How do I share my research data?!

Any researcher who has either followed another’s work, or has helped another researcher follow his or her work, knows that it can take a lot of time and effort. I've done both; prior to joining Johns Hopkins Data Management Services, I conducted research in atmospheric science. In the course of my research, I've used the software and datasets of others, and have given others my research results for their use. In either case, data shared with good documentation can help a researcher easily use another’s work on their way to knowledge creation. Data shared with poor documentation can lead to frustrated researchers banging their heads against desks.

Regardless, research data has been and will continue to be shared among researchers. Perhaps you know a colleague or student in your department who will be following your research and will be carefully poring over your research data. Maybe you've struggled with your own old research datasets and wished your ‘past self’ had been cognizant of sharing data with your ‘future self.’ If you make your research data publicly available and usable, maybe a scientist in a related field at a different institution will be able to run with your data in incredible ways you haven’t imagined.

Perhaps your funding agency is also nudging you to share your research data? Some US funding agencies already require data management/sharing policies, such as the NSF, NIH, and NEH. In February the OSTP released a memo, soon to require researchers funded by other US funding agencies to disseminate and share their research data.

So how do you do best share your research data? There are many questions a researcher could ask, of course, including:

  • Q: Will I reap rewards in the form of citations if I spend time intensively documenting (i.e. adding metadata to) my research datasets? A: Recent studies suggest that making research data publicly available leads to citations.
  • Q: How much time should I invest in documenting my research data, and what are the easiest ways to make this data easier to share with everyone, including my future self? A: Though the amount of time varies with the project, we have found it very helpful and less time-intensive to plan for data sharing early in the research process as opposed to after publications are complete.
  • Q: Where am I going to put this data to share, anyway? A: You can certainly post some research data on your personal website but we recommend finding a data repository, either specific to your research discipline or to your institution, e.g. the JHU Data Archive.

We three consultants in Johns Hopkins Data Management Services have all conducted our own academic research, and we understand these are indeed thorny questions. And we’re here to help! We serve researchers of all disciplines in three ways:

  • Helping researchers prepare data management and sharing plans for research proposals,
  • Providing training on best practices in handling research data, and
  • Operating the JHU Data Archive, where researchers at Hopkins (for a fee) can archive research data for their re-use by the researcher and by others.

We are more than happy to meet with you, the researcher, to assist in research data management whether or not it’s related to a specific project or proposal. We’ve gained a great deal of experience through working with dozens of researchers over the last few years. While we don’t have ALL the answers regarding research data management in every research discipline, we are always happy to connect you with our excellent colleagues in the Sheridan Libraries and others throughout Hopkins who know what we don’t.

So contact us at datamanagement@jhu.edu. And keep up the research documentation, your future self will thank you!

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