iridium – postgraduate student feedback on MANTRA RDM training

The postgraduate support team completed the MANTRA RDM online training tool a while back. Here is the first in (hopefully) a series of postgraduate blog posts reviewing the training package from different discipline perspectives.

First post is from Amy, postgraduate student in History of the Americas.

“I recently completed the Research Data MANTRA training – an online resource provided by the University of Edinburgh. I undertook this training in order to help me get to grips with some of the basics of research data management (RDM) primarily to help me understand the issues that researchers are facing with data management. As part of the Iridium project I carried out interviews with staff from across the University to find out their thoughts on RDM and I hoped that this training would help me build up a base knowledge of some of these issues.

I found the first module, ‘Research Data Explained’, a really useful starting point. It outlined some simple information, such as the different forms of data and it uses, as well as the difference between research data and research records. Although this might sound basic, I had never really given a lot of thought to this area and now that I have a clear understanding of it, I can see how important it is to have a solid foundation of knowledge in the basic terms of RDM.

The second module, ‘Data Management Plans’, was not as interesting as the first, but I think that this is because data management plans are something that some researchers (definitely me) tend to do unconsciously in an ad-hoc sort of way, so actually taking the time to write out something that, for some, is an inherent but unwritten part of research can seem tedious. However, I also recognise that for some researchers, detailed data management plans are the essential beginnings of any project and some of the points raised in this module will be useful for when I’m interviewing people and getting them to think about how they store their data. It discusses the benefits of planning data management in terms of funding, efficiency and integrity, as well as re-using data for teaching and learning which is an important point to link to the research-led teaching aspect of the REF when we’re talking to researchers.

The third section, ‘Organising Data’, was the most basic of the modules and really just covered general rules that people probably already know about properly naming files and organising their work so that it can be easily referred to in the future. However, there were some specifics in the modules that I hadn’t considered before, such as making sure that the file names are scalable to the proper degree. I enjoyed the training although some of the videos were distracting as they could be quite subject specific and it may have been better if they’d used a more general approach to research data (although I recognise this is difficult considering the variation between disciplines). The summary pages at the end were really good at consolidating the topic and as this is a topic that I already feel comfortable with, I think the summary pages would be the part of the module that I referred back to if I did need any support. This module would also be useful for anyone working in a group for the first time and wanting to consider how this might affect their research practices.

I found the module on ‘File formats and Transformations’ really useful as I knew very little about this subject. One of the most important points that this module made was the difference between operating systems in relation to file formats. As researchers share more and more work this will become an increasingly important issue and I imagine that this is now something that researchers working in groups have to take into account when they are creating a data management plan. I think that some of the more simple points – such as the longevity of text files – offer a good starting point to demonstrate to those researchers who do not give much consideration to this topic, that it is a necessary part of data management and there are simple things that can be done to improve their data’s integrity.

The fifth module on ‘Documentation and Metadata’ could be received by different researchers in very different ways. For those researchers who regularly use lab books and research data documentation, this module is probably very basic. However, some researchers may be unaware of the importance of metadata or its repercussions for ‘machine-to-machine’ interpretation of data. The module usefully outlines the different categories of metadata and I think that most researchers could probably work with at least one of the categories and therefore, start purposefully producing and recording metadata for their research. It is important to make sure that all researchers feel that they are capable of doing this as it will be increasingly important for the purposes of transparency and accountability, as well as the sharing of data online. If metadata is something that interests funding bodies then all researchers should be made aware and comfortable of creating and using it.

The final module, ‘Storage and Security’, made some valid points but I found it quite serious and I find it unlikely that researchers who are dealing with anything but highly confidential or valuable material would be inclined to follow its instructions very closely. However, the information it provides about organised and regular back-ups would be applicable to almost all researchers. I also found the information that it provided on deleting sensitive data interesting as I was unaware that such measures were required to properly delete data.

Although I undertook this training primarily in relation to my work on the Iridium project, it has given me a better understanding of how I should be aware of RDM in my own research. Being a History student, I rarely produce any of my own data – most of it is gathered from already existing sources. Therefore, I had never really considered RDM to be an issue for me. After completing this training though, as well as working on the Iridium project, I can see how issues surrounding RDM such as storage, security and especially organisation, affect every researcher to varying degrees. As the level at which I am studying increases, I think that these issues will become more and more relevant and hopefully I will be able to employ some of the advice that has been given in this training to my research methods. I also think that completing this course has made me much more confident in my ability to go out and talk to researchers as part of the Iridium project about RDM as I now have a much better understanding of the issues that they are facing. “

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2 Responses to iridium – postgraduate student feedback on MANTRA RDM training

  1. Pingback: iridium – postgraduate support team « iridium

  2. Pingback: iridium – early findings on research data management planning (approaches, tools and writing plans) « iridium

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