As Valentine’s Day approaches, the Library’s Scholarly Communications Manager, Julie Robinson, explains why you need to love your research data.
Timed to coincide with Valentine’s Day, LoveDataWeek is an annual campaign aimed at raising awareness and sharing good practice around research data management. But it’s not always obvious what we mean by research data and best practice might look different depending on your discipline and what sort of data you are collecting.
What is research data?
In its widest possible sense, research data is any information you gather in the context of your research. In some cases this might be data you have generated yourself, for instance, experimental results, models and simulations and survey responses, but it can also include existing data that you have collated, for example in a database or spreadsheet, and even notes and annotations. The data can be in digital or analogue format.
So what do I need to do with my data?
Your data is what underpins and validates your research, so you need to look after it and make sure you can produce it if you are asked to. If you don’t have one already, it’s a good idea to create a data management plan (DMP), which outlines what data you are expecting to collect and how it will be stored and preserved in both the short- and long-term. Your plan will also need to address any ethical and legal issues that might arise and you will also need think about whether you need to provide additional documentation or metadata so your data can be interpreted by others. If you create a DMP for the first time, The Digital Curation Centre has a useful checklist and also provides an online tool, with a variety of templates and lots of supporting guidance.
If you don’t have a lot of data–or your data is very similar– your plan may only need to be a few paragraphs long, but it’s still worth doing, as it will force you to think about things like making back-ups and how you can keep sensitive data secure. Have a DMP can help you to avoid potential disasters, such as losing your memory stick containing all your experimental data just as you’re due to start writing up, and it’s a good starting point to start a discussion with your supervisor.
Do I need to share my data?
If your PhD is funded, for example by one of the UK Research Councils or the Wellcome Trust, you will usually be expected to share any data used to underpin a publication. But even if there is no direct requirement to do this, you should consider allowing other researchers access to your dataset. The GOFAIR initiative advocates that data should be “as open as possible, as closed as necessary” and should also comply with FAIR principles, i.e. it should be Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable. Sharing your data can save other researchers time, money and effort in repeating experiments or gathering information which has already been collected. Open datasets can also be used in citizen science projects, such as the Britain Breathing project, which cross-references allergy data gathered via an online app with existing data on pollen, weather and pollution.
If you would like to share your data, you can do this via the Warwick Research Archive Portal (WRAP) or, particularly if your dataset is very large, you might want to use a specialist data repository. Unsurprisingly, there are plenty of websites where you can share and access scientific data, including Flybase, GenBank (which includes data from the Human Genome Project) and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. However, it isn’t just scientists who share their data; for example, the AHRC-funded ‘Transformation and Tradition in Sixties British Cinema’ project have recently made their dataset available as a downloadable spreadsheet via their blog and platforms such as figshare and Zenodo cover a wide range of disciplines.
LoveDataWeek is a good time to start thinking about your research data, but it’s never too early or too late! And if you’re new to research data management and need some guidance, try these 23 things from the Australian National Data Service. The Library’s Research Data Team are also here to help!
with thanks to Heather Lawler and Bev Jones (Research Data Officers, University of Warwick Library)
Have you heard of LoveDataWeek? Are you familiar with creating a data management plan and ways of sharing your data? Tweet us at @ResearchEx, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave a comment below.
Julie Robinson is the Library’s Scholarly Communications Manager. She has been in her current post since September 2018, but has been working in the Library in various academic support roles since February 2014. Her background is in film and television studies and she also holds a PhD from the University of Leicester on the history of ITV programming in the Midlands between the 1950s and the 1980s.