My experience at the 11th RDA Plenary Meeting

Four months from today, I landed in Europe directly from Uruguay to study a PhD at the University of Lincoln (United Kingdom). I travelled more than 11000km with a strong conviction: changing the biodiversity research culture of my country towards a more open-science like. But, where do you start if you want to use the accurate data profiles, metadata language and standards? When researching about open sharing of data I found about the Research Data Alliance straight away. I became a member and fortunately was given the chance of attending the 11th Plenary in Berlin with a grant from the RDA Early Career Programme. I believe to be the first Uruguayan ever to have attended an RDA Plenary and as the first of my kind let me tell you what an extraordinary opportunity it was.

The 11th RDA Plenary Meeting took place from the 21st to the 23rd March 2018 in Berlin, Germany. I arrived at the Berlin Conference Congress full of expectations and listening at Hilary Hanahoe’s (RDA Secretary General) presentation at the opening plenary session made me feel I was on the wright place. “Researchers and innovators openly sharing data across technologies, disciplines, and countries to address the grand challenges of society”. The immediate thought I had was that if sharing data is a challenge for European countries, then just imagine what a massive task is for an undeveloped country like Uruguay. Hanahoe later presented an analogy that brought some peace to my mind, “we are all components of a magnificent orchestra that comes together to play for audiences all over the world”. One is not alone if there is a community supporting, and it may be arduous and challenging but collaboration can make a difference. The following keynote speakers and panellists backed up this idea and added inspiring sparkles to the opening.

After an exciting opening it was time for the working meetings. The RDA plenaries way of functioning is quite challenging for a new member. RDA is structured in different types of assemblages: WG (Working Groups), IG (Interest Groups) and BoF (Birds of a Feather Groups), all of them with different topics, aims and levels of progress. During the Plenary they all meet to give some insights on the achievements so far and to discuss new topics, suggestions and agreements. Getting used to all the acronyms was a constant struggle, but I got to build my own glossary of terms and incorporated beautiful words such as FAIRness (regarding FAIR data Principles). Leaving my ‘mate’ behind (Uruguayan tea-like infusion) was a tough decision, but I quickly swap the yerba mate dosages for plain caffeine and headed to the different sessions. I had previously selected all the working meetings I was interested in attending and as the days went by I surfed all the different CCB rooms. Every session constituted an open space to listen and learn from the first hand all about data within the research context. One high point of the week was the Conference Dinner at the Museum fuer Naturkunde (Natural History Museum) where I could do networking while standing next to an incredible specimen of Archaeopteryx, the first one ever found!

I participated more actively in two meetings, 1) Data Rescue: Determining data sets that are at risk and prioritizing their rescue, and 2) Sharing Rewards and Credit (SHARC). Both were truly inspiring, and latterly I decided to join the groups to contribute with my own Latin-American experience.

All in all, the 11th RDA Plenary Meeting was the first event I attended in the European continent as a PhD student. I went with the aim to learn and share knowledge with RDA members around the world and was more than satisfied with the outcome.