Wednesday, 31 October 2012

An eResearch journey to Antarctica and beyond

I’ve decided to move to Antarctica. Yep, it’s true. I know it’s cold and there will only be penguins and scientists to talk to but I’m going. Dave Connell from the Australian Antarctic Division – which is based in Tasmania - has convinced me that Antarctica is Nirvana for data management. At his fascinating talk at the eResearch Australasia conference in Sydney he said that the Antarctic treaty demands ‘free and open access to observations and results’. This means that they have more than just carrots to get research data plans and collections from scientists, they also have a mandate - with teeth. And even better, NASA runs the metadata tools used by the Australian Antarctic Division. In the near future they will be minting Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs) for their data collections and they are involved with the Thomson Reuters Citation Index.  So I’m going. Penguins (and scientists) are cool. Literally.

One particular project I’m going to keep tabs on since finding out about it at the eResearch conference is the ODIN Project. While you may know Odin as the legendary ruler of Asgard, the ODIN project is something else entirely. The ORCID and DataCite Interoperability Network (ODIN) is a two-year project that will ‘build on the ORCID and DataCite initiatives to uniquely identify scientists and data sets and connect this information across multiple services and infrastructures for scholarly communication’. CERN, the British Library, ORCID, DataCite, Dryad, arXiv and the Australian National Data Service are all ODIN partners. The project is funded by the European Union. What’s exciting about this project is that it links the leading international project for unique and persistent identification of researchers (the ORCID project) with the force leading an international culture of research data citation using DOIs (DataCite). This has huge potential to increase the ‘carrots’ for sharing data, such as citations because ‘it will address some of the critical open questions in the area: Referencing a data object; Tracking of use and re-use; Links between a data object, subsets, articles, rights statements and every person involved in its life-cycle’.

At the panel discussion on the ‘Australian eResearch Forum’ Professor Tom Cochrane suggested a university might ask itself some questions to determine where it is up to in the eResearch space:
·      Is eResearch referenced in university plans?
·      Is there a Director of eReseach?
·      Is there an eResearch support unit?
·      Are research management, postgrad training, technology and the library involved?
·      Are regional, national and transnational collaboration identified and underway?

He suggested that Australia has invested heavily in eResearch and much has been achieved – national capability and national coherence in particular. But there’s not such a big tick for national sustainability and that’s something we need to work on.

As the conference wrapped up yesterday I reflected that in some areas we seem to have come quite a long way in a short space of time. But in other areas, we seem to be progressing very slowly indeed. I hope that next year’s conference in Brisbane will show improved progress, new ideas, new innovation and new ways of collaboration. Of course, I’ll have to travel all the way from Antarctica for that.

Monday, 29 October 2012

The importance of community at eResearch 2012

It was busy and exciting day yesterday at eResearch Australasia in Sydney. Under the theme of ‘emPower eResearch’ the conference brings together eResearch practitioners, researchers, business providers and educators to discuss the latest and greatest in information and communication technological innovation to enhance research management and analysis. Racing from session to session in a very tightly packed programme, I did manage some time catching up with new and familiar faces and hanging out in the breaks at the Griffith booth which has a fabulous red couch and free chocolates!

Reflecting on yesterday, I noticed a maturing of the discussion since I first attended this conference 3 years ago. For those of us who have carried out projects funded by the Australian National Data Service (ANDS) – and there are 250 such projects at Australian research institutions – it’s now four years on since ANDS first began. While it’s easy to be critical, to my mind a great deal has also been achieved during that time. At Griffith we’ve had some true successes, such as the building of Griffith Research Hub which started with funding from ANDS and then grew with internal funding sources. We’re now at the point where we can build on our successes to make improvements on existing infrastructure, build new services and aim to significantly increase use of research infrastructure to support our hard working researchers. As past guinea pigs, we can share our experiences with those closer to the start of their eResearch journey which could help speed them on their way. It struck me yesterday that we’re really never going to be finished our eResearch journey because, as Dr Clifford said in his keynote speech on the Earth Cube: ‘we are trying to stay on top of the galloping pony of technology’.

A particular theme that ran throughout the entire day yesterday in every session I attended was the importance of community.  Dr Clifford talked about the way in which the National Science Foundation (NSF) has facilitated synergy within and across communities in the geosciences that had never existed before. He said that one of their end goals was to assist in reducing the amount of time researchers in the geosciences spend gathering data and increase the amount of time they spend analysing it. Other talks I attended focussed on engaging with discipline-specific research communities to build innovative technologies that assist researchers to manage, access and analyse their data such as neonatal specialists, crystallographers, and hydrologists. Within this, there have been some terrific tools built to assist researchers, in particular those involving visualisation tools and animation. Finally, at the session on sustainable software development, I participated in a focus group on building communities. The point was to ensure that software produced during the course of a project does not end when project funds run out. Instead, continual development is sustained by an active and caring community of users. This approach is critical given the project-based nature of eResearch funding and the conclusion of ANDS in the middle of next year.