About Martin Donnelly

Research Data Support Manager, Library and University Collections, University of Edinburgh

Two new Quick Guides for good Research Data Management

The Research Data Support team have recently published two new Quick Guides, the latest in a series of short, user-friendly documents intended to help our research staff and students plan, manage and preserve their data effectively, safely, and for the long-term.

Quick Guide 5 takes the topic of “Open Research” – also known as Open Science, particularly in a European context. The drive towards research transparency and the removal of barriers to accessibility has gathered a great deal of momentum over recent years, to the extent that “Open by default” is an increasingly common approach. Open research enables scientific findings to be tested, reproduced and built upon far more quickly than traditional approaches allowed. The benefits of Open Research are being demonstrated in real time, right in front of our noses, as researchers at Edinburgh tackle various aspects of the Covid-19 pandemic. We recently tweeted about one such project which examined the effectiveness of face coverings in reducing the range travelled by breath, which of course helps transmit the virus. The data underpinning this research is freely available to everyone via Edinburgh DataShare.

The latest Quick Guide, the sixth in the series, addresses the ‘FAIR’ principles, which state that research data should – so far as possible, and appropriate – be Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable. These principles emphasise machine-actionability (i.e. the ability of automated computational systems to find, access, interoperate, and reuse data with minimal or no human intervention) as humans increasingly rely on computational means to discover and work with data as a result of the increase in volume, complexity, and creation speed of data.

These two new publications join our existing guidance on topics such as the basics of Research Data Management (RDM), RDM and data protection, and research data storage options at the University. Future topics planned include conducting research safely online, FAIR approaches to research software, and an overview of the systems and services available at Edinburgh in support of Open Research. If there is a particular topic you would find useful, please get in touch with us via data-support@ed.ac.uk or the IS Helpline.

All of our Quick Guides can be found at https://www.ed.ac.uk/information-services/research-support/research-data-service/guidance

Martin Donnelly
Research Data Support Manager
Library and University Collections

Share

Research data management in a time of quarantine

Covid-19 has shaken up our world, and disrupted University life as we know it. But in terms of a silver lining, it has provided opportunities for open data / open research to prove their worth, in the search for a vaccine and other approaches to managing and treating the complications of the virus. SPARC Europe have collected a number of case studies on Open Science and the Coronavirus. If you’ve been working on Coronavirus research here at Edinburgh, we’d love to hear from you, especially if there is anything we might be able to do to help. So far we have engaged with researchers in all three Colleges studying, or hoping to study, an aspect of COVID-19; about handling sensitive data, archiving or sharing relevant data, or bidding for new research.

How has it affected us in Research Data Support?

  • We are all working from home, although some of us have unavoidable childcare responsibilities which may slow down responses;
  • In terms of answering Research Data Management (RDM) enquiries it’s business as usual. UniDesk has been a little quieter than usual, but we are receiving more complex queries as researchers adjust to the new reality;
  • Data Management Plan (DMP) assistance is business as usual, and we are now set up on Teams for video consultations – let us know if you’d be interested in one of these;
  • During the lockdown we will be refreshing our existing Research Data MANTRA training and directing research staff and students to this resource in place of our face-to-face training, which has been temporarily suspended. If you have a question or would like to discuss any aspect of RDM or Data Management Planning please contact the team using data-support@ed.ac.uk to setup an online consultation.

From the researcher’s point of view, in some cases collecting and processing or analysing new data may be more difficult than it usually is, and in many cases impossible without access to lab equipment or direct contact with research subjects. So why not turn your attention to other elements of RDM, such as preparing older data for deposit, and linking it with your published research papers to fortify the scholarly record?

What can you do?

  • Use the time away from the lab or the field to tidy up data you’ve already collected or created (and don’t forget to attach metadata/contextual information!);
  • Deposit completed data in DataShare (or a disciplinary repository, with metadata recorded in Pure);
  • If you have deposited in DataShare before, check the usage stats and AltMetrics feed to see whether it has been used by others;
  • Create an ORCID (unique, persistent global researcher’s ID), and link it with your Pure account to ensure you stay linked with your outputs throughout your career;
  • Invite us to comment on your DMP, or get in touch about anything else RDM-related;
  • Let us know if you’d like to arrange any bespoke training or awareness-raising sessions;
  • Take some or all of the MANTRA course and let us know if you have any comments.

Martin Donnelly
Research Data Support Manager
Library and University Collections

Share

Collaborating on data in a modern way

Between mid-September and mid-October, the Research Data Support team hosted an international visitor. Dr Tamar Israeli, a librarian from Western Galilee College in Israel, spent four weeks in Edinburgh to increase her experience and understanding around research data management. As part of this visit, Tamar conducted a study into our researchers’ collaborative requirements, and how well our existing tools and services meet their needs. Tamar’s PhD thesis was on the topic of file sharing, and she has recently published another study on information loss in Behaviour & Information Technology: “Losing information is like losing an arm: employee reactions to data loss” (2019). Tamar is also a representative of the Israeli colleges on the University Libraries’ Research Support Committee.

Tamar carried out a small-scale study in order to gain a better understanding of the tools that researchers use to collaborate around data, and to explore the barriers and difficulties that prevent researchers from using institutional tools and services. Six semi-structured interviews were conducted with researchers from the University of Edinburgh, representing different schools, and all of whom collaborate with other researchers on a regular basis on either small- or large-scale projects. She found that participants use many different tools, both institutional and commercial, to collaborate, share, analyse and transfer documents and data files. Decisions about which tools to use are based on data types, data size, usability, network effect and whether their collaborators are in the same institution and country. Researchers tend to use institutional tools only if they are very simple and user friendly, if there is a special requirement for this from funders or principal investigators (PIs), or if it is directly beneficial for them from a data analysis perspective; sharing beyond the immediate collaboration is only a secondary concern. Researchers are generally well aware of the need to keep their data where it will be safe and backed-up, and are not concerned about the risk of data loss. A major issue was the need for tools that answer projects’ particular needs, therefore customisability and scope for interlinking with other systems is very important.

We’d like to thank Tamar for the great work she did, and for the beautiful olive oil and pistachios that she brought with her! Tamar’s findings will key into our ongoing plans for the next phase of the Research Data Service’s continual development, helping us assist researchers to share and work on their data collaboratively, within and beyond the University’s walls.

Martin Donnelly
Research Data Support Manager
Library and University Collections

Share

Announcing our new “Quick Guides” series

Earlier this week we bid farewell to our intern for the past four weeks, Dr Tamar Israeli from the Western Galilee College Library. Tamar spent her time with us carrying out a small-scale study on the collaborative tools that are available to researchers, which ones they use in their work, and what support they feel they need from the University. One of Tamar’s interviewees expressed a view that “[the University’s tools and services] all start with ‘Data-something’, and I need to close my eyes and think which is for what,” a remark which resonated with my own experience upon first starting this job.

When I joined the University’s Library and University Collections as Research Data Support Manager in Summer 2018, I was initially baffled by the seemingly vast range of different data storage and sharing options available to our researchers. By that point I had already worked at Edinburgh for more than a decade, and in my previous role I had little need or obligation to use institutionally-supported services. Consequently, since I rarely if ever dealt with personal or sensitive information, I tended to rely on freely-available commercial solutions: Dropbox, Google Docs, Evernote – that sort of thing. Finding myself now in a position where I and my colleagues were required to advise researchers on the most appropriate systems for safely storing and sharing their (often sensitive) research data, I set about producing a rough aide memoire for myself, briefly detailing the various options available and highlighting the key differences between them. The goal was to provide a quick means or identifying – or ruling out – particular systems for a given purpose. Researchers might ask questions like: is this system intended for live or archived data? Does it support collaboration (increasingly expected within an ever more interconnected and international research ecosystem)? Is it suitable for storing sensitive data in a way that assures research participants or commercial partners that prying eyes won’t be able to access their personal information without authorisation? (A word to the wise: cloud-based services like Dropbox may not be!)


[click the image for higher resolution version]

Upon showing early versions to colleagues, I was pleasantly surprised that they often expressed an interest in getting a copy of the document, and thought that it might have a wider potential audience within the University. In the months since then, this document has gone through several iterations, and I’m grateful to colleagues with specific expertise in the systems that we in the Research Data Service don’t directly support (such as the Wiki and the Microsoft Office suite of applications) for helping me understand some of the finer details. The intention is for this to be a living document, and if there are any inaccuracies in this (or indeed subsequent) versions, or wording that could be made clearer, just let us know and we’ll update it. It’s probably not perfect (yet!), but my hope is that it will provide enough information for researchers, and those who support them, to narrow down potential options and explore these in greater depth than the single-page table format allows.

With Tamar’s internship finishing up this week, it feels like a timely moment to release the first of our series of “Quick Guides” into the world. Others will follow shortly, on topics including Research Data Protection, FAIR Data and Open Research, and we will create a dedicated Guidance page on the Research Data Service website to provide a more permanent home for these and other useful documents. We will continue to listen to our researchers’ needs and strive to keep our provision aligned with them, so that we are always lowering the barriers to uptake and serving our primary purpose: to enable Edinburgh’s research community to do the best possible job, to the highest possible standards, with the least amount of hassle.

And if there are other Guides that you think might be useful, let us know!

Martin Donnelly
Research Data Support Manager
Library and University Collections

Share