Modern research is increasingly driven by data. All research findings are ultimately based on the analysis of data, either primary data collected by the researchers themselves or secondary data collected from previous research. ‘Science benefits from freely exchanging research data, but these data are very difficult to access using current publication practices,’ says Dr. Marcus Walther, scientific coordinator of the FAU Research Data and Research Information (AGFD) working group. ‘New methods for securely archiving research data and for exchanging them efficiently have only recently become generally available in some subjects. We need to encourage researchers in these areas to use these methods.’
Quality of data
In the new edition of its guidelines for ensuring good scientific practice, the German Research Foundation (DFG) calls on researchers to provide open access to the research data on which their publications are based. The data are expected to comply with general quality standards, known as the FAIR principle: Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reusable. It is not always easy to comply with these quality requirements. For example, to ensure that temperature data are interoperable and thus comparable, it is important not only to define the unit of measurement (kelvin, Celsius or Fahrenheit), but also the measuring procedures detailing what exactly was measured in addition to the parameters of the measuring equipment such as accuracy or calibration.
A wide range of support
To ensure these standards of quality are met during the collection of research data at FAU, the University has adopted some guidelines for handling digital research data. In addition, the Research Data Management (FDM) office at the University Library in Erlangen provides advice and assistance with creating data management plans. The Research Data and Research Information working group (AGFD) was set up in 2019 and its task is to coordinate the activities of the Research Data Management office. ‘The focus of our work is to implement the services provided by FAU in conjunction with the University Library and the Erlangen Regional Computing Centre (RRZE) as well as to provide researchers with the basic technical equipment they need to manage and archive their research data,’ says Dr. Walther. The working group has 34 members, of which 27 are researchers from the faculties working on a voluntary basis.
FAU conducted a research data census in mid 2020 to get a better idea of researchers’ requirements in terms of research data management and to provide them with the support they need. The census showed that researchers use a wide variety of digital research data and also access data from other researchers. Obstacles they face include issues relating to licences and data protection, insufficient documentation and metadata, costs for purchasing data and unusable formats. Ultimately, researchers would like to receive more general support with structures, storage capacities, the transfer of know how, advice, standardisation and central systems that are easy to use.
Following on from the results of the study, the AGFD working group is therefore organising storage for the acquired research data, with some research groups generating more than 100 terabytes of data per year. It also ensures that the correct data formats are being used and that the right administration software is available. ‘We actively provide support to research projects so that researchers can collect and store their research data according to the FAIR principles,’ says Dr. Walther.
More information on the AGFD: