Research Data – Latest News & Worth Knowing

What Does a Data Steward Actually Do?

July 28th, 2022 | by
Nicole Parks as Data Steward in Interview

Nicole Parks in interview
Source: Own illustration

Do you remember our Data Steward interview series? Two interesting interviews with insights into the job as a data steward appeared on the RDM blog back then. After a somewhat longer absence, we are now celebrating a new edition of the series and would like to immerse you again in the work of the data stewards at RWTH Aachen University, some of whom have recently joined us.

In the latest interview, Nicole Parks from the RDM team at RWTH Aachen University and IT Center staff member was on hand to answer our questions. Ms Parks has been working as a data steward since the beginning of 2021 as part of the Collaborative Research Centre (SFB) 985: Functional Micorgels and Microgel Systems and NFDI4Chem.

In the interview, she talks about her current tasks and challenges in her everyday work as a data steward, as well as her motivation to apply as a data steward at RWTH Aachen University.

Ms Parks, please describe your particularly important cornerstones in your previous professional career.

I did my bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago and first worked there at Bulk Chemicals until 2014. In 2014, I moved to Germany and did my Master of Science in chemical engineering in Magdeburg., I moved to Eschweiler for a position at Sherwin-Williams Mirror Coatings in 2018, before joining the IT Center at RWTH Aachen University in 2021.

What was your motivation to apply as a data steward?

“After various laboratory work, I was looking for a position that would offer me more flexibility. In addition, I find the digitalisation of research and the laboratory – which is basically what RDM is nowadays – not only exciting but also important. That’s why it appealed to me to be able to work on a project like NFDI4Chem.”


I find the digitalisation of research and the laboratory – which is basically what RDM is these days – not only exciting but also important.

Can you describe your current tasks as a data steward?

“On the one hand, I work in a very chemistry-driven SFB to automate data-producing workflows and, in general, to help researchers manage their research data efficiently and securely. This can involve many measurements, each with small amounts of data, or very large amounts of raw data, where the required minimum retention period of 10 years is a challenge for conventional infrastructures. In addition, we conduct interviews with the subprojects or working groups to better understand the needs, workflows, analysis methods, and data formats. On the one hand, this information can give us as an INF project starting points for optimisation. On the other hand, the collected points flow into the NFDI4Chem so that the developments, e.g. metadata standards or data handling in the electronic laboratory notebook (ELN), meet the needs of the researchers.” 

What are the particular challenges in the role as a data steward?

“At the beginning, it is a relatively steep learning curve, as a lot is new for me, while the area in general is growing and still developing. Additionally, as a data steward who is based in a project rather than directly at an institute or working group, it can be difficult to implement processes or infrastructure solutions. For example, ELNs are usually deployed at a working group or institute rather than in a project. Thus, in my SFB, there are different ELNs that are used and different infrastructures that are available to the researchers.”

Thank you very much for the interview and the exciting insights!

Did you enjoy this insight into the job of a data steward? Then feel free to leave a heart! ♥️

If you have any questions about data stewards or RDM in general, simply write a message to the ServiceDesk.The RDM team looks forward to hearing from you.



Responsible for the content of this article are Nicole Parks and Lina-Louise Kaulbach.

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