A visit from the data jungle: My internship in research data management

This is a guest post from Dr. Tamar Israeli, who completed a work/study internship with the Research Data Support team last Autumn. A link to her report is available below.

Recently, there has been a rumor in Israel that research data should be managed. As a librarian and information specialist working in an academic institution, I decided to check if this was true.

When looking for a place for an internship on the role of the library in research data management (RDM), I was happy to find out that the University of Edinburgh RDM support team has a good reputation. I remember enjoying very much my visit to Edinburgh 30 years ago so I was very happy to get Robin Rice & Martin Donnelly’s kind invitation so I could boldly go where… I had already been before.

During September 2019, I worked with the RDM support team, attended some of the staff meetings and participated in one of the RDM trainings.  As part of my internship we carried out a small scale study. The purpose of the study was mainly to understand what are the barriers that prevent researchers from using tools and services provided to them by the university when collaborating with data.

For that purpose, I interviewed six researchers from different schools and disciplines. The researchers were open and cooperative and the interviews were very interesting and insightful. If you’d like to learn about the way researchers collaborate and what influences their decision to use a particular tool or service, here is a link to our report: http://dx.doi.org/10.7488/era/2

Many thanks to the support team for their invitation and warm hospitality. It was one of the most pleasant months of my life.

Tamar Israeli
Librarian and information specialist
Western Galilee College

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New research data management tool on one-year trial: protocols.io

Information Services aims to offer a research data service that meets most of the data lifecycle needs of the majority of UoE researchers without interfering with their freedom to choose tools and technologies which suit their work. In some cases cloud tools that are free to individual users are offered commercially as enterprise versions, allowing groups of researchers (such as lab groups) to work together efficiently.

The service’s steering group has agreed a set of criteria to apply when a tool is put forward by a research group for adoption. The criteria were developed after our two-year trial of the electronic lab notebook software, RSpace, and have been most recently applied to protocols.io. The protocols.io trial begins this month and will run for one year. An evaluation will determine whether to continue the enterprise subscription and how to fund it.

protocols.io is an online platform for the creation, management, and sharing of research protocols or methods. Users can create new protocols within the system, or upload existing methods and digitise them. Those with access to a protocol can then update, annotate, or fork it so that it can be continually improved and developed. There is interoperability with Github and RSpace, and long-term preservation of protocols through CLOCKSS.

Users can publish their protocol(s) making them freely available for others to use and cite or, with the enterprise version, keep them private. The tool supports the Open Science / Open Research agenda by helping to ensure that methods used to produce data and publications are made available, assisting with reproducibility.

Subscribing to the University plan will allow research groups to organize their methods and ensures that knowledge is not lost as trainees graduate and postdoctoral students move on. There are currently over 70 University of Edinburgh researchers registered to use protocols.io. You may follow these instructions to move your current protocols.io account to the premium university version. For more information contact data-support@ed.ac.uk.

Kerry Miller and Robin Rice
Research Data Support team

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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

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