6 July 2018

Puzzling with data

"What I am in fact doing all day is solving all kinds of puzzles." Ron Scholten is data manager at Research Data Management Support. "In addition I examine how to improve work flow efficiency. Data  management is an added bonus  for scientists. It is our job to support them in processing data, so that they can focus on the essence of their work."

"Within the YOUth research project I help with all kinds of generic issues scientists contend with." Ron Scholten is a member of the data management pool. From this pool, data managers are temporarily seconded to a faculty or research project to help with data management issues. This also applies to  Scholten who works three and a half days a week at the Child Expertise Center on the Uithof. There he assists in this large-scale research.

A research umbrella

"You could look at YOUth as a kind of big umbrella. It includes research that sheds light on the interaction between brain development and environmental influences on the one hand and behaviour on the other hand. Behaviour is the explanatory variable. But in that sense YOUth is also very different. Under normal circumstances you have a research question and then you search for data. The researchers collect a lot of data to find out how brains and behaviour influence one another. However, they must fall under that big umbrella I just mentioned."

From pregnancy to puberty

"At YOUth I help in collecting data resulting from all kinds of experiments researchers carry out there. YOUth distinguishes two cohorts: one that runs from pregnancy to the time a child is six or seven years old, the other one starts when the child is eight or nine years old. These children participate until  they are fifteen or sixteen. Also the parents are part of the research population. In total the researchers collect data from 3000 parents and their children, for the second cohort, the one starting at children from the age of nine, they are also looking for 3000 children and their parents."

YOUth onderzoek

"Together with the children and parents the researchers collect data from all kinds of experiments: for instance pregnant women get an echo in the twentieth and thirtieth week of their pregnancy, at which the size of the brains is measured. The children participate in  experiments such as EEGs and MRIs measuring brain activity. In addition, participants complete online questionnaires. Biological material is collected from both parents and children such as cheeck lining tissue and blood. The moments parents and children visit the center for research are called waves. For instance, such measuring moments are at the ages of  twenty weeks,  five months or twelve years. During the baby and child cohort parents and children participate in the research at seven moments, during the child and teenager cohort  there are three such moments. Such a wave consists of  several experiments."

"Lots of data result from these researches. My colleague, Danny de Koning, who works two days a week for YOUth and myself ensure that the data is stored in a secure environment. Presently it is entered into  all kinds of lab computers. We make sure data is uploaded to Yoda. Yoda stands for Your Data, a storage place created by Utrecht University. So we make sure that data is stored safely and consistently."

Data in packages

"We also check if the data is complete. Of all research carried out at YOUth, you can only retrieve good data if you have a kind of data package, containing several files. These files need each other if you want to have data on which you can base further research. We check if all files in the package should be in it."

"The researcher is responsible for the quality of the data. Data can be of less quality when the light in the lab is not good for instance or if a five-month-old child cannot concentrate on the experiment. At periodical quality checks, for which we provide the data,  the researcher tries to guarantee the quality of the data in the best possible way."


"So researchers collect a lot of information, information which is privacy-sensitive, such as biological material or MRI scans. To be able to use the data,  the researchers will ask parents for informed consent each time data is collected. It is vital that the information cannot be traced back to our participants. That is why YOUth uses a pseudocode to identify them. No personal data is used, such as names and addresses or dates of birth."

"The  General Data Protection Regulation took effect as of late May. I know a thing or two about it, but often I ask advice from the RDM Support specialists. Or I contact the legal department of Utrecht University about questions concerning privacy regulations. If you are not really familiar with a subject, it is important to know where to get the knowledge after which we can find the solution together."

Sink your teeth into an issue

"I like to ask scientists how they prefer their data to be delivered. In this way we facilitate the researchers. Sometimes you are  just busy with very small details, that however take up a lot of time. So you must have the will and the ability to sink your teeth into the data you’ve got."

Do you want to work as a data manager?

Currently RDM Support has three vacancies, the team is looking for two consultants and a data manager. Interested? Go to www.uu.nl/vacancies and respond before 10 July.