How to manage scientific data? Practical advice from the summer school in Crete

The second edition of the NFFA 2024 International Summer School was organised by the Nanoscience Foundries and Fine Analysis (NFFA) research infrastructure in Heraklion, Crete. It was aimed at graduate students, researchers and technicians from academia and industry who were interested in gaining hands-on experience with NFFA-Europe's data management, metadata and remote access tools. The main objective of the three-day summer school was to guide researchers to effectively apply FAIR data principles in practice.

8 Jul 2024 Vladimíra Coufalová

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The campus where the Summer School participants arrived is located on the outskirts of Heraklion, just a kilometre from the ancient palace of Knossos. The local research centre, The Foundation for Research and Technology - Hellas (FORTH), was designed by the Greek architect Panos Koulermos on the model of the Knossos Palace. In the meeting room where the participants gathered, the Summer School was opened by Greek physicist Emmanuel Stratakis, Research Director at the Institute of Electronic Structure and Laser (IESL).

The tone of the summer school was set by the video "A data management horror story," which Rossella Aversa from the Karslruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) played at the beginning of her talk.

The video features oncologist Dr. Judy Benign and the scientist who published the paper on B-cells. Dr. Judy Bening would like to use the scientist's article for her work on pancreatic cancer and repeatedly asks the scientist for the data he used in his research. He always replies that the data is in the article. Dr. Judy Bening asks again and again for data that is definitely not in the article, until the scientist finally admits that he doesn't know where his data is.

The video directly taped a reiteration of FAIR principles, i.e., that not only scientific data but also metadata must be "findable," that humans and machines must find it easily; "accessible," that is, there should be open access to the data; "interoperable," that the data must have a structure that is understandable to humans and machines; and "reusable," that one must know how the data can be reused and what licenses protect it.

This was followed by a short quiz in which participants confirmed that they understood the difference between "Open Data," data that is freely reusable, and "FAIR data," which are as open as possible and as closed as possible.

In order to blend the theory, most of the lectures were followed with hand-on activities. Andrea Recchia showed that proper metadata description is essential for scientific data management and introduced the Metadata Editor desktop application for creating and editing metadata documents. The application, which the summer school participants learned to use, is publicly available and compatible with Linux, Windows and MacOS operating systems. Anyone can try it out at: There is also software that can check whether the data is actually FAIR, called F-UJI and available at:

Anna Bertelli from the University of Milan (UniMi) shared her experience with the NFFA Summer School programme. In her role at the university, Anna is involved in data management, FAIR data and digitization, but mainly at a theoretical level, so she wanted to approach these issues from a practical point of view. "I am a philosopher and I would like to understand more about the concepts behind data management and have the opportunity for philosophical reflection," says Anna. The message she took away from the Summer School came from discussions on legal aspects and data licensing, which made it clear that the scientific community is facing a cultural transformation in Open Science, as well as a change in the way research is evaluated.

For Anna, but also for the other participants, including Olga Bohuslavova and Vladimira Coufalova from the EOSC Secretariat, the Summer School became a very structured and intense way to gain a lot of knowledge.

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