Three months in…

As one of the PGR students in this project I’ve learnt a lot about data management since joining Open Exeter.  The first workshop was only three months ago, yet being more aware of how I create and use my data has already helped my project.  I wasn’t given any advice about data management when I started my PhD and the number of files on my computer increased very quickly to become a mass of random folders and strange file names.  I would like to have known more about file naming and organisation before things got out of hand; reorganising everything is now a rather daunting and time consuming prospect, but I’ve learnt about different methods of organisation and file naming conventions that will help.

Talking to the project team and other students has also made me aware of software available to aid data management: dropbox, email filtering, remote desktop access and alternate referencing software.  We have also practised writing data management plans for our projects which raised the issues of confidentiality, back-up, storage and archiving.

Although, as researchers, our work is based on using and creating data, I have rarely taken the time to consider my daily data output.  I think this is something which should be considered at the very being of a piece of work so file organisation, naming, access rights, back-up procedures, methods of sharing, storage and archiving procedures are decided before you begin to generate any data.  A workshop which covered these areas for students at the start of their PhDs would be very useful.  Over the next 3-4 years this could be complemented by other relevant training or open drop-in sessions for students to raise their particular data issues.

Overall, I’m really enjoying being involved in the project.  Not only because of the benefits to my data management skills but also the chance to interact with students from various disciplines and discuss the many types of data we produce.  Before the first workshop I would never have believed the simple question ‘What is data?’ could have been so interesting, but it’s made me view my work in a whole different light.

Posted under Follow the Data

This post was written by Rebecca Claire Hunter on March 15, 2012

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Preliminary Findings from the First Open Exeter PGR Workshop

We’re putting together a report outlining findings in a more readable form but in the meantime we thought others might be interested in what came out of our first workshop with PGRs back in December:

There was a basic difference between the way PGRS from Science-based vs Humanities/Social Sciences subjects perceived data and the descriptions commonly applied to it.

In the experience of the more Science-based PGRs the people they work alongside don’t use the terms ‘primary’ and ‘secondary data’ – even the word ‘data’ is problematic for some.

Scientists agreed that ‘primary’ data would relate to data that you’ve created yourself, secondary already exists.

Humanities folk thought primary data was something you might look at in an archive.

In some cases you’re studying someone else’s data, a film, for example – it’s your research data but you don’t own it.

What you do to data, such as editing or manipulation, is your own original contribution/ your intellectual input.

Is there confusion between data and sources?  These have specific meanings.

A source is something you haven’t created yourself but if you take it and do something to it yourself, does it then become your data?

All agreed on the following terms to distinguish between data ‘stages’:

  • Raw data
  • Processed or analysed data
  • Published data.

Published data was the form over which there was less disagreement.

Talking about data in terms of its stage in the process or methodology seemed to be more useful and to gather a general agreement than trying to define ‘types’ of data.

Data is different according to what is done to it rather than where it comes from or how it’s created.

Data tends to ‘become’ yours when you’ve done something to it, although questions were raised here about whether this is now secondary data?

For Sciences PGRs post-processing of raw data is what makes it meaningful.

All agreed that data on its own without context or information on methodology or process is unusable.

There is little understanding of the term metadata in the way that it would normally be used in the Library/Information community.

Scientists understood the term metadata to mean meta-analysis, others hadn’t come across it at all.  However, all had come across the concept of keywords, such as used when searching Google or an online database, for example.

At this point many of the students realised they did use metadata but had different terms for it: descriptive data, contextual data, etc.

One student adds metadata manually to the Properties element of a document.

Some students saw bibliographies as metadata.

No-one had heard of RDM apart from two students who had come across the concept when working in industry, particularly in the context of using sensitive data, which was highly monitored.

There was a general feeling that at the University you are left on your own to discover things and work out your own systems.

Many of the students had problems organising files, different versions of the same document sometimes got confused – this is particularly the case when students work on research in more than one place and then try to synch files.

None had come across the 8.3 standard for naming files.  One of the students showed particular interest in this as some of his data had become corrupted in the past; he thought it may be because he used very long and complex file names.

All were interested in what tools are available to help them manage their sources.  EndNote is very much promoted by the University but training is hard to get – group sessions are often booked up.  Training is available when you first start but that’s not really the time you need it – you get a lot of sessions in the first weeks and it’s too much to take in.

All were interested in learning from each other about methods and tools for handling bibliographic data – this is something they all have in common regardless of discipline.

They had all received different levels of help, training and advice depending on their subject and department but nothing on RDM.

All found it difficult to know where to look for help on specific topics – the University web site is confusing.  None of them realised that there are a variety of information and research skills guides produced by the Library and freely available in ELE (Exeter’s VLE).

All thought an essential ‘survival’ starter guide for PGRs would be really useful – everything you need to know accessible from one place and always there when you need it.

All had learnt what they needed to know to survive from peers and they liked to learn this way.  We suggested trying to formalise and embed this way of learning and teaching – comments were that it would have to be made worthwhile.

If RDM help and guidance is put in one place on the web, projects and research groups can pick and mix relevant documents to make up their own RDM policy, to keep it in offices or labs where everyone can access it.

Opinion on how to obtain training was mixed – most prefer face to face, hands-on training with video as a back-up – it’s there when you need it.  Training that is specific to their subject area is most useful.  It should be departmentally based although there are some generic elements that could be delivered by the Library.

Posted under Follow the Data

This post was written by Jill Evans on February 6, 2012

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