Better Research Data Management

Problem: Researchers and scientists generate and collect vast amounts of data in their work, whether they are running experiments in the lab or surveying and interviewing people on the street. Researchers typically don’t deal with their research outputs until towards the end of the research cycle, when poor organization and data management can be difficult to manage and address, but causes the most problems. Poor data management results in experiments that are harder to replicate and findings that may be called into question. Papers can be retracted, careers impacted and ultimately science can suffer. When researchers move on they may pass their work to others in their research group, where poor data management results in the group inheriting indecipherable written notes they cannot use.


The Projects timeline tracks when files or folders are added to a project, when notes are created, and when important files are starred, making it easier to manage research projects.Digital Science

Solution: A Mac desktop application such as Projects allows researchers to organize and manage their research data while they are collecting and working on research projects. Projects has several features aimed at helping resolve reproducibility problems and generally allowing the organization of research data to be an effortless part of the research workflow.

Researchers can annotate their data files and star important files while they are collecting and working on those files on their Mac. Projects then tracks events such as added files, annotations and stars added to research data in a chronological timeline. Over time the visual timeline becomes a useful history of work done by the researcher. It tells a story of how the project evolved, including when files were added to the project, which files were marked as important with a star and when and what annotations were made about the data. The timeline can be used to perform searches too—an especially useful feature when researchers are looking for a particular note linked to a file, or data they have collected at a particular time, but cannot remember the file name or location. By clicking on the event in the timeline, the researcher is taken directly to the data file on their Mac.

Projects keeps backups, called Snapshots, across the entire research project. Snapshots can be created by the researcher at important times during their research workflow such as when they have finished a paper and submitted it to a journal. Snapshots taken at particular points in the research workflow become useful especially when, for example, a journal asks for all the data corresponding to the paper. This paper may have been submitted months before, and the data or analyses may have been changed since for other purposes, such as presentations or posters. Snapshots are also taken as a precaution automatically every hour, day and week in a rolling manner.

The application links with figshare, a cloud storage and data sharing platform. Raw data, negative data and analyses can all be pushed up to figshare and stored in the cloud privately as another backup. Files can then be shared in collaborative spaces on figshare, so research groups can work on shared files using the cloud resource. Researchers can then publish their research data or outputs openly on figshare and get credit for all their research.

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Categories: How it Works

Published In

Safe Enough? Magazine Issue Cover
Safe Enough?

Published: June 12, 2014

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