IT Center Blog

Onboarding – Digital and with Heart

November 24th, 2021 | by
Two women in a video conference smile at the camera

Nicole in interview
Source: Own illustration

An insight into the work of a data steward

Nicole has been working as a “Data Steward” at the IT Center since February.
Among other things, she supports researchers in managing their research data. But that’s not all.
In this interview, she tells us what other tasks this job entails and how she experienced her induction at the IT Center.

Janin: Nicole, please briefly describe the department of the IT Center you work in, which group you belong to and what the tasks of the department and group are.

Nicole: I have been working in the department “IT Process Support Research & Teaching”, IT-PFL in short, since February. Together we cooperate with the university library, the faculties and the central university administration to develop services for business processes.

In doing so, we support students, researchers and central institutions of the RWTH in digitizing their work. Especially in the areas of student management, e-learning, e-science with a focus on research data management and the RWTHApp.

I work in the “Research Process & Data Management” group and enrich the “Stewardship and Consulting” team. There I work as a “Data Steward” and support researchers in managing their research data.  I work in a special research area for microgels and look together with the researchers at their data workflows and how they can be improved. Where is the data stored, how can metadata be captured? How can the data be published? In doing so, we follow the FAIR principles and thus aim to make the data discoverable, accessible, interoperable and re-usable. The project involves many chemical and process engineering institutes at RWTH Aachen University and Forschungszentrum Jülich. Besides this activity, I am still active in the NFDI4Chem consortium. NFDI4Chem has set itself the task of networking existing structures and services for the management of research data in chemistry, supplementing them and making them uniformly accessible. In the consortium, I am active in the task area Standards and Community. Here, information is collected from the chemical community in order to define, for example, metadata or data format standards.

My team can be described as the “data stewards” of the IT Center. Currently, there are two of us and we are involved in various NFDI consortia or special research areas. There, we support and advise researchers directly, for example via Zoom or chat.

Janin: How was your first day at the IT Center? What did you experience and how did you feel?

Nicole: I met my supervisor at the IT Center in the morning and picked up my hardware. Together we checked whether the technology and all logins were working, so I had some personal contact on my first day.

In the afternoon, I worked from home and set up my workstation. From that moment on, everything was virtual. On the same day, I was able to meet all the other colleagues in my first group meeting. That was very nice and I noticed that there was very good communication among us, even though we only communicate with each other virtually.

Janin: How did you feel knowing that you were being trained purely digitally and getting to know colleagues and managers online?

Nicole: It was different, of course, but I didn’t think it was bad. Because of the current situation, I didn’t expect it to be any different, to be honest. What was really completely new for me was the nature of the work. I worked in a lab before. So at the beginning it was like I had to learn a new language. How colleagues communicate with each other and learning new abbreviations.

But it would have been just as new if we had worked on site. I think the nature of the work is an advantage here. I think it would have been much more difficult to start a new job now in a lab where I would have to create and analyze samples. Working at home would have been simply impossible.

Janin: How did you like the digital training? Did you have certain expectations and have they been achieved?

In general, I have to say – I had hardly any expectations. I jumped in at the deep end a bit and didn’t know 100% what to expect because the position is completely new.

Previously, I worked in a team where the average age was somewhat higher than at the IT Center. In my team now, I simply notice that my colleagues also get to grips with the technology much more quickly and easily and that the digital induction works very well. The team handled it really well and called me regularly, especially at the beginning, to ask how things were going. I then learned a lot by sharing the screen – “learning by clicking” in this case.

Janin: Have you already experienced an onboarding in another company and if so, did you notice any differences?

Nicole: The comparison is really very difficult. The biggest difference, in my eyes, is of course that I transitioned from the chemical lab to full office work. The focus of the training in the lab is more related to safety in handling chemicals or equipment. The handling of data was also different. I had previously worked in companies that operated according to DIN EN ISO 9001:2015. There, everything was predefined. From the folder structure to a filing system. In fact, it was the same as the goal in research data management. The work is done centrally on a server, and local storage on one’s own computer was not possible or undesirable.

Janin: When you look back on your first few months at the IT Center. How did the onboarding go? What went particularly well and where were there hurdles in your eyes?

Nicole: I think it went really well. The biggest hurdle or challenge in my eyes is the communication with the researchers. When everything is digital, it’s much harder to establish contact with researchers. I can sit in a Zoom room with them, but the small talk that usually takes place in person doesn’t exist there in that form. This is also missing in departmental or group meetings at the IT Center. It doesn’t happen digitally in the form it would in presence. You tend to be isolated in your own group.

A few weeks ago, we were at a retreat with a special research area. We were in the Eifel with the 2-G rule, and it made a huge difference. In the exchange with the researchers, we get to know so much more precisely where assistance is needed. In persona, the inhibition threshold is somewhat lower for approaching each other and working things out. This also gives the researchers a face to the person.

Janin: How would you sum up your onboarding time?

I really liked the onboarding period. My colleagues were very committed and had a lot of understanding and patience when something didn’t work right away. I look back very positively.

We would like to thank Nicole for taking the time to do this interview and are delighted to have gained an insight into the world of a data steward.

Responsible for the content of this article are Nicole Parks and Janin Vreydal.


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