Lessons learned: managing research data

As undergrads, postgrads and even PhD (or PGR) students, we receive constant reminders that we need to save our research data at multiple places and frequently, both from teachers, supervisors and peers. There are also conferences and symposia dedicated to underlining the importance of making data available and replicability. However, by taking an online course provided by my University, I’ve recently learned that to ensure replicability and the later availability of your data, there are more steps you should take. These are the lessons I’ve learned…

  1. Frequently back-up your entire system, using an external hard-drive, for instance. Even cloud services can be hacked and you may run into synchronisation issues. I currently back-up my system (including my research data files) once a week.
  2. Organise your data. Use clear, intelligible labels and add descriptions to the data and datasets that you provide (e.g. add an explanatory note). You may also consider adding dates to the file names so that they can be stored chronologically and you could include versions numbers to differentiate between different versions.
  3. File types. Make sure that the type of files you use is commonly accessible and not specific to one type of software. Software comes and goes and not only do different people use different kinds of software, you may lose data if the file type cannot be opened with contemporary software.
  4. Storage and Security. Encrypt your files with a password which only you and perhaps another person have (your supervisors?) so that if your laptop/pc or flashdrive gets stolen, nobody will have access to your data, especially if it’s confidential (and you need to protect the privacy of your interviewees/subjects).
  5. License. Manage the licensing of your data. What are your rights and what can others do with the data you provide? This will provide your data and research with a certain level of protection.


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