Data: An Engineer’s Perspective

This month has been a month of thesis writing. As a disciple of engineering, I have not really considered the output of my hours of writing, producing an accessible front end to my research, as data. However, I am told that it is. Personally, I see data as the pages and pages of numbers produced either through physical experimentation or through a computer program; in a format that generally means nothing to anyone apart from its creator. You could extend this definition to describe the figures, graphs etc. that you derive from these pages of nonsense. But what about the findings, the conclusions, the evaluation…is that also data? Well, I suppose they are. Without these how does anyone know what your data has been used for, or its relevance to current research?

But then you have to also consider the framing: The metadata. How did you get your results? What assumptions did you make? What formulas did you use? All of these give validity to your data and provide valuable information and a platform for its future use. Without this platform, the data is arguably worthless to anyone else.

In the past these thoughts about data have been insignificant to me. But now that I am a PG researcher, I have a responsibility to store and share my data on a professional level. The Open Exeter project has helped me to think about data; how I define it, store it, save it, protect it and, in the end, share it. This level of consideration is being demanded by funding bodies and institutions nationally, who expect that the resultant output of taxpayers money is available to all. And as professionals, it is our duty to meet these expectations. And don’t forget, it benefits us in the long run by providing a whole new platform for developing new research using the data provided by others as a platform…without all the red tape.

Posted under Follow the Data

This post was written by Stuart Atkinson on May 24, 2012

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