and clustering, which is probably its biggest challenge. Surprisingly, this was an overall collaborative process through the whole session and so it is still. I am very happy to see that there is an initial charter proposal for the Professionalising Data Stewardship Interest Group, which will be reviewed and hopefully established in an environment of an RDA Interest Group. I am delighted to have taken part in this and I am looking forward to bringing my experience into the community also in the future. I intend to do so also by being in permanent exchange with colleagues all over the world on questions concerning the professionalization of data stewardship and by helping bring together initiatives e.g. GO FAIR and RDA.

Being part of the 15th Virtual Research Data Plenary Meeting 2020 has brought me much further within my own research and expanded my perspectives on research data management. I am very thankful for this opportunity and I am looking forward to being part of the RDA community also face to face - sooner or later.

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