Having earned a Master and PhD in civil engineering, Kees den Heijer knows what researchers do. He says understanding their way of working and keeping research central helps him tailor data management strategies that work for them.
“I have worked at TU Delft since about 2004. I have had different positions, starting as a researcher, then as a PhD student. Since August 2017, I have been a Data Steward at the Faculty of Civil Engineering and Geosciences.
I also did my Master’s here so I have a general knowledge of all of the different departments in the Faculty. That helps me to understand what’s going on. It also helps me to be able to talk on the same level with people, to know what you’re talking about, that you really understand their issues and their challenges.
I meet a lot with researchers. When they have questions, I prefer to meet with them in person and have a conversation on what their research is about, what the data aspects are and whether they are aware of the technical solutions for managing their data. I look at how data management fits their workflow and their research questions, and then try to find a way that things can be improved.
‘The challenge in my job is finding a balance’
But keeping their research central is important, while also looking at their way of working as a starting point. I can’t say you should stop working as you do now, you should completely change it and put data management as a central thing and then form your research around it. That will not work. So, I have to see where improvements are possible, and sometimes just come up with small changes or suggestions about how to make things better.
What I like a lot about my job is all the interaction with people. I also enjoy striving for optimal data management, but at the same time trying to fit that to the research questions. Having lots of information and insight into different research topics is always very interesting. Every time you ask a researcher to say something about their research you always get an enthusiastic reply.
The challenge in my job is finding a balance. Data management is often perceived as additional work or at least as taking more time than traditional ways of working. I’m getting more and more involved at an early stage when people have to draft their data management plan, which is a good thing. But the next step is to implement what they write in the plan. So, then it is about carrying out what they promised and that can be difficult to put into practice.”
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