Reflections on data sharing

3 July, 2012

In its outreach and training activities, the DCC has had a long-term interest in reaching new generations of research staff, including doctoral students and those classed as early career researchers. 

For example, the DCC collaborated with JISC and the Research Information Network (RIN) on the Research Data Management Skills Support Initiative (DaMSSI), which explored data management skills and skills development paths in UK postgraduate courses. Engagement with doctoral researchers has also been a specific theme of some of the current generation of JISC Management of Research Data projects. One example is Research360, which has been working closely with the Doctoral Training Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies at the University of Bath.

We were, therefore, extremely interested to see the latest Researchers of Tomorrow report, published on 28 June. The report was the result of a three-year study into the information seeking and research behaviour of doctoral students, commissioned by JISC and the British Library.

The focus of the study was on doctoral students born between 1982 and 1994, referred to by the report as belonging to a cohort known as 'Generation Y.' Emerging from an earlier period of time than the (so-called) 'digital natives,' it was assumed that the research behaviour of Generation Y students would have been influenced by information-seeking and enquiry skills acquired prior to the emergence of learning just to 'get by with' Google (p. 9).

The findings of the study challenged assumptions that researchers of this generation would be naturally more 'connected' and open to collaboration. For example, the study revealed that while a large majority of respondents used social networking services (like Facebook) in their personal lives, most did not consider these tools appropriate for use at work (p. 38):

"The importance of networking with their peers during their doctoral studies, for specific support and advice and also to mitigate their sense of isolation, does not seem to translate into widespread use of social networking online or social media in the context of research work." (p. 43)

From a research data management perspective, it was also interesting to note that, while they endorsed in principle the benefits of openness in research, Generation Y students did not seem prepared in practice to share research data and outputs much beyond their work colleagues:

"Materials that are associated with work in progress, such as laboratory or field notes, bookmarks to online resources and original data, are less likely than polished outputs to be shared at all by doctoral students." (p. 48)

In part, this reluctance to share is a reflection that doctoral students are normally in the early stages of building a career and reluctant to do anything that might stand in the way of this, especially given that success depends on criteria they have no personal control over. One conclusion could be that it is probably up to well-established researchers to change behaviour first. 

As Peter Lawrence said some time ago in the context of research publication, "we cannot expect younger researchers to endanger their future by making sacrifices for the common good, at least not before … [well-established scientists] do" (Peter A. Lawrence, "The politics of publication," Nature 422, 259–261 (2003); doi:10.1038/422259a). One other aspect, and one that is not exclusive to Generation Y researchers, is the perceived lack of credit for data sharing, a point corroborated in our own engagements with both early career and established researchers.

From a DCC perspective, however, it is still worth attempting to alert doctoral students and other postgraduates to the emerging requirement for sustainable research data management. The Researchers of Tomorrow report demonstrated that the majority of doctoral students responding to the survey did - in principle - approve of greater openness and sharing in research. In addition, good data management skills learnt as a doctoral student will most likely provide significant benefits for future stages of a research career, especially given the increased focus on research data management now emerging from institutions and funding bodies.

 

JISC and British Library, Researchers of tomorrow: the research behaviour of Generation Y doctoral students, June 2012. Available from: http://www.jisc.ac.uk/publications/reports/2012/researchers-of-tomorrow