‘You know Amazon, don’t you? Our goal is that it should be just as easy to select and “order” data for research as it is to order a book.’
Luke Johnston makes a great teacher when asked about his work – work that has today brought him the Danish Diabetes Academy’s new prize, the DDA Research Education and Networking Award 2022.
He didn’t take the direct road to this research area – far from it. He is from Canada, 35 years old, and he came to Denmark to work with Professor Daniel Witte at the Steno Diabetes Center Aarhus and to use the world-famous Danish registers.
He wanted to find out why poor growth and nutrition in childhood cause disease and what it means for the risk of type 2 diabetes if your parents get divorced, have severe financial problems or immigrate. And he intended to use a huge evidence base: databases with information on the financial circumstances of all Danish parents, on health, divorces, parents’ education, children’s hospitalizations, recent immigration and parents’ health status.
It just turned out to be very difficult to get the data – and that prompted him to switch focus, so that today he has made great strides in collecting knowledge to enable him and any other researchers to ‘spend more time doing research, and less time sending emails back and forth clarifying what is and what is not available in the data’, as he puts it.
Exploring, finding, and requesting the data could be as easy as shopping on Amazon
And this is where Amazon can be used to explain to outsiders what he is working on. He says: ‘In many fields of science, managing and structuring data in open, usable, transparent and discoverable ways can be a major barrier to fully using data collected from a study. This is especially true of larger studies, as experienced in many human health fields. We aim to build a software tool we're calling Seedcase that makes it easier to manage and work with data so that research can be done better and faster. With Seedcase, exploring, finding, and requesting the data that are available in a study can be as easy as shopping on Amazon or another online store... by clicking the data variables you want into a "shopping cart" and sending a request for these variables to the data owners, who can than easily accept these requests without much manual effort.’
Instrumental in organizing several training courses
Luke Johnston was nominated for the DDA Research Education and Networking Award 2022 by Helene Bæk Juel, Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for basic Metabolic Research, University of Copenhagen, and Daniel R. Witte of the Department of Public Health, Aarhus University, Aarhus University Hospital and Steno Diabetes Center Aarhus.
The nomination highlights the fact that he has been instrumental in organizing several training courses with the Danish Diabetes Academy on the programming language R, which is widely used for data science, statistics and systems biology in biomedical science.
‘Luke’s efforts have therefore enhanced the knowledge and skills of postdocs and PhD students within the DDA. This is a major accomplishment’, says the nomination, which stresses that he has disrupted data science/R-teaching methods and created a paradigm shift in the way the teaching of what is essentially a programming language can be accomplished using novel learning principles. Moreover, Luke’s teaching is focused on reproducibility and transparency, both of which are increasing in importance in all fields of science.
The Awards Committee 22 adds that ‘the significant time and effort contributed by Luke to the R courses constitutes an act of altruism and work for the benefit of the research community, something that is very seldom acknowledged but is nevertheless extremely important for the entire research community’.
Advanced workshop on creating collaborative and automated analysis pipelines
As for the present, he is preparing a workshop for the DDA to be held on 7 December 2022 in Copenhagen: Reproducible Research in R: An advanced workshop on creating collaborative and automated analysis pipelines.
‘The significant time and effort contributed by Luke to the R courses constitutes an act of altruism and work for the benefit of the research community, something that is very seldom acknowledged but is nevertheless extremely important for the entire research community.’
Awards Committee 2022
‘A special feature of the education approach facilitated by Luke is the creation of a network of R-proficient young scientists within diabetes, metabolism and endocrinology, and Luke has successfully engaged previous trainees as instructors on his courses. Doing this solidifies and reinforces the network of R-competent scientists.’
Awards Committee 2022
The DDA’s Managing Director, Tore Christiansen, on Luke Johnston:
DDA Research Education and Networking Award
This brand-new award is presented to a national or international researcher (at any point in their career) who has contributed to improving DDA activities within education, talent development, networking and/or collaboration. The award is worth DKK 25,000.
FACTS ABOUT LUKE JOHNSTON
Luke Johnston, 35, is a postdoctoral researcher from Canada who moved to Aarhus in 2018 to conduct diabetes epidemiology research. Alongside his research, Luke leads several teaching activities both within and external to the DDA. His teaching philosophy is to provide researchers with the tools needed to conduct research that is reproducible and consistent with the open science framework. His teaching strategy relies on contemporary pedagogical models (e.g., flipped classroom, STREAM) and positions the student’s learning at the centre of his teaching.
Luke Johnston MSc, PhD
Steno Diabetes Center Aarhus
+45 29 66 46 75
Danish Diabetes Academy
Tore S. Christiansen
+ 45 29 64 67 64