Research support champions in the spotlight

With the Research Support Champions, SURF puts research support in the spotlight; it is of great importance for the continuity of academic and applied research. Meet the 3 winners of 2021.

Research Support Champions

Bob van Dijk

He was a scientist for years, but now supports researchers from research support. Research Support Champion Bob van Dijk knows both jobs very well and therefore knows what is needed to handle data well.

‘We need a national network.’

Bob van Dijk

Bob van Dijk - consultant High Performance Computing at Amsterdam UMC

He has a unique position, which did not exist before, says Van Dijk. "In a university hospital, the ICT department is very busy. They work in an environment where it is difficult to get things done, because of the many patient files and the security that comes with it. But if researchers cannot work with standard ICT solutions, they get stuck. For example, when storing data with privacy-sensitive information. These data are immediately labelled as highly confidential, but researchers still want to use them. Then more support is needed and scientists can come to me for this.

Curious person

Van Dijk has been working at research support for about two years now. He feels at home there and that is not surprising. Before he supported researchers, he was a scientist himself. "That's why I understand both sides and know how a researcher thinks and what he needs.

From research support he sees how many different disciplines there are within the university hospital. "It gives me a very good overview of what is being done. That appeals to me, because I am a curious person. It also makes my work versatile. Sometimes I help someone who is working on dna sequences or artificial intelligence, and sometimes it's about image processing."

"If researchers cannot work with standard ICT solutions, they will get stuck. For example, when storing data with privacy-sensitive information.'
Bob van Dijk

A cup of coffee with the board and researchers

Do all those researchers already know how to find Van Dijk? "I think it is very important that people who need my help know that I can support them. That is why I am setting up a community, a kind of Facebook group for computer users. Word-of-mouth advertising also works."

Van Dijk also often goes for coffee with researchers, policy staff and administrators. Not so much because the black liquid is so tasty, but mainly to hear what questions about research support there are within a knowledge institution. "I would like to see this happen on a national scale via a network. Every knowledge institution probably has to deal with the same problems."

That he is one of the prize winners surprises Van Dijk. He was even nominated several times. "That is quite special. But I don't come up with all the solutions. I often come up with something that someone else has thought up. I'm more of a switch, who knows how to find the right people. I build on what others have done and make knowledge accessible to a larger group."

I'd rather say sorry afterwards than ask permission first.'
Mariëtte van Selm

Mariëtte van Selm

Mariëtte van Selm

Mariëtte van Selm - coordinator Research Data Management support at University and Hogeschool van Amsterdam

You help researchers even better by networking, tackling issues and showing guts as a research support employee. That is how Mariëtte van Selm works.  

If you want to be good at research support, you have to be clever at networking, according to Van Selm. "It is important that researchers know how to find you. That they know they can come to research support with questions about research data management, for example. That is why you have to be visible to researchers. But networking means even more. It also ensures that I know who is working together, what knowledge ICT has and where policy is made. Because that all affects our work to support researchers."

Huge network

Van Selm has been providing this support for about nine years now and has built up an enormous network. This is one of the reasons why she was nominated by her colleagues for the Research Support Champions prize, which she eventually won. "I enjoy going to the office every day and especially working together. I am just bad at getting compliments. I wave them away, let me do my tasks because that gives me satisfaction. But secretly I am very happy with this award."

'Sometimes I just try to start somewhere and see if it grows.'
Mariëtte van Selm

Accepting loss

Van Selm is primarily an approacher, someone who wants to support researchers by doing something. "Organisations such as the UvA and HvA are quite cumbersome. Once you have finally got your act together, it often takes three years. Sometimes I just try to start somewhere and see if it grows. I'd rather say sorry afterwards than ask permission first. A good example of this is a training course that we started giving to researchers from research support. We just started doing that and we expressly did not ask permission from directors first. Soon there was a waiting list of three months and it turned out to be very useful.

But then again, it does not mean that everything Van Selm and colleagues come up with will work. Sometimes you have to accept your loss, she says. "About six years ago we were working on encrypting research data. You need software for file encryption for that. Money was needed for that, but it didn't work out. There were too many obstacles. It takes some effort, because there was a need, but then I have to accept that nothing happens with it. And now I see that exactly the same problem and the same solution are back on the agenda. That's how it goes. If you don't get something done right away, it doesn't mean it will never happen. That was an important lesson for me."

'I put myself in the shoes of the scientist.'
Maria Kamp

Maria Kamp

Maria Kamp

Maria Kamp - coordinator Research Support at the University of Twente

Losing your research data because it has not been stored properly. It is the nightmare of many scientists. It can be prevented with the right guidance from research support. Maria Kamp believes it is important to show examples like these and, of course, also the successes.  

Confrontation with preconditions

A scientist's greatest ambition is to carry out research. For example, inventing a new product that will make concrete last even longer, finding out how young people use social media or the latest electric car. "But they are increasingly confronted with all kinds of preconditions, such as data management, ethics and privacy-related issues. In recent years, I have made a translation, so that scientists understand what they have to comply with and are supported as best they can, so that they can focus on their research. That is what they do best and what they like best."

'It is a scientist's nightmare: losing data because it has not been stored properly. It happens, but it can be prevented with the right research support.'
Maria Kamp

It was this approach that led her colleagues at the University of Twente to nominate Kamp as Research Support Champion. This is not only due to her approach, she says, but also to that of her immediate colleagues. "We have the one-stop shop idea within our research support team. It is important for the researcher that he or she has a fixed point of contact. As soon as a scientist has contact with someone from us, that person is responsible. Of course, we then work as a team to find out exactly what is needed.

Thinking about ethical aspects

Kamp says that her work puts her in the shoes of the scientist. "Then you have a better understanding of the issues that someone is facing. But I'm not going to fill in everything. Sometimes I get asked to help write an ethical paragraph in a research proposal. My advice is to let the researcher write the basis for this first. Then we discuss it together. In this way, the scientist is not only supported in writing, but is also indirectly forced to think about the design and ethical aspects of the research."

Awarding funding

It is important to show what a person gains by thinking carefully about data management, ethics and privacy, Kamp says. Like the awarding of funding. "I know of other examples, unfortunately. Of someone who did not store data properly after two years of research and lost it. Another example is that a journal did not want to publish an article because it had not been submitted to an ethics committee. Unfortunately, this happens, but it can be prevented if there is good support and scientists know how to find it. That's why we work hard every day to help them."

Text: Robert Visscher