Spotlight on: Kars Wijnhoven

Every other week, the Thematic DCCs and the Data Steward Interest Group (DSIG) put the spotlight on one research data steward working in the Netherlands, to stimulate knowledge exchange and peer-to-peer learning.

What drew you towards the research data management field?

My interest in research data and data management started during my time as a student at Tilburg University. I had the opportunity to contribute to the DialogBank project alongside Professor Harry Bunt and other colleagues. Our tasks included among other things annotating, curating, and sharing language data, with the goal of making this online resource accessible to a wide audience and contributing to the broader research community. This was in the mid-2010s, a time when the concept of FAIR data (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reusable) had not yet emerged.

I found myself drawn to the idea of sharing data with the world and wondered why it wasn't more common practice. Though I now understand there are exceptions and challenges, such as data sensitivity or copyright issues, since then, I've supported the sharing of data as much as possible.

After completing my Master’s, I started working outside academia in the field of data science. However, I missed the research-oriented and collaborative environment. When I came across a job opening for a Data Steward at Tilburg University, it felt like the perfect match for my skills and interests. Looking back, I have no regrets about choosing this path.

What is an activity/task of your role that you find yourself looking forward to?

Besides interacting with researchers, a task I particularly enjoy in my role as central data steward is interacting with colleagues across our university's schools and divisions. At Tilburg University, we are trying to set up a university-wide RDM & Research IT network comprising central and decentral data stewards and research engineers (and potentially others in the future). I've already noticed improved collaboration among professional staff, which ultimately benefits our researchers. It's a work in progress, but I'm confident in the positive direction we're heading.

What is something unexpected that you can offer help with, if a colleague reaches out to you?

As a central data steward, part of my job is to help researchers with more traditional RDM tasks like advising on FAIR principles, reviewing data management plans, and curating data. Additionally, I've acquired technical skills that have proven useful. For instance, I've collaborated with colleagues to provide R programming training sessions for PhD students.

Being part of Tilburg University’s 'Digital Research Support' team, I learn from colleagues skilled in hardware, software development, and cloud computing. This further enhances my technical / IT skills, which I believe are becoming increasingly important for data stewards. In this role, I try to connect (research) IT with our library’s RDM support and the decentralized data stewards.

What do you think your community of research data professionals is missing?

Our community could benefit from improved professional development opportunities and clearer career paths in general. While the term 'data steward' is widely used, there is often ambiguity regarding the specific tasks and responsibilities associated with the role, leading to variability across and even within institutions. Clarifying roles, such as distinguishing between data and software stewards (and potentially also between central and decentralized positions) could provide clearer guidance.

What is a topic you would want to collaborate on with others?

On various RDM related topics, such as providing more practical guidance for researchers, but also on developing training materials for data stewards. I’m a firm believer in collaboration in general, for instance when it comes to the handling and storage of sensitive data. Figuring out how secure data and systems need to be and which security measures to use are challenges we all face. Working together on such topics would be better than to all try to tackle it on our own. It's promising to see initiatives like Yoda underway, showing that working together holds potential for progress.

Could you point us to a resource, learning platform, tool or similar which you find useful or inspirational?

If you are a researcher, student, data steward, or have an interest in data management, I highly recommend checking out Tilburg Science Hub. Created by researchers at our university, this resource provides many practical tutorials and tools to efficiently manage data-intensive projects.

Get in touch with Kars: Tilburg University staff page | LinkedIn

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