Data sharing in Chemistry: A data steward’s perspective

“I’m a data steward at Eindhoven University of Technology working in the departments of Chemical Engineering & Chemistry and the Built Environment

The Chemistry department is particularly interesting from a research data management  (RDM) perspective as most research groups have a structured way of working and have already adopted good basic RDM practices. However, open access publishing of research data in data repositories is a practice that’s not widely embraced as a default way of working. 

Partly, the reluctance stems from the concern that ‘it’s too much work to make data FAIR’. How to deal with depositing reproducible data with rich documentation, and how to use ontologies and (domain-specific) metadata schemas in order to comply with the FAIR principles is a common topic of discussion among chemistry researchers. 

Researchers working in chemistry and related disciplines often state that ‘publishing data does not have much added value because all the data is already in the Supporting Information of the scientific article’. And, publishing up to 50-100 pages of Supporting Information is not unusual in their disciplines. 

Nevertheless, slowly but surely researchers are starting to use data repositories, such as 4TU.ResearchData to publish their data and it’s reassuring to see that such datasets often obtain dozens or hundreds of views and downloads in a relatively short time. I hope the practice of publishing data  continues to gain traction among the chemistry research community and that it eradicates  any feelings of ‘cold feet’ they get when it comes to sharing data openly. 

A significant part of my work as a data steward consists of delivering training  sessions or giving presentations about RDM to research groups. I also regularly engage with  individual researchers to explain what funder guidelines on RDM and FAIR data mean in practice and how to translate technical FAIR jargon into ‘doable’ actions. In addition, I inform them about the time investment and technical proficiency required to make data FAIR; and, demonstrate how publishing data in a repository can help make their data FAIR in a simple and efficient way.. Helping researchers write data management plans and data paragraphs is another important component of my work. Questions from researchers are very diverse, ranging from questions about Open Science in general to more specific RDM topics, such as choosing data and software licenses, publishing and copyright, etc.  

Luckily, our departmental project officer, Gabriela Dima (who also serves as a part-time data steward), and the Chemistry Board, have been supportive of efforts to introduce improved RDM practices within the department. The board also approved a departmental RDM policy to provide researchers with guidance on the RDM aspirations within the department. 

From a data steward’s perspective, it may not always feel like things are moving fast but if I compare presentations on RDM from 3 years ago and now, it’s clear that the awareness of RDM and openness of research practice is increasing year by year, which is encouraging!”

Author: Sjef Öllers (Eindhoven University of Technology)
Editor: Connie Clare (4TU.ResearchData)

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