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Interview 4TU.ResearchData director Marta Teperek

Thursday, 24 September 2020
Marta Teperek (TU Delft) has been the new director of 4TU.ResearchData since July 2020. She succeeds Alastair Dunning. The 4TU.Federation had a discussion with Teperek about her ambitions with this joint 4TU initiative.

‘There is more than the publication of that one article'

Marta Teperek believes that there is capital in sharing the data behind the research

Marta Teperek (TU Delft) has been the new director of 4TU.ResearchData since July 2020. She succeeds Alastair Dunning. The 4TU.Federation had a discussion with Teperek about her ambitions with this joint 4TU initiative.

For those of you who don't know yet, why is 4TU.ResearchData there and what do you do?
In the year of creation, in 2010, there was no solution for researchers to share their data. At that time, many projects were running with valuable datasets. For example, a group of researchers wished to preserve huge amount of real-time weather observation data. These are important data to preserve as these are observations which can’t be simply redone. It is also essential to make these data available for future research, for example, on climate change research. It made sense for technical universities to do this together because it saved costs  to share the infrastructure. But it also offered an opportunity to exchange knowledge. This is how 4TU.ResearchData was established.

Our main task is to share knowledge, expertise and experience in the field of data management. And to offer an efficient, well-functioning solution for this in the form of a central data point; the data repository that now contains thousands of datasets. You can think of datasets in the field of aviation; data that map the 'flow' at airports or data that say something about the materials of new aircraft. Which materials are most resistant to stress and which are the most economically interesting?

“It would be simply inefficient NOT to work together”

What is the gain of doing this in a 4TU context?
We share best practices and experiences and help each other. It is better to build on previous knowledge than to keep re-inventing the wheel. In addition, the type of research and methodologies at partner organisations are so similar. It would be simply inefficient not to work together.

From the data point of view, is there also an advantage to team up with four TUs?
Yes, it is. Data is now often still stored in different places. By offering a central data point, supported by an excellent infrastructure, existing data, created for one purpose, can be re-used for completely new research, leading to novel research results.

Who are your target groups?
4TU.ResearchData is here first and foremost for the researchers of the partnering technical universities. They can upload, share and reuse the data in our repository. But also researchers outside the 4TU.ResearchData and from abroad know how to find our repository, and are cordially invited to use it.

In addition, our data is used for educational purposes. Data professionals can use our datasets to show how to share data and how to make them findable. In our repository, the datasets are automatically provided with a Digital Object Identifier (DOI) to promote visibility, findability and citeability.

Where is your focus as director of 4TU.ResearchData?
The archiving of data and the provision of an excellent working technical infrastructure is one side of our work. The other side I want to work on is building a network in which knowledge about data management is shared. Each institution has a number of data stewards who train the researchers on data management. They are often on their own. By sharing best practices and offering them training, the knowledge spreads better. Train the trainer' is our motto. By providing the trainer with the latest knowledge, for example how to make the data FAIR -Findable - Accessible - Interoperable and Reusable-, you raise the level of data management. As of 1 October, we will appoint a Community Manager to put even more energy into this.

“If you reward the researcher for storing their data well, they will be more inclined to do so. Here, too, we have a role to play in encouraging and facilitating discussions about this.”

Remuneration also plays a major role. If you reward the researcher for storing their data well, they will be more inclined to do so. Here, too, we have a role to play in encouraging and facilitating discussions about this.

Most researchers aim to publish as many articles as possible in renowned journals. But research is much more. Behind the research lies a lot of files, observations and data on computers. After four years of research, researchers typically write a summary in a journal publication and that’s the holy grail. But that doesn't show the breath of all the research done, all the hard work, the richness of datasets. I think there is capital in sharing all your research. There is much more than the publication of that one article. By redesigning the system and judging the researcher not only on the number of publications, but also looking at the entire process, including the datasets, good data management is properly rewarded. And datasets become accessible for future researchers.

Fortunately, things are moving in the right direction. Organisations such as NWO or the VSNU are looking at how the academic reward system can be organised differently and the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC) is also encouraging this . In order to make the EOSC a reality for all researchers in Europe, it is crucial that they deal with their data in an FAIR manner. This will take a lot of effort and time, for which researchers need to be appropriately rewarded.

And how seriously do privacy and competition play a role in whether or not data is shared?
That is certainly something that is going on. Researchers might be working with privacy- or commercially-sensitive data. Researchers should be provided with tools, training and support to make such data 'as open as possible, as closed as necessary'. I am pleased to say that since August, our repository has had a functionality where access to a dataset can be restricted.

“Nice example where there was an urgent question: researchers and students affiliated with Delft University of Technology built the Combat COVID equipment app, in collaboration with others”

Are there nice results that can be attributed to your data management services?
Yes, too much to mention. Nice to give an example where there was an urgent question. Researchers and students affiliated with Delft University of Technology built the Combat COVID equipment app  (in collaboration with others). This app was built in the context of the shortage of hardware (such as ventilators), at the start of the pandemic outbreak. It was about building up a database with information about various hardware which can help tackle COVID-19 pandemic. It is crucial to document this information correctly. The EOSC saw the added value and rewarded the team with EUR 40 000 to further help with hardware documentation. This gesture underlines the importance given to data management internationally.

I saw other examples on your site. Very inspiring to read what benefits different types of researchers have from your repository
Yes, people who want to read them can go to the special page with all these examples.

What is your own field of expertise and what is its application?
My PhD research was in epigenetics, studying rare frog species. To develop new tools for studying, we worked with researchers from all over the world. We shared genomic data before they were published to give the whole group a head start in researching these frogs. As a PhD student, I already saw the power of data, and that this was much more important than just that final article with summary, to conclude the PhD period.

Did the culture of the research group also help?
That certainly contributed. It was customary in my field to share the data so that others could continue to build and discover. Sharing was so very much the key, it inspired me enormously. In my area of expertise, the big machines were the driving force behind the development of standards for data sharing. These machines could help unravel the genetic codes for a whole species of animal. What did we do with these huge datasets? Creating formats to share them was the first step. Different parties worked together on this challenge. Repositories, infrastructure providers, researchers, publishers of journals. They all worked together to realise this for the community.

So this feeling of interuniversity collaboration started very early in your research career
Yes, if you ask me what the pleasure of this research period was, it was more than the content of the research, that feeling of building and sharing data together. The importance and also the pleasure that I experienced, I take with me and help me enormously in my function as director of 4TU. ResearchData.


Since June 2020 Marta Teperek is the Head of Research Data Services at TU Delft Library and the Director of 4TU.ResearchData. Between 2017 and 2020 she served as Data Stewardship Coordinator at TU Delft. Marta built a team of data stewards, appointed at each faculty at TU Delft to provide disciplinary data management support. Prior to joining TU Delft, she led the establishment and management of data support services at the University of Cambridge (2015-2017). While at Cambridge, she also initiated and oversaw the Data Champions programme and the Open Research Pilot. Marta Teperek is a researcher by training and completed her PhD in molecular biology and genomics at the University of Cambridge in 2014.