A proud Max Petzold leaves SND after eight years as Director

Published: 2023-06-29

Portrait of Max Petzold.After eight years as Director of Swedish National Data Service, Max Petzold is stepping down to become Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University of Gothenburg.

“It has been some incredibly enjoyable and fun years, and I’ll really miss the team at the SND office and the contact I’ve had with the HEIs. But it’s time for someone else to take over and continue SND’s development ahead.”

When Max Petzold was urged to apply for the position as Director of SND some eight years ago, he didn’t know anything about SND. However, through his manager at the time, Kjell Torén at the School of Public Health and Community Medicine at GU, he came to understand the potential that SND has to offer, and that research data management was an exciting field. As a statistician, he had worked extensively with data, but never in systematically making them accessible to others.

Very proud of SND’s development

In the years of Max Petzold’s leadership, SND has developed from being a research infrastructure with direct contact with researchers in a limited number of scientific disciplines, to becoming a service and expert organization for most of Sweden’s higher education institutions, and a responsibility for working with research data from all disciplines.

“SND has evolved from being the people who did all the work with metadata tagging and data curation to being experts who work together with the HEIs and their researchers and support functions. We’ve created a consortium and a large network and have become so established within open science that people listen to us. We’ve built capacity and tools and helped with knowledge-building in the HEIs.”

Max Petzold is very proud of SND’s development and all the work that has been done.

“Eight years ago the Swedish Research Council gave us somewhat of a last chance to prove that we’re needed. We took that chance and can now count ourselves as one of the organizations mentioned in terms of long-term funding. Whether SND becomes an authority, as proposed in the Krantz investigation, or not in the future, we have a stamp of quality on what we’ve accomplished together — the SND office and all the DAU staff.”

Max, Johan, and Ulf in front of the Jönköping University Library.
The visits to the HEIs in the SND network have offered many exciting environments and conversations. Max Petzold, Johan Fihn Marberg, and Ulf Jakobsson in front of the Jönköping University Library.

The connections with the HEIs among his best experiences

One of the best things as director of SND has been the connections and collaborations with all of the universities and other HEIs.

“It’s been a lot of fun to travel around to so many of the member institutions in the SND network and consortium. I’ve had the opportunity to meet people from the libraries, the university boards, and, not least, the enthusiastic DAU staff. Thanks to my work at SND, I’ve gained a much deeper understanding of how research is conducted across all scientific fields, not just my own. What I’ve seen, and try to emphasize when I get the chance, is that even though different disciplines may focus on different aspects of the research process, we’re all very much alike. Research is research everywhere, so to say.”

The merit question among the biggest challenges to solve

One of the biggest challenges that Max Petzold has experienced in the task to make data more accessible is to create incentives for researchers; “what’s in it for us?” He believes that it is crucial that open science does not just impose requirements, but that it should also offer merits for researchers to share both publications and research data. For example, Max stresses that it should be explicitly stated that involvement in open science is a merit in employment contexts. Both nationally and internationally, efforts are made in various collaborations to stimulate positive driving forces for, among other things, sharing of research data, and one of the areas that will be developed further at SND is the ability to collect statistics and key indicators related to downloads and publication of research data.

Max Petzold posing with a steel figure.
Max meets Max at MAX IV, Lund University.

Another challenge has been that so much of the development work in open science is focused on handling “difficult” data, such as data that contain protected information like personal data.

“It’s easy to end up doing nothing until we can do everything. 80 per cent of research data isn’t sensitive and in need of protection. There’s no reason to wait with making simpler data accessible; personal data can’t stand in the way of working with other data.”

Could have been more active in the debate

Something that Max Petzold, in hindsight, believes could have been given more focus during his time as SND director is to be a stronger and more active voice in the national debate about open science. Being more of a driving force, creating public opinion, and writing debate articles are some examples he mentions.

“That type of activity doesn’t come naturally to me. Our main focus has been on building capacity but what’s needed now as we go forward is to be seen and heard more. We can already see that there have been changes in this regard. SND is now being invited in a whole different way to major forums, not least within SUHF, and, more recently, in the discussions about research data during Sweden’s EU Presidency.”

Max hopes that his successor as director, together with the new steering committee at SND, will drive public opinion and demand actions for the future. To continue with the knowledge-building at the HEIs and other research organizations should, of course, also be central for the new leadership, says Max.

A continued strong network collaboration is important

“It’s important that we continue our active work in the SND network, that we go out and meet with DAU staff and library directors, engage in dialogue with university boards, and that we hold the consortium together. As director, you have to dedicate most of your time to connections with the Swedish research community. We’ve also noticed that when we're out travelling, the local work with research data becomes more visible and gets an extra boost when we engage with the university boards.”

Max, Sara, and Karin with Bergen in the background.
Max Petzold, Sara Svensson, and Karin Westin Tikkanen on a trip to Bergen, where CESSDA and Sikt, two of SND’s international partners, have their headquarters.

It’s also crucial for SND’s operations that the budget isn’t too tight, as it has to leave room for network events, initiatives for competence development, and opportunities for both DAU and SND staff to visit each other, exchange experiences and learn from one another.

“We’ll be rooted in Sweden, work together, and not get tangled up in a lot of special solutions,” he summarizes.

Useful approach as Deputy Vice-Chancellor

In his new role as Deputy Vice-Chancellor for digitalization and knowledge transfer, which includes work on open science, it’s still important for Max Petzold to consider the whole picture and what we have in common at the University of Gothenburg, even though it is the local needs will guide the way. Projects should not be started unless there is a demand for them. His approach will be similar to what he’s had at SND.

“I really want to work with all of GU and get to know all the different research and education areas. My goal for the next six years is to have visited every location where GU has operations.”

Max reflects on how his development has had a somewhat different path than what is common. These assignments often start as local, then become national, and, in the end, maybe even international.

“It’s the other way around for me. I go from working on a national level with open science to doing it locally at the university. And that’s not a bad thing. I come with a tremendous amount of knowledge and inspiration from others, and many valuable connections for my future work.

Eastern involvement

The assignment as Deputy Vice-Chancellor begins as early as the 1st of July, lasts for six years, and will take most of Max’s time. However, there is some room for research, which will include the Erasmus initiatives that are close to his heart. For seven years, Max has been responsible for so-called staff training programs for researchers and doctoral students from Georgia and Ukraine. In the upcoming round which has received funding for autumn, there will also be participants from Armenia and Moldova.

“I think we have an important task, almost a duty, to support low- and middle-income countries, especially in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, which we have to some degree forgotten about. I really hope that we can play a significant role here and contribute to making people aware of how important it is to work together and support one another.”

A happy Max at Liseberg with a fairground attraction in the background.
Max loves to compete. There was no mistaking his joy after winning the pentathlon at Liseberg.

A little more about Max Petzold

  • 50 years old.
  • Three children.
  • Professor of biostatistics.
  • Outgoing Director of SND and incoming Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University of Gothenburg from the 1st of July.
  • Currently researching health outcome for children born from IVF, as well as periodontitis and dental implants.
  • Lives in Gothenburg since 1998 but grew up in Kungälv and Älvängen.
  • Has studied physics, environmental economics and holds a Ph D in biostatistics.
  • Likes to go kayaking and skiing in his spare time; the latter mainly cross-country, but also downhill.
  • What you may not know about Max:
    “I’m one of the people who know the most about dragonflies, and I’ve devoted a lot of time to them. For one thing, I was involved in making the first observation of the species Ischnura pumilio (Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly) since the 1930s. It was in the limestone quarry in Limhamn some time at the end of the last millennium.”