Data Management: How to look after your research materials in Arts & Social Sciences

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An interview with Dr Niels Cadée conducted and written by Sapphire Wanmer

Research material is any digital or physical information that you may use to underpin your  thesis. For example, an interview recording or transcript, results of a questionnaire, a list of manuscripts you studied, your own notes, a dance routine or a video of a theatre  performance that you include as part of your thesis. Your research materials may include information that could be asked for in the future to check the findings written in your thesis.

However, not all research materials are considered as data. For example theoretical research or literature studies might not produce any data. In this case though all methods should be documented and a clear record kept of these, so that they can be easily accessed and understood in the future if needed. This should be done in a similar way as that which will be described here for the management of research materials/data, as suggested by Dr Niels Cadée from Research Data Management (RDM) Services. If you are in Science and Engineering or MVLS, keep your eyes peeled- we’ll be publishing a post on data management for you too.

What resources are available to help you manage your research materials?

The RDM Service provides support for any data management or research materials management needs that you may have during your PhD. You can contact them to discuss any issues you might have about protecting or storing your research materials. RDM Services also provide  courses tailored for the Arts and Social Sciences regarding good management of data and other research findings, which take place in alternate months in the library on the main campus (course codes: RSDC 6024 and 6033).

It might be useful to create a plan for how you will manage your research materials in a way that will enable the data to be used reliably in the future. Good management of your research materials could lead to collaborations or exciting career opportunities in the future, so it is certainly worth considering what you’re doing now and how you can keep your materials accessible to you and others if they are needed in the future.

Is it too late to create a plan for managing your research materials?

It is never too late to plan how to store, label and save your data. It’s an essential part of your research that shouldn’t be overlooked. It is better to have a plan from the very beginning, but if you are further through your research and are only just reading about the importance of data management here, then have no fear, because you can start good data management at any time! If you are facing the task of sifting through a backlog of research materials which may have been poorly named and recorded up until now, then unfortunately the best advice Niels can give, is to sit and bear it, but make sure that you have lots of tea and biscuits on stand-by, and a good support network to help you relax during your time out!

What are the university requirements for management of data and research materials?

Along-side any requirements for data management that are required by your funding body the university also has a policy that you should adhere to for the management of your research materials. Basically, you must keep track of what you do and how you do it. You will have to leave a copy of your data with the university when you leave, this may be with a digital repository or with the university archives. If you’re unsure of the best way to do this for your data then you can contact the RDM Service for advice.

What would you do if your hard-drive failed right now?

If you use a computer for storing your data or writing up your thesis then this is a serious question that you should ask yourself. Do you have everything backed up somewhere? Or, is your hard-drive your only copy of all your precious research materials? Don’t forget that even hard-drives can break at any time without warning so you should also back-up your materials in another place too. It’s best to use additional storage provided by the university, such as network drives and the new cloud services OwnCloud and MS OneDrive for Business (part of Office365), and avoid the use of cloud services such as iCloud or Google Drive as these are not secure or reliable enough.

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Niels top tip

Niels’s best advice to everyone is to attend the research materials management courses. Each course is a mere 1.5 hours, takes place in the Library on the main campus, and will provide you with advice, awareness and pointers for good management of data and research findings (course codes: RSDC 6024 and 6033, book on MyCampus).

Post Author: sapphire

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