Fellow Feature: Thomas Pronk 

15 Mar 2024 - 6 min

Every year, the Netherlands eScience Center shares a call for applications for our Fellowship Programme. The Programme is aimed at members of the academic research community who are passionate about acting as ambassadors for the use of research software. It is for individuals who have the ambition to promote or improve the use of research software within their organization or discipline. Our 2023 fellows are currently in the midst of their fellowship year. What better time to showcase their progress over the course of their programme. 

We will present you with interviews with each of the 14 Fellows. From creating tutorials to organizing interactive seminars, our Fellows are at the forefront of shaping the landscape of research software practices. 

We are proud to share our fourth interview with research software consultant at the Amsterdam UMC, Thomas Pronk. Thomas is participating in the eScience Center’s Fellowship with the goal of developing an efficient workflow to deliver effective software management plans for medical research software. 

Q: Could you tell me what role research software plays in your daily activities?  

A: My daily activities involve a lot of research software. Not so much in terms of using it, but in terms of examining how we can best manage it. I use and contribute to the software for researching research.  For example, SOMEF, is an application for extracting software metadata from its documentation. In addition to that, I support two libraries developed during my time as a PhD student: jsQuestPlus, whose main developer is Daiichiro Kuroki, and splithalfr, which is my pet R package. I use the splithalfr as a test case for software management instruments that I consider.  

Q: What initially inspired you to apply to the fellowship programme at the eScience Center?   

A: What inspired me to apply was the realization of how similar the challenges are that we all encounter in research software. A striking example of the former is an NFDI4DS Hackathon organized by Leyla Jael Castro, where a couple of research software-oriented groups that had not collaborated yet actually managed to deliver something integrated in only a week. See the report.  

Q: How is your fellowship helping you to promote the use of research software in your own community?  

A: Because of my focus on software management, I would rather say that my fellowship helps promote more effective and efficient use of research software.  

Q: What have you enjoyed, thus far, during your fellowship at the eScience Center)? 

A: I love the synergy with my fellow Fellows, which even spawned a couple of collaborations. This synergy is excellently facilitated by the community managers (Carlos Martinez-Ortis and Lieke de Boer), both via Fellowship events and online platforms. Being mentored by Maaike de Jong, who has so much experience, knowledge, connections, and heart, is both enjoyable and valuable.  

Q: What are some challenges that you have faced throughout your project thus far? How have you overcome these obstacles?  

A: I encountered two main challenges. Firstly, I underestimated how careful I need to be in ensuring that whatever I introduce at Amsterdam UMC scales well because Amsterdam UMC is quite a big institution. This meant I had to go slower than expected. Secondly, I underestimated how much variety there is in different research groups at the Amsterdam UMC. This means that I need to cover a wide range of use cases. It also means that there is a lot I can learn from our researchers. Soon I will be joined by two more research software consultants to both share the load and learn more about how the various research groups operate.  

Q: Keeping this project in mind, what do you hope to do after your Fellowship?  

A: If things go as planned, the Fellowship is not so much the endpoint of a project as the starting point for national-level collaboration on the management of medical research software. For this purpose, I hope to launch the Dutch Mesh for Management of Medical Research Software (D3MRS).  

Q: What do you hope will change in the use of research software in your community after your fellowship?  

A: More acknowledgment of research software as a first-class research output and more collaboration between institutes and research groups. These are quite big ambitions, though, far larger than I can achieve in a year. Luckily, I am not alone by any means. On a researcher level, I notice that they have a strong desire to collaborate more and that they are very concerned with their research software, so the motivation is there. On a national level, there are strong initiatives to further acknowledge the importance of research software, like this one. Hence, everything is pointing in the right direction. Being something of an intermediary, I hope to keep connecting people on all kinds of levels, and most of all, keep pushing! 

Who are we?  

The eScience Center is a research organization dedicated to applying research software to answer research questions in any scientific domain through project collaborations. It has the largest concentration of dedicated, high-level research software expertise in the Netherlands. The eScience Center also has a fellowship programme and makes all of its software and training materials openly available online. For more information about what we offer, visit esciencecenter.nl.