Monthly Archives: June 2012

DARTS3, The Third Discover Academic Research Training & Support Conference. Dartington Hall, Devon: 28 – 29 June 2012

Whilst storms swept much of the rest of the country, the sleepy peace of bucolic Devonshire was barely disturbed by the arrival of several dozen librarians (plus a couple of ‘fellow travellers’) to dreamy Dartington.

Anna Dickinson from HEFCE’s REF team (of which there are only five people!) kicked off the first day with a very informative overview of the 2014 REF expectations, process, staff selection, timescales, the test submission system, the assessment of the research environment and how the panels work, with particular advice on areas where research support staff may be involved.

Judith Stewart of UWE and Gareth Cole of Exeter, in separate presentations, both described the work and findings of their current JISC MRD-funded research data management projects (UWE’s project, ‘Managing Research Data’ is at http://www1.uwe.ac.uk/library/usingthelibrary/servicesforresearchers/datamanagement/managingresearchdata.aspx; the Open Exeter project is at http://blogs.exeter.ac.uk/openexeterrdm/).

Each also each positioned library staff members as key to improved research data management across the university, as part of partnership working with other relevant research support professionals.  Both presenters also reminded us that library staff members are well-placed to instigate research data management activity if this is not already an activity within an institution: whilst the research data management challenge may require new skills, librarians are already skilled in information management, bibliometrics, and other relevant areas of expertise, and are experienced in working across the institution, free from inter-faculty or inter-discipline politics.  These skills equip them well to work towards supporting researchers with better management of research data.

Miggie Pickerton of Northampton pushed this relationship between library staff and research activity further, arguing there are strong benefits for library staff to wade into research activity for themselves.  Drawing a division between ‘academic’ and ‘practitioner’ research, Miggie encouraged library staff to consider either but particularly argued the case for the value of ‘practitioner’ research, which she defined as taking a pragmatic approach to a current problem or need, as opposed to curiosity-driven work intended to make REF impact.

Through a very interactive session, Miggie encouraged the audience to identify the benefits of library staff undertaking research for the individual librarian, the institution, and the library profession as a whole, and provided some examples of suitable topics for investigation.  Inspiring!

Jennifer Coombs (N’ham) and Elizabeth Martin (De Montfort) described their experiences of creating, alongside colleagues from Loughborough and Coventry, a collaborative online tutorial to teach researchers about research promotion (www.emrsg.org.uk).

Jez Cope of the Research360 project at Bath (http://blogs.bath.ac.uk/research360/) shared the benefits for researchers of several social media applications.  Despite the earlier assertions of doubt about Twitter by the event chair, Jez managed to get a few more delegates onto the service and interacting with other delegates as well as more remote followers of the event hashtag.

As always, it was apparent that institutions vary widely in their cultures, sizes and experience with RDM, but we learned a great deal about what librarians are already doing to support researchers, some new tools and techniques that might be useful for their work in this area, and some powerful arguments for expansion into the research data management and research practice areas.

Delegates to this event may find it interesting to explore the research data management training materials made by five projects of the first MRD programme, available at http://www.jisc.ac.uk/whatwedo/programmes/mrd/rdmtrain.aspx (follow the link for each project at the bottom of the page).  These materials are freely available for use and reuse, and will be supplemented by a further four projects in the second MRD programme, starting this summer, some of which will be delivering training materials specifically for research support professionals including library staff.

Here’s hoping there will be a DARTS4!

 

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Discuss, Debate, Disseminate – PhD and Early Career Researcher data management workshop, University of Exeter, 22 June 2012

Jill and Hannah of the Open Exeter project have not been holding back with their user requirements research – not content with attracting hundreds of responses to their survey of Exeter postgraduates, they’re also augmenting this with their own research as well as running events like Friday’s, in an admirably thorough approach to gathering information on what postgraduate students and early career researchers at their institution need, how they work and where the gaps are in the current infrastructure provision.

Twenty enthusiastic participants turned up on 22 June, happily from across the sciences and humanities, and contributed with gusto to group discussion, intensive one-to-one conversations and a panel session.  The project has recruited six PhD students – Stuart from Engineering; Philip from Law; Ruth from Film Studies; Lee from Sport Sciences and Duncan from Archaeology, plus one more currently studying abroad – to help bridge the gap between project staff and their PhD peers.  These six are working intensively with the project team to sort out common PhD-level data management issues and activities in the context of their own work, which allows them to not only improve their own practice but also to share their experiences and tips with other PhD students and ECRs in their own disciplines at Exeter.  (You can see more about this at http://blogs.exeter.ac.uk/openexeterrdm/)

One of the most interesting aspects of working on this programme, for me, is understanding the nuts and bolts of research data management in a specific disciplinary context, in a particular institution.  In other words, the same context in which each researcher is working.  Although funders are increasingly calling the shots with requirements and expectations for research data management, the individual researcher still has to find a way to put these requirements into practice with the infrastructure they have to hand.  That means it’s all very well for the EPSRC or AHRC or whoever to require you to do something, and you may even understand why and want to do it, but who do you ask in IT to help?  Why isn’t it OK to just put data on Dropbox?  What to do with data after you finish your PhD or project?  And what is metadata anyway?

Despite the generally-held view by researchers that their RDM requirements are unique to their discipline, these questions – and other like them – are actually fairly consistent across institutions when researchers are sharing concerns in an open and relaxed environment.  And this was one of the achievements of today’s event: by keeping things friendly, low-key and informal, the team got some very useful information about what PhDs and ECRs are currently doing with RDM, the challenges they’re encountering and what Exeter needs to provide to support well-planned and sustainable RDM.

Some additional detail from the event:

–       Jill offered a working definition of ‘data’ for the purposes of the workshop: “What we mean by data is all inclusive.  It could be code, recordings, images, artworks, artefacts, notebooks – whatever you feel is information that has gone into the creation of your research outputs.”  This definitely seemed to aid discussion and meant we didn’t spend time in semantic debate about the nature of the term.

–       Types of data used by participants:
o       Paper, i.e. printouts of experiment
o       Word documents
o       Excel spreadsheets
o       Interview transcripts
o       Audio files (recordings of interviews)
o       Mapping data
o       PDFs
o       Raw data in CSV form
o       Post-processed data in text files
o       Graphs
o       Tables for literature review
o       Search data for systematic review
o       Interviews and surveys: audio files, word transcripts
o       Photographs
o       Photocopies of documents from the archives
o       NVivo files
o       STATA files

–       Common RDM challenges included: the best way to back-up, use of central university storage, number of passwords, complexity of working online (which can make free cloud services more attractive), lack of support with queries or uncertainty about who to contact; selection and disposal, uncertainty over who owns the data.

–       Sources of help identified during the event: subject librarians, departmental IT officers, and during the life of the project, Open Exeter staff, existing online resources such as guides from the Digital Curation Centre (http://www.dcc.ac.uk) and the Incremental project (http://www.gla.ac.uk/datamanagement and http://www.lib.cam.ac.uk/preservation/incremental/).

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