In January 2019, 4TU.ResearchData became a silver member of The Carpentries. Within 4 months, the data archive decided to upgrade its membership to golden status. In this blog post we share the motivations and impact that the initiative has for 4TU.ResearchData member institutions and the research community in general.
Becoming a member of The Carpentries
Trust has been one of the main drivers for 4TU.ResearchData archive. As a data archive, it is not only our wish but also our goal, to provide researchers with an open platform on which to publish their data sets as well as find trusted data sets for re-use.
To achieve this, we work continuously on revising the services we provide to make it easier for researchers to produce FAIR datasets. This exercise allows us to remain a relevant archive for the technical and engineering disciplines.
Together with the advancement of research, the definition of what is considered research data has broadened. Also, with research data management (RDM) and open data increasingly becoming relevant topics within the scientific communities, there is an ongoing dialogue about additional materials and documentation required to ensure data is re-usable and research is reproducible.
This brings us to the question of whether researchers have all the necessary tools and skills to adopt RDM best practices within their research workflows? The need for new data skills has become evident for many researchers and PhD students, and although these skills will (probably) become more often part of the study curricula, there is currently a gap in terms of these skills in some research communities. This tension underlies the motivation of 4TU.ResearchData to become a member institution of The Carpentries as we aim to help researchers to acquire those skills that will help them prepare high quality data sets, following RDM best practices that will ultimately allow them to publish trusted data.
So, one decision has been made: 4TU.ResearchData is a member of The Carpentries. Now to address the question of where to get started?
In recent discussions about research reproducibility, software is receiving (a bit belated according to some) a very relevant place. If you think about your own research, would you be able to work without using any software? Probably not.
Researchers use software (code) for collecting data, for data analysis and visualizations, etc. meaning that very often making only the data available is not enough to make one’s research reproducible. Some researchers even build software during their projects, and often in collaboration with other colleagues, software is a research output to be made available in a reusable manner. In all of these cases, proper versioning and documentation of the software (source code) is crucial and researchers need to acquire the skills that allow them to preserve their data and/or software or make them available for others to reuse.
“It is increasingly apparent that long-term curation of research data is entwined with the availability of software. Therefore there is a broader recognition that coding is an essential part of research, and that the technical universities in The Netherlands have a particular responsibility for nurturing the skills required for coding”
Alastair Dunning - Head of 4TU.Centre for Research Data
Additionally, the results of the research data management survey that the Data Stewards ran at TU Delft in 2017/2018 indicated that demand is high (32% of the researchers) for training on version control and some respondents (18%) even specifically named the Software Carpentry workshops as an interesting training to follow.
So the Software Carpentry workshops are a good place to get started!
“In many cases, the data represents the scientific results/artifacts, but the code captures the science. Many researchers I meet, realise that there is plenty of room for improvement in their coding and code management skills or want to move to an open source language such as Python. Unless supported by fellow researchers, self learning often dies out due to beginners hurdles in combination with a lack of time. What they need is a dedicated course to gain basic skills and be able to get over the classical hurdles. This is exactly what Software Carpentry offers.”
Kees den Heijer - Data Steward of the Faculty Of Civil Engineering and Geosciences at TU Delft
Sustainable training on Software Source Code management
The Carpentries membership allows 4TU.ResearchData to request centrally organized workshops and arrange for researchers, or research support staff, to receive training as instructors. These benefits are fundamental to build our community around software. Our goal is to provide the training on a regular basis at the member institutions of 4TU.ResearchData (TU Delft, Eindhoven University of Technology - TU/e and University of Twente), therefore we needed to think about how do we make this in a sustainable manner.
We decided to start the work at TU Delft where there was a team of highly motivated data stewards and data champions ready to be part of this software community. With the first seven colleagues now trained as instructors, a core team is in place so that we can collaborate and offer Software Carpentries workshops regularly at TU Delft and also at the other member institutions. Over the summer of 2019 two data champions were trained, so the community is actively growing, great!
“If it is true that the best way to learn is to teach, then I can say getting certified as a Carpentries instructor will put me on the right track towards having better coding and data management practices myself. It also helps me acquire a skill set useful for other teaching and communication activities related to my academic duties.”
Raúl Ortiz Merino - Data Champion of the Faculty of Applied Sciences at TU Delft
Our first experiences
The first Software Carpentry workshop at TU Delft was organized in November 2018, before our membership started. After that event there was a waiting list of 48 people looking forward to the next workshop. This year the first workshop took place at the end of March with 30 available places which were reserved within 24 hours and a waiting list of 70 people!
These results and the feedback from the participants is a great motivation to continue our work!
“I like that you teach the very basics. This course helps me with my starting of programming learning.”
“I need a follow-up course..how to keep going? Can a series of courses be offered at Delft?”
“Surprisingly not boring at all! Learned a lot! Great instructors and helpers!”
In the meantime, two TU Delft Data Champions asked us whether we would like to collaboratively organize and offer a Genomic Data Carpentry workshop for the researchers at the Faculties of Applied Sciences and Electrical Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Science. And, we did! You can read all about it in this blog post.
Collaboration at national level
The other great thing about becoming a member institution of The Carpentries is that you enter into a supportive network and community. If you need help and guidance, you can always contact the central support team or your local representative of The Carpentries. In the Netherlands we have a great representative to work with, Mateusz Kuzak from the Dutch Techcentre for Life Sciences (DTL) who helped us in the organization of the first workshops at TU Delft by finding instructors and helpers and to answering to all the initial questions we had in order to get started. Mateusz has built a great network in The Netherlands and the idea is to continue its expansion. If you want to become part of that please join the forum.
We are very excited to start expanding the workshops to the other member institutions of 4TU.ResearchData. The first Software Carpentry workshop at TU/e will take place on the 25th and 26th of September (2019). All future workshops will be announced on the Training & Events section of the 4TU.ResearchData website, stay tuned!
About The Carpentries
The Carpentries is a community initiative composed by the Software Carpentry, Data Carpentry, and Library Carpentry communities of Instructors, Trainers, Maintainers, helpers, and supporters. Its mission is to build global capacity in essential data and computational skills for conducting efficient, open, and reproducible research. This is done by collaboratively developing openly-available lessons and deliver these lessons as hands-on workshops where short tutorial are combined with practical exercises. The Carpentries is funded by the more than 70 member organisations in 10 countries, the organization of workshops, grants and donations. They are always welcoming new members to join this great community effort.
Author: Paula Martinez Lavanchy, Research Data Officer, TU Delft / 4TU.Centre for Research Data