Data Management: How to look after your research materials in Science & Engineering and MVLS
Dr Niels Cadée has been in our shoes: those of a PGR student who is producing lots of data but does not necessarily know what to do with it. Niels now works within the Research Data Management (RDM) Service at the university, a team that is here to support you with whatever data management needs you have. (If you would like more information about data management in Art and Social Sciences click here).
What is data?
Data is anything that may be referenced in your research, including any digital or physical material that you use as evidence in your research, which might be checked by others in the future. For example, rocks or tissue samples. Your data may take the form of physical samples, but they may also be present as digital or paper based materials.
However, not all research produces data. For example theoretical research, literature studies or chemical experiments might not produce any data. In this case all methods should be documented and a record kept encase you need to use these resources again in the future. This should be done in a similar way as that which will be described here for the management of data.
Why is good data management important?
Data management is needed to retain the usability of your data in the future. Even several years down the line, it may be requested for collaborations, publications and data citations. Good data management might be required by your research funders, for example they may require you to share your data or save it in a particular way - for example if you are using medical data that must be used and managed in accordance with the NHS.
After submission of your thesis, access to your original data may be requested from those who challenge your results. Good data management will allow you to prove that you have not fabricated your data and prove that the hard work that you have completed and the results that you have come up with can be justified. This can help to maintain your credibility as a world class researcher, and may even lead to future collaborations and career opportunities for you as a result.
The EPSRC (one of the UK Research Councils) specifically requires that data should be shared and that good data management should be maintained throughout your research – good data management includes the formation of a data management plan. Many other research funders also have requirements for data management; find out who is funding your research and ask the RDM Service if anything is unclear.
What resources are available to help with data management?
The RDM Service provides support for any data management needs that you may have during your PhD. They can be contacted for advice on how to create a data plan, how to maintain good data management, and how to store and retain your data for years beyond your thesis submission. Some aspects of data are very specific and the RDM Service may not have the specific knowledge that you require but they will be able to help you find the training and information that you need.
If you joined the university since 2015 then you are required by the College of Science and Engineering to complete the Data Management course run by the RDM Service in the library (course code: RSDC 6025 on MyCampus). For the College of Science and Engineering and MVLS these courses take place monthly, it takes place in the library on the main campus and will provide you with advice, awareness and pointers for good data management. There is also a workshop available to advise you on how to create a good data management plan (course code: RSDC 6030), which is something that may be required by your research funding body.
The RDM team are happy to come out to other locations and are working on an online course based on the MANTRA courses developed at Edinburgh.
Is it too late to create a data management plan?
It is never too late to plan how to store, label and save your data. It’s an essential part of your research that shouldn’t be overlooked. It is better to have a data management plan from the very beginning, but if you are further through your research and are only just reading about the importance of data management here, then have no fear, because you can start good data management at any time!
What are the university requirements for data management?
Along-side any requirements for data management that are required by your funding body the university also has a data management policy that you should adhere to for data management. Basically, you must keep track of what you do and how you do it. You will have to leave a copy of your data with the university when you leave, this may be with a digital repository or with the university archives. If you’re unsure of the best way to do this for your data then you can contact the RDM Services for advice.
What would you do if your hard-drive failed right now?
This is a serious question that you should ask yourself. Do you have everything backed up somewhere? Or, is your hard-drive your only copy or back-up of all your precious data? You could consider using additional storage provided by the university, such as network drives and the new cloud services OwnCloud and MS OneDrive for Business (part of Office365). Consider using these examples rather cloud services such as iCloud or Google Drive for research data, as these are not secure and reliable enough.