Stories#090 Alice’s data management

#090 Alice’s data management

The story of Frieder’s change in warming stripes is the story of Alice’s data management

Some time ago, Alice Nikuze got a big scare. All her hard research work had suddenly disappeared. Instead of throwing in the towel, she turned it into a learning experience. She discovered that good data management is always important. Physics professor Frieder Mugele is skeptical. How about data that isn’t as reusable? And don’t these datacentres cost a lot of energy?

Click for Dutch version

Monday 3 october 2022 

In the spotlight

Alice: ‘Frieder, I know you’re a Physics professor, but we’re not talking about physics today, are we? Because the only thing I remember is the equation for velocity.’ 

Frieder: ‘Haha, well, let’s hear it then!’ 

Alice: ‘Acceleration times… Mass? I don’t know.’ 

Frieder: ‘Very good, but that’s not velocity. Try again. You know this. Physics is about everyday life. Say you want to accelerate this pen right here. I do ‘something’, and it starts to fly…’ 

Alice: ‘Of course, it’s about force! See, I told you. I forgot everything I’ve learned in Physics.’ 

Frieder: ‘That’s okay. My confession is that I know very little about your home country, Rwanda. I remember there was a civil war in the 90s, but that’s pretty much it. Are there any remnants from that time?’ 

Alice: ‘Well, Rwanda still has a long way to go when it comes to freedom of speech. Especially compared to the Netherlands. But there have been a lot of positive changes since the Genocide against the Tutsi. Various policies and strategies were put into place to make the country more democratic. And women are now encouraged to take decision-making positions and study science. It’s why I ended up doing a bachelor’s in Civil Engineering.’ 

Frieder: ‘Then you came to Twente for your master’s, and now you’re a research data steward. What inspired you to pursue this career?’

Alice: ‘At ITC, one of the faculties I work for, it’s policy to submit the data you used in your research to the depository. So once I finished my master thesis, I submitted raw data, just to be done with it. Six months later, some people in my department started writing a book on the use of geospatial data to tackle urban planning problems. They wanted to dedicate a chapter to my research. During the review process, they asked me to alter certain maps and figures. I needed to access my data for that. I looked on my external hard drive, but… the file was corrupted.’

Frieder: ‘Oh, no!’

Alice: ‘The raw data I had submitted to the depository was all there was left. Which meant I had to start from scratch and re-do the whole analysis. That’s when I realised how important good research data management is. For others and for yourself. It can save you so much time, effort, and energy that you can put into your research instead.’

Good research data management can save you so mucht time, effort, and energy that you can put into your research instead

Alice Nikuze

Frieder: ‘I can imagine that has changed your perspective. But I must admit, I struggle to see the need of data management sometimes, too. Especially for the specific type of experiments that my PhD students do. I’ve had over 30 PhD students in my career so far, and only one of them has had a request for data from someone. Could it be that the relevance depends on the discipline?’

Alice: ‘I truly believe that data management is always important, no matter the discipline. The fact that there are so little requests is also because of a lack of marketing. We’ve seen that just putting data in a repository isn’t enough. That’s why, for example, we now have an officer at ITC who’s in charge of open spatial data. She’s looking for ways to increase the visibility of our datasets.’

Frieder: ‘Good! But then another concern is that most of the data that’s stored in our data centres is never accessed, while they cost a lot of energy. What’s your view on that?’

Alice: ‘True, only accessible and reusable data should be preserved in such valuable infrastructures. That’s why we encourage our researchers to be selective. To critically consider what’s valuable and what can be reused.’

Frieder: ‘Speaking of energy: we have to cut our emissions by 50% by 2030. I’m trying to do my share by working with the sustainability group. But I’m curious: how do you think UT is doing in this regard?’

Eat less meat, take the train more often. That sort of local, small-scale measures do matter

Alice Nikuze

Alice: ‘I think we’re doing pretty good. We’ve learned a lot from the pandemic. It has opened our eyes to the possibilities of online meetings and hybrid working. That means less intercontinental flights for conferences, for example. But especially at ITC, we can’t eliminate flying completely. So it’s important that we all do our part. Eat less meat, take the train more often. That sort of local, small-scale measures do matter. But many people aren’t aware of that. Or they don’t know what they can do.’

Frieder: ‘I agree. Students and employees should mobilize. We should raise our voices and say that we can’t continue like this if we want to meet the Paris agreement.’

Alice: ‘Why don’t we offer a general course on climate change? Just like we give a research data management course to every researcher. Introduce people to good practices. Explain to them why eating meat is contributing to climate change effect. The kind of basic knowledge that everyone should have.’

Frieder: ‘Well, we already have an interdisciplinary minor in energy transition perspectives. Apparently, it’s very popular. And there’s the Green Hub, of course. These initiatives just aren’t very visible yet, apparently. So that could be my mission: to shed a light on that. And then you’ll do the same for our data, right?’

Alice: ‘Sure, with your support! It’s a team effort. We need to work together.’

Frieder: ‘Definitely. But is that also how you envision your future – in data management? Or are you secretly planning on moving back to Rwanda to work in urban planning?’

Alice: ‘Haha, no. My husband and I are officially Dutch people now and both our children grew up here. So I’m not going anywhere. As for my function as data steward – I love doing what I do. But who knows what the future holds? Even in the urban planning processes, lots of data is used. I could always help and advise people in that field. How do they store data? How do they ensure that the available data can be accessed by others, for different projects? Those seem like fun challenges to me.’

 Frieder: ‘I’m excited to see where data will take you!’

Alice Nikuze (1985)

was born in Rwanda and studied Civil Engineering at the University of Rwanda. She became part of the UT community in 2014, when she came to Enschede for her Master’s in Geo-information Science and Earth Observation, specialising in Urban Planning. She graduated Cum Laude and continued her academic career as a PhD candidate. While being in the home stretch for her PhD, Alice is a parttime research data steward at UT.

Prof. Dr. Frieder Mugele (1966)

studied physics at the University of Constance in Germany. There he also obtained his doctorate doing research on metal surfaces in an ultra-high vacuum. He then worked as a postdoc at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California (USA) and as a research assistant at the University of Ulm (Germany). During these years, he specialised more and more in the interaction between liquids and solids. Since 2004, Frieder has been Professor of Physics of Complex Fluids at UT. He is a member of Scientist4Future, a coalition of concerned scientists. Within the UT he is involved in the Sustainability, Energy & Environment (SEE) programme.