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

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Research Data Training – Semester 1

*UPDATE* – We have just added two new and exciting courses to our training schedule:

  • Assessing Disclosure Risk in Quantitative Data (RDS006)
  • Assessing Data Quality in Quantitative Data (RDS007)

To find out more about these courses just visit our training page.

Each semester the Research Data Support team puts together a training programme for researchers and research support staff in all schools, and at all points in their career. Our programme this year introduces a number of new courses, including one designed especially for Undergraduates planning their final year dissertation. We have also reviewed and refreshed all of our existing courses to ensure that they are not only up-to-date but also more engaging and interactive.

Full Course list:

  • Realising the Benefits of Good Research Data Management (RDS001)
  • Writing a Data Management Plan for your Research (RDS002)
  • Working with Personal and Sensitive Data (RDS003)
  • Data Cleaning with OpenRefine (RDS004)
  • Handling Data Using SPSS (RDS005)
  • Assessing Disclosure Risk in Quantitative Data (RDS006)
  • Assessing Data Quality in Quantitative Data (RDS007)
  • Data Mindfulness: Making the Most of your Dissertation (RDS009)
  • Introduction to Visualising Data in ArcGIS (RDS011)
  • Introduction to Visualising Data in QGIS (RDS012)

Full details of all these courses, with direct booking links, can be found on our training webpage https://www.ed.ac.uk/information-services/research-support/research-data-service/training

Courses can also be found and booked via the MyEd Events page.

We are always happy to deliver tailored versions of these courses suitable for a specific school, institute or discipline. Just contact us at data-support@ed.ac.uk to let us know what you need!

Kerry Miller
Research Data Support Officer
Library and University Collections

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Research Data Workshops: Electronic Notebooks Summary of Feedback

In the spring of this year (March & May) the Research Data Service ran two workshops on Electronic Notebooks (ENs) where researchers from all three colleges were invited to share their experiences of using ENs with other researchers. Presentations and demos were given on RSpace, Benchling, Jupyter Notebooks, WikiBench, and Lab Archives. Almost 70 research and support staff attended and participated in the discussions.

This post is a distillation of those discussions and we will use them to inform our plans around Electronic Notebooks over the coming year. It was obvious from the level of attendance and engagement with the discussions that there was quite a lot of enthusiasm for the idea of adopting ENs across a variety of different schools and disciplines. However, it also quickly became clear that many researchers and support staff had quite justified reservations about how effectively they could replace traditional paper notebooks. In addition to the ENs which were the subject of presentations a number of other solutions were also discussed, including; LabGuru, OneNote, SharePoint, and Wikis.

It appears that across the University there are a very wide range of platforms being used, and not all of them are intended to serve the function of an EN. This is unsurprising as different disciplines have different requirements and an EN designed for the biological sciences, such as Benchling, is unlikely to meet the needs of a researcher in veterinary medicine or humanities. There is also a huge element of personal preference involved, some researchers wish a simple system that will work straight out of the box while others want something more customisable and with greater functionality for an entire lab to use in tandem.

So, within this complex and varied landscape are there any general lessons we can learn? The answer is “Yes” because regardless of platform or discipline there are a number of common functions an EN has to serve, and a number of hurdles they will have to overcome to replace traditional paper lab books.

Firstly, let’s look at common functional requirements:

  1. Entries in ENs must be trustworthy, anyone using one has to be confident that once an entry is made it cannot be accidentally deleted or altered. All updates or changes must be clearly recorded and timestamped to provide a complete and accurate record of the research conducted and the data collected. This is fundamental to research integrity and to their acceptance by funders, or regulators as a suitable replacement for the traditional, co-signed, lab books.
  2. They must make sharing within groups and between collaborators easier – it is, in theory, far easier to share the contents of an EN with interested parties whether they are in the same lab or in another country. But in doing so they must not make the contents inappropriately available to others, security is also very important.
  3. Integration is the next requirement, any EN should be able to integrate smoothly with the other software packages that a researcher uses on a regular basis, as well as with external (or University central) storage, data repositories, and other relevant systems. If it doesn’t do this then researchers may lose the benefits of being able to record, view, and analyse all of their data in one place, and the time savings from being able to directly deposit data into a suitable repository when a project ends or a publication is coming out.
  4. Portability is also required, it must be possible for a researcher to move from one EN platform to another if, for example, they change institutions. This means they need to be able to extract all of their entries and data in a format that can be understood by another system and which will still allow analysis. Most ENs support PDF exports which are fine for some purposes, but of no use if processing or analysis is desired.
  5. Finally, all ENs need to be stable and reliable, this is a particular issue with web based ENs which require an internet connection to access and use the EN. This is also an area where the University will have to play a significant role in providing long-term and reliable support for selected ENs. They also need the same longevity as a paper notebook, the records they contain must not disappear if an individual leaves a group, or a group moves to another EN platform.

Secondly, barriers to adoption and support required:

  1. Hardware:
    1. Many research environments are not suitable for digital devices, phones / tablets are banned from some “wet” labs on health and safety grounds. If they are allowed in the lab they may not be allowed out again, so space for storage and charging will need to be found. What happens if they get contaminated?
    2. Field based research may not have reliable internet access so web based platforms wouldn’t work.
    3. There is unlikely to be space in most labs for a desktop computer(s).
    4. All of this means there will still be a need for paper based notes in labs with later transfer to the EN, which will result in duplication of effort.
  1. Cost:
    1. tablets and similar are not always an allowable research expense for a grant, so who will fund this?
    2. if the University does not have an enterprise licence for the EN a group uses they will also need to find the funds for this
    3. additional training and support my also be required
  2. Support:
    1. technical support for University adopted systems will need to be provide
    2. ISG staff will need to be clear on what is available to researchers and able to provide advice on suitable platforms for different needs
    3. clear incentives for moving to an EN need to be communicated to staff at all levels
    4. funders, publishers, and regulatory bodies will also need to be clear that ENs are acceptable for their purposes

So, what next? The Research Data Support service will now take all of this feedback and use it to inform our future Electronic Notebook strategy for the University. We will work with other areas of Information Services, the Colleges, and Schools to try to provide researchers in all disciplines with the information they need to use ENs in ways that make their research more efficient and effective. If you have any suggestions, comments, or questions about ENs please visit our ENs page (https://www.ed.ac.uk/information-services/research-support/research-data-service/during/eln). You can also contact us on data-support@ed.ac.uk.

The notes that were taken during both events can be read here Combined_discussion_notes_V1.2

Some presentations from the two workshops are available below, others will be added when they become available:

Speaker(s) Topic Link
Mary Donaldson (Service Coordinator, Research Data Management Service, University of Glasgow) Jisc Research Notebooks Study Mary_Donaldson_ELN_Jisc
Ralitsa Madsen (Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Centre for Cardiovascular Science) RSpace 2019-03-14_ELN_RSpace_RRM
Uriel Urquiza Garcia (Postdoctoral Research Associate, Institute of Molecular Plant Science) Benchling
Yixi Chen (PhD Student, Kunath Group, Institute for Stem Cell Research) Lab Archives 20190509_LabArchives_Yixi_no_videos
Andrew Millar (Chair of Systems Biology) WikiBench
Ugur Ozdemir (Lecturer – Quantitative Political Science or Quantitative IR) Jupyter Notebooks WS_Talk
James slack & Núria Ruiz (Digital Learning Applications and Media) Jupyter Notebooks for Research Jupyter_Noteable_Research_Presentation

Kerry Miller, Research Data Support Officer, Research Data Service

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New video: the benefits of RDM training

A big part of the role of the Research Data Service is to provide a mixture of online and (general/tailored) in-person training courses on Research Data Management (RDM) to all University research staff and students.

In this video, PhD student Lis talks about her experiences of accessing both our online training and attending some of our face-to-face courses. Lis emphasises how valuable both of these can be to new PhD candidates, who may well be applying RDM good practice for the first time in their career.

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It is interesting to see Lis reflect on how these training opportunities made her think about how she handles data on a daily basis, bringing a realisation that much of her data was sensitive and therefore needed to be safeguarded in an appropriate manner.

Our range of regularly scheduled face-to-face training courses are run through both Digital Skills and the Institute of Academic Development – these are open to all research staff and students. In addition, we also create and provide bespoke training courses for schools and research groups based on their specific needs. Online training is delivered via MANTRA and the Research Data Management MOOC which we developed in collaboration with the University of North Carolina.

In the video Lis also discusses her experiences using some RDS tools and services, such as DataStore for storing and backing-up her research data to prevent data loss, and contacting our team for timely support in writing a Data Management Plan for her project.

If you would like to learn more about any of the things Lis mentions in her interview you should visit the RDS website, or to discuss bespoke training for your school or research centre / group please contact us via data-support@ed.ac.uk.

Kerry Miller
Research Data Support Officer
Library and University Collections
The University of Edinburgh

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