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Houston research: Why you need a data management plan

Every situation is unique and deserves a one-of-the-kind data management plan, not a one-size-fits-all solution. Graphic byMiguel Tovar/University of Houston

Why do you need a data management plan? It mitigates error, increases research integrity and allows your research to be replicated – despite the “replication crisis” that the research enterprise has been wrestling with for some time.

Error

There are many horror stories of researchers losing their data. You can just plain lose your laptop or an external hard drive. Sometimes they are confiscated if you are traveling to another country — and you may not get them back. Some errors are more nuanced. For instance, a COVID-19 repository of contact-traced individuals was missing 16,000 results because Excel can’t exceed 1 million lines per spreadsheet.

Do you think a hard drive is the best repository? Keep in mind that 20 percent of hard drives fail within the first four years. Some researchers merely email their data back and forth and feel like it is “secure” in their inbox.

The human and machine error margins are wide. Continually backing up your results, while good practice, can’t ensure that you won’t lose invaluable research material.

Repositories

According to Reid Boehm, Ph.D., Research Data Management Librarian at the University of Houston Libraries, your best bet is to utilize research data repositories. “The systems and the administrators are focused on file integrity and preservation actions to mitigate loss and they often employ specific metadata fields and documentation with the content,” Boehm says of the repositories. “They usually provide a digital object identifier or other unique ID for a persistent record and access point to these data. It’s just so much less time and worry.”

Integrity

Losing data or being hacked can challenge data integrity. Data breaches do not only compromise research integrity, they can also be extremely expensive! According to Security Intelligence, the global average cost of a data breach in a 2019 study was $3.92 million. That is a 1.5 percent increase from the previous year’s study.

Sample size — how large or small a study was — is another example of how data integrity can affect a study. Retraction Watch removes approximately 1,500 articles annually from prestigious journals for “sloppy science.” One of the main reasons the papers end up being retracted is that the sample size was too small to be a representative group.

Replication

Another metric for measuring data integrity is whether or not the experiment can be replicated. The ability to recreate an experiment is paramount to the scientific enterprise. In a Nature article entitled, 1,500 scientists lift the lid on reproducibility, “73 percent said that they think that at least half of the papers can be trusted, with physicists and chemists generally showing the most confidence.”

However, according to Kelsey Piper at Vox, “an attempt to replicate studies from top journals Nature and Science found that 13 of the 21 results looked at could be reproduced.”

That's so meta

The archivist Jason Scott said, “Metadata is a love note to the future.” Learning how to keep data about data is a critical part of reproducing an experiment.

“While this will be always be determined by a combination of project specifics and disciplinary considerations, descriptive metadata should include as much information about the process as possible,” said Boehm. Details of workflows, any standard operating procedures and parameters of measurement, clear definitions of variables, code and software specifications and versions, and many other signifiers ensure the data will be of use to colleagues in the future.

In other words, making data accessible, useable and reproducible is of the utmost importance. You make reproducing experiments that much easier if you are doing a good job of capturing metadata in a consistent way.

The Big Idea

A data management plan includes storage, curation, archiving and dissemination of research data. Your university’s digital librarian is an invaluable resource. They can answer other tricky questions as well: such as, who does data belong to? And, when a post-doctoral student in your lab leaves the institution, can s/he take their data with them? Every situation is unique and deserves a one-of-the-kind data management plan, not a one-size-fits-all solution.

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea. Sarah Hill, the author of this piece, is the communications manager for the UH Division of Research.

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Building Houston

 
 

Greentown Labs announced its latest accelerator program — this one is focused on DEI in clean energy innovation. Photo via GreentownLabs.com

Greentown Labs has announced its latest accelerator program that will be co-located in both its Houston and Boston-area spaces.

In partnership with Browning the Green Space, Greentown Labs has officially launched the Advancing Climatetech and Clean Energy Leaders Program, or ACCEL, and is seeking applications from climatetech entrepreneurs who identify as Black, Indigenous, and/or People of Color.

The startups accepted into the year-long program will receive a curated curriculum, incubation at one of the Greentown locations, and mentorship from its large network of energy professionals. Each participant will also receive a non-dilutive $25,000 grant. Applications for ACCEL are open now and are due by Dec. 23

“We need all hands on deck to solve the climate crisis and foster a just energy transition,” says Emily Reichert, CEO of Greentown Labs, in a news release. “We are proud to partner with Browning the Green Space on this important program, and are eager to support more underrepresented founders through ACCEL to help build a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable climatetech industry.”

BGS is a nonprofit that is focused on making clean energy other climate-related fields more diverse, equitable, and inclusive. The organization is headquartered in Boston.

“We are excited to work in partnership with Greentown Labs to build critical support infrastructure for entrepreneurs of color and accelerate the equitable development and distribution of climate solutions across all communities,” says Kerry Bowie, executive director and president of Browning the Green Space, in the release. “ACCEL will help us move closer to where we all should be collectively, and create the opportunity to change the face of clean energy as we know it.”

The new program is also supported the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, a state economic development agency dedicated to accelerating the growth of the clean energy sector across the Commonwealth, and then Boston-based Barr Foundation, a foundation with a regional focus, working in partnership with partners to elevate the arts, advance solutions for climate change, and connect all students to success in high school and beyond, per the news please.

“The Barr Foundation’s climate program has made a commitment to centering racial equity in the energy transition,” says Kathryn Wright, senior program officer of Clean Energy at The Barr Foundation, in the release. “We are excited to support this crucial opportunity to provide education and mentorship for underrepresented climate entrepreneurs in our region. We look forward to seeing the impact of the ACCEL program in the coming years.”

The curriculum for ACCEL will be led by Hadley, Massachusetts-based VentureWell, a nonprofit that funds and trains innovators to create successful, socially beneficial businesses. Applicants may be based anywhere in the world, but will be expected to attend in-person elements of the program at either Greentown Boston or Greentown Houston.

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