Research Hero: Eleni Kotoula

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In the second feature of our Research Heroes series, Bulletin speaks to Eleni Kotoula, Lead Digital Research Facilitator at the University about her work on the design and the delivery of the University’s Digital Research Services outreach programme.

The University’s Digital Research Services team makes sure every member of the research and innovation community is valued and supported to reach their full potential. 

Eleni Kotoula is the Lead Digital Research Facilitator at the University. Her role involves working with researchers and postgraduate research students throughout the research life cycle, from the early stages of planning a project until the final stage when people deposit their data for long-term preservation. 

Eleni joined the University in 2018 and was drawn to the role because of the impact she thought she would have on the University’s approach to research. 

“What I found fascinating about the facilitation is that it’s about research excellence and best research practices,” she explains. 

“Empowering people to make informed decisions about their research project is one of the things that first inspired me in this role – it’s something that I consider valuable because you are not tutoring people but making sure they do what fits best according to the research requirements.” 

Eleni Kotoula works with researchers and postgraduate research students throughout the research life cycle Photograph by Sam Ingram-Sills

Inspiring the next generation

Eleni’s role also involves outreach in the form of events, training and bringing people together either online or in person. In 2019, she set up an internship scheme where her team worked with various students to empower them and help them develop their skills by pairing them with researchers. 

“It’s an excellent scheme and I would have done it myself as a student,” Eleni says. “There are people from the first cohort five years ago who have developed a lot professionally since then. Some of them have become members of staff at the University and others even moved on to other institutions to more senior posts.

“I’m very happy to see that because I feel that we as the Research Services team contributed a little bit to their success somehow.” 

Eleni has worked on a hybrid basis since 2021 when offices reopened after the pandemic. She goes into the office two days a week with her team having an ‘anchor day’ on Mondays where they hold in-person meetings.  

She says hybrid working has its pros and cons: “For anyone who is doing outreach work – regardless of whether it’s research or not research related – finding balance between online, in-person and hybrid is a challenge because we are navigating new territories here.  

“The pandemic was an opportunity for us to reach out to a broader audience because it’s less time-consuming as people aren’t commuting, but on the other hand, it creates its own problems. 

“Looking through the research facilitation lens, the main challenge is the scale. The University is a very large and research-intensive institution and even logistics sometimes can be a challenge. We are not all on the same campus, for example. Even though this is an advantage, sometimes it can be a problem.” 

Photograph by Sam Ingram-Sills

Recognising the importance of data

The University’s Research and Innovation Strategy 2030 discusses the importance of harnessing data, digital and AI for public good, with a commitment to making Edinburgh the data capital of Europe. 

Eleni says this is a positive sign: “For research facilitation, the focus has always been the data and the digital, so it’s nothing new but what I found really promising is that the University brought it to the forefront with a high-profile document. It’s great to see it clearly stated as one of the key paths, this is a step forward.   

“Continuous improvement of our services is also something that we particularly welcome as it gives us a bit of recognition.” 

In an increasingly digital world, the process of preserving data has become more challenging. 

“There are challenges around the data sizes, around the different data formats and data types, and there are also challenges around the provenance of data,” Eleni explains. 

“I think everyone would agree that the size of research data is considerably challenging, as well as different policies and regulations. It helps if you try to see the broader picture during the early stages better planning is key for overcoming those challenges.” 

Photograph by Sam Ingram-Sills

What’s next?

What does the future hold? Eleni is currently in the process of expanding her team, as well as planning the University’s first Digital Research Conference which will take place in January 2025 and will bring together researchers and professional staff supporting digital, data-intensive, and computational research. 

Eleni says: “We have wanted to run a Digital Research Conference for a while and now we have finally managed to get the funding for it. 

“The conference will promote best practices and inspire, encourage collaborations and stimulate discussion across schools, colleges and professional services on a broad range of digital research-related topics.” 

Find out more

Digital Research Services | The University of Edinburgh 

2025 Digital Research Conference | The University of Edinburgh 

To find out more about how the University is supporting research facilitators like Eleni and the whole research community, please visit the Research and Innovation website and read the new strategy.  

Research and Innovation | The University of Edinburgh