With the demands surrounding AVG, ethics, data management and open science, among other things, good research support is a must in higher education.'
A scientist wants to carry out new groundbreaking research or contribute to social issues, and therefore collects a large container of data and datasets. But how do you store this data properly? So that the privacy of the participants in the experiment is protected, other researchers can also benefit from the data, and the data is analysed and then not lost in storage.
Research support staff at universities and colleges know all about it. With requirements concerning, for example, AVG, ethics, data management and open science, good research support is a must in higher education. It is their expertise to support scientists in dealing with data carefully. "In this way, researchers do not have to keep reinventing the wheel and we ensure that they can focus on what they do best: their own research," says Marjolein Drent, University Librarian at the University of Twente.
What they are up against is quite diverse. "Researchers often have different needs. One does a lot with measurement data and wants to know how to store it, another works with interviews or video's. Each requires a slightly different approach, but for all research it is important that everything is processed and stored in the right way," says Maria Heijne, Programme Manager for Digital Infrastructure for Research at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences. "In addition, the approach must fit well into our own systems, be scalable, secure and also usable by others. At universities of applied sciences, it is also important in practice-based research that there is cooperation with the field and that you share each other's data in the right and a secure way."
Research support needed for the long term
For many researchers, it is a difficult subject because they are mainly at home in their own expertise and so they often see research support as a welcome addition. Do the directors (Boards) of higher education institutions also see the benefit? "The importance is certainly seen at present", says Drent. "But I wonder whether the Boards of higher education institutions are fully aware that research support is also necessary in the long term. It is not only needed now. The field of study is constantly changing and so are the requirements and conditions. It is necessary that employees, such as data stewards who support researchers, are retained for the long term and become more professional. They have the right knowledge and can expand it if necessary. It is not the case that a PhD student can just do this on the side. Then we would have to start all over again.
Important for continuity
Heijne also sees the importance of continuity. "We are already thinking about what researchers will need in the future. Take a development such as open science, which we as a university of applied sciences are increasingly involved in. How can a researcher best go about this and under what conditions? Research Support is working hard on this, in collaboration with researchers, the library and the ICT department, of course.
They have the right knowledge and can expand it if necessary. It is not the case that a PhD student can just do it on the side. Then we would have to start all over again.
Solving data problems
Research support is also necessary because researchers and ICT often do not know themselves how to solve certain data problems. "Sometimes it seems like trivial things that get researchers stuck. In our case, for example, they use an application that is supplied as standard but that does not run properly with the data that the scientists collect. There is too little memory or the storage is too slow. It is therefore possible to do it via the cloud, so that these problems are a thing of the past. ICT does not always know a solution to this and researchers do not always know either. But we often do," says Bob van Dijk of the Amsterdam UMC. He is one of the Research Support Champions, an award for the best research support.
Successful solutions like this need to be shared within the organisation, says another prizewinner Maria Kamp from the University of Twente. "It is very important that you make clear what benefits researchers gain from handling data properly. It saves a lot of time and by storing data in the right way, you can find it faster and it becomes more accessible for other scientists. Moreover, fsubsidy providers and journals in which you want to publish all find it important as well."
It saves a lot of time and by storing data in the right way, you can find it more quickly and it becomes more accessible to other scientists. Moreover, subsidy providers and the journals in which you want to publish all consider it important.
Digital Competence Centres
An interesting development is the emergence of Digital Competence Centres (DCCs), which were recently set up and funded. In this way, knowledge institutions combine their expertise of FAIR data and research ICT. DCCs ensure that researchers do not get lost in a jungle of data. There is a difference between universities and universities of applied sciences. Each university has its own local DCC. The universities of applied sciences form one national DCC for applied research.
In practice, this means that universities of applied sciences join forces to support their researchers properly. "It does have the advantage that we are now forced to work together and share knowledge acquired with all the universities of applied sciences," says Heijne. "Otherwise, we would have to invent the same thing in 36 places. I sometimes say jokingly that universities should also cooperate in this way."
The DCCs were set up with the help of impulse financing from NWO. Heijne and Drent argue for long-term funding of support. "The demand for research support and training by support staff is increasing rapidly," says Drent. "It is important that we show administrators and researchers what we contribute to handling data properly, what the power of data sharing is and that we are indispensable as part of the organisation."
Text: Robert Visscher