Looking ahead: a letter from our Executive Director

Just over three months into my role as Dryad Executive Director, I’m reflecting on my transition and what I’ve learned so far – what we’ve been doing and where we’re planning to go next in our programmatic work as well as organizational capacity and sustainability planning. But this transition has been more than just a new role for me, it comes at a time when as a scientific community we’re reflecting on our responsibilities, who our systems serve and who they don’t, our collaborations, what it means to work and share openly and our capacity to work together to do better together. This moment demands our attention and our focus, but these challenges and opportunities require more than short-term commitments. We need to continue to reflect and build, not just something that meets this moment, but that will sustain and move us forward towards our vision of sharing data and working together to create knowledge for science and society. Rather than just reacting, we can respond with intention – evaluating, supporting and re-envisioning our systems and our communities.  

Previously as Executive Director of The Carpentries, I worked with the community to create inclusive training, teaching people to work effectively with data and code, in a movement to empower all people to answer questions that are important to them. In that work, I noticed that another missing piece is access to the data to answer those questions. We need to both bring people to data and bring data to people, to democratize data, for each moment, each crisis, each person, each challenge and each opportunity. This is only work that can be accomplished if all researchers, organizations and institutions work together – sharing knowledge, creating pathways and connections and building relationships. Through my work as a researcher, with The Carpentries and now with Dryad, I’ve had the great opportunity of meeting many members of the data community, and while we have challenges in front of us, I am inspired by the commitment of so many to affect change and look forward to continuing these conversations and work within the Dryad community. 

Dryad’s connections 

Dryad is researcher-led and open, both in its publishing, and in its community, qualities that drew me to the organization. What I’ve continued to learn about Dryad in the last few months is that Dryad’s alignment with the scientific community and those promoting open, curated data publications enable us to focus on how to curate and publish quality datasets, at scale. I believe that part of the reason Dryad has seen such success in the last years, is by building like-minded partnerships and collaborations over its tenure. Working closely with those that hold similar values like the National Science Foundation, institutional resources (e.g., NESCent), the Data Curation Network, and now our partnerships with California Digital Library and Zenodo, we can have an even more effective reach in the scientific community. Going forward, it’s important to think not just about submitting data, but about listening and working together to pioneer new ways of making data re-use more prevalent and accessible.

Curation at our core

These ideals are heavily reflected in our data publishing platform, but also in our curation emphasis. To promote and publish FAIR data, it is essential that Dryad maintains its roots in curation, even if how curation looks may differ from Dryad’s inception. I’m finding that as the community shifts to value curation, we need to question what quality curation practices look like at multi-disciplinary repositories. Disciplinary repositories have long supported detailed curation, specific to the type of data being submitted. At Dryad, we need to assess what quality looks like at our scale and across disciplines, thinking about what level of checks are appropriate and attainable, and adjust both our workflows and the community’s expectations. We cannot do this alone.

In my first 90 days I have had the opportunity to learn from and share my experience at multiple venues spanning from the NIH’s General Repository workshop, meetings with the Data Curation Network, and more recently at the Open Publishing Fest with colleagues at Wormbase. In my next 90 days, I look forward to continuing to work with these groups and more that are interested in quality curation at scale, and how to implement this in a way that is accessible to researchers. 

Going forward

Dryad has and will continue to maintain broad researcher support, and as the current climate has increased a spotlight on the importance of data publishing, I want to take a moment to outline how I think Dryad can improve to more effectively publish FAIR, re-usable, data, and where we can go next.

It is essential that Dryad remains focused on researcher-adoption of best practices for open data publishing. We’ve seen this adoption, with increased submissions annually, and more stories of data re-use, and it’s important that as research evolves we evolve with the scientists and broaden our diversity of perspectives. Our platform and partnerships are focused on seamless workflows to accommodate increased submissions and we are very excited about the upcoming integrations with journal submission systems and Zenodo.

With increased submissions and an emphasis on adoption, we will need to continue to optimize for quality and volume. Dryad has done this successfully over the last ten years, and going forward, I will be investigating the right level of curation and resources required for the growing scale. This may mean investing more in automated FAIR checking, tools for researcher education during the submission process, and considering the role of institutional data curators looking to steward their research outputs. 

Beyond these operational improvements, it is important for Dryad to continue to push the envelope in data publishing. Ten years ago, Dryad was critical in supporting the development of data policies at publishers. Data availability statements and having a place to house data will always be important. But, growing and evolving with researchers means putting a larger emphasis on data re-use and equitable access, as data-driven discovery gains traction and researchers are eager to broaden the impact of their research through data publications. We need to consider how to make data re-use more accessible, thinking about how this practice can be promoted and encouraging best practices.

The research data community has given me a warm welcome, and it is a community that I am thrilled to be a part of. I am privileged to have the opportunity to steward Dryad into the future as a trusted multi-disciplinary data repository. Today’s challenges continue to show the importance of collective impact, working together towards a shared goal, and the essential value of backbone organizations in open data. Dryad has played and will continue to play a leading role in the research data ecosystem.  We have important work to do together, and as challenging as the current times are, it’s also shown people’s instincts to help each other. Thinking about how to better operationalize Dryad, to better support researchers in data curation, publishing, sharing and re-use, is something that I cannot do alone, and I am very excited and grateful to continue working with our staff, partners and the larger community to go further together.

Thank you Elizabeth! Our Associate Director moving on to new opportunities

In 2014 Elizabeth Hull stepped into the basement office of NESCent at Duke University to begin working with Dryad as a curator. Since then Elizabeth has worked in almost every role in the organization, leading curation efforts, business operations, communications, team building, writing grants, answering thousands of emails on HelpDesk, Interim Executive Director, Associate Director and most importantly connecting with so many researchers, librarians and publishers in our community. After so many years of service as a steward of Dryad and leader of the team, Elizabeth has decided to move on to new opportunities. 

As a team, we want to share our gratitude for her leadership, commitment, strength and grace under pressure and how she has welcomed and supported us all as team members. We will miss her work with Dryad, and her as a person on our team. 

As our Board Chair Caroline Sutton recently commented: “our continued presence as Dryad is a testament to Elizabeth’s standing in the community and among our staff as well as her skills and dedication.”

We know Elizabeth has supported, welcomed, talked with and listened to so many in our community over the years and made a significant impact. Please share any of your own notes or thank you’s with us or with her directly. 

Thank you Elizabeth, and we wish you all the best in your next endeavors!

Facilitating data sharing in times of crisis

Dryad has long committed to the sharing of open data, supporting authors in depositing data and providing FAIR curation to improve metadata and data quality. We believe this mission is important always, supporting the advancement of science, but in light of the current public health crisis related to COVID-19 we see the need for extra rapid curation and publication of pandemic related datasets. This public health crisis has changed the way we work as a society and has also changed scientific needs for rapid dissemination and analysis of research data and publications.

Amidst the COVID-19 outbreak we have seen amazing examples of the value of open data as well as the challenges of data variety, identifying sources and aggregating information. So many in the scientific community are putting exemplary energy and work into these efforts including Our World in Data, Nextstrain, The COVID Tracking project, GISAID and the GO FAIR Virus Outbreak Data Network to name just a few. These efforts are a tribute to scientists – as scientists and as people.

It is imperative that the community rapidly disseminate datasets related to COVID-19, and we must acknowledge that data quality is variable. Access to research data is critical, but it’s also essential that data are accompanied by high-quality metadata that can facilitate more effective and efficient reuse. Datasets need to be understood, checked and cleaned for personally identifiable information, standard metadata and accessible file types. Curation checks, while a slight delay in publication, can improve data quality for easier reuse and overall speed of the rate and quality of analyses.

During times of crisis when labs have closed down, we understand that many researchers are working with their previously collected data, applying computational approaches, analyzing or evaluating open datasets from other labs, and continuing to turn these data into knowledge. Dryad will continue to curate and publish all incoming research datasets, supporting all domains of research. 

We are also ever-conscious of the needs for rapid data curation and publication, and we are taking extra steps within the current climate to look out for public health, economic, sociologic and other datasets related to the pandemic. We are committed to working with the research community, including publishers and preprint providers, to facilitate the rapid and high-quality curation review and publication of any pandemic related data. Don’t hesitate to reach out. We’re here to help.

This is one crisis that has the world’s attention that requires rapid, coordinated response. But there are so many other moments that are important in individual communities, to specific topics, or to global challenges that may not seem as fast moving, such as climate change. In all of these moments, data sharing that is efficient and data we can trust is crucial. At Dryad we are thinking about our current practices, as well as what we can learn for future situations, curating and publishing datasets, so we can all continue to go further together.