eResearch 2016 report

I attended the eResearch conference which ran this week, from 11 to 13 October 2016.

I presented at one of the first sessions, a Birds of a Feather (BoF) chaired by Kathryn Unsworth (ANDS, Australia). At this session, Chris Erdmann (North Carolina State University, USA), Sue Cook (CSIRO, Australia) Libbie Blanchard (CQU, Australia), and I talked about the differing approaches to data management plan (DMP) implementation between our institutions.

To give some background, DMPs are documents that describe how data is managed during a research project. Often, a DMP will cover data management throughout the data lifecycle, including descriptions of how data is acquired, how it’s stored, how much storage space is required, how it’s transmitted, how it’s archived, and whether it’s shared. DMPs have come to increasing prominence over the past 15 years as many funding bodies and, subsequently, many institutions have mandated that researchers complete DMPs.

Table summarising old UoM DMP
Slide summarising the old University of Melbourne data management plan

I opened our session on Tuesday by giving an overview of the old University of Melbourne DMP and the reasons some may consider it unwieldy or impractical. This led into a discussion of the different reasons and justifications behind implementation of a DMP, and possible measurable outcomes of these use cases.

Chris, Sue and Libbie talked about their own institutions’ approaches to DMPs. It was very interesting learning about the various stages of development each were in, from mandatory DMPs at CQU, to a DMP system still in the pipeline at CSIRO.

I raised the lack of evidence base behind DMP use and questioned their being mandated in the absence of evidence, to which members of the audience raised some interesting points about finding benefits by integrating DMPs with other data education services. Suggestions were also given of how we could potentially demonstrate the benefits of DMPs through future research.

Over the next couple of days of the conference I attended some great talks, including Peter Neish and Jennifer Warburton of the University of Melbourne Library and Digital Scholarship teams presenting their new data management training environment.

Lesley Wyborn made comparisons between Peak Data and Peak Oil, drawing some fascinating parallels between the geographic differences in timing of Peak Oil and the discipline-based differences between timing for Peak Data, and urging that we use the pressures of an approaching Peak Data to make improvements to community practice and ensure interoperability and compatibility between disciplines.

The NCRIS showcase showed the work of the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA), Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS) and the Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network (TERN). It was fun to learn such facts as that ALA currently stores 65,000,000 occurrence records, contains 5000 datasets, and has a mix of human observation, machine observation, and specimens, all intersected with spatial layers and a managed species taxonomy. IMOS uses a variety of data sources with raster, profile and trajectory data, and uses different methods of data capture including sea floor robots. TERN collects data about ecological process, with 2250 data collections from 100,000 ecological sites including data for vegetation composition structure, land cover dynamics, fire dynamics, airborne data, sea grass, and coastal water quality.

A surprising number of sessions were on DMPs. One of these was hosted by Jennifer McLean and Justin Chang from the University of Sydney who talked about their requirements that researchers complete DMPs to access storage and, in some cases, high performance computers or research equipment. They discussed the integration of their DMP system with Sydney Microscopy and Microanalysis, with all steps from booking equipment to data collection, data storage, and analysis, being tracked and managed by their DMP system. They also talked about use of an electronic lab notebook. Another amazing review of DMP implementation was by Dave Connell of the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD). Despite not quite earning the $50 prize I offered for anybody who could provide non-anecdotal and published evidence of benefits to DMP use, Dave's presentation about the AAD's DMP program showed a very rigorous and apparently useful implementation of DMPs within the AAD.

David Groenewegen (Monash) and Mark Hahnel (Figshare) presented integration between Figshare and various parts of Monash University, allowing use of a single platform for SEO and sharing data between platforms.
Different areas of Monash had their different requirements met e.g. MAMU, a database of ethnomusicology, was contained within the Monash instance of Figshare, but with customised MAMU branding and special metadata fields. Other Monash Figshare pages were made to fit Monash’s corporate branding. Monash’s Figshare also allowed flexibility in the various ways of grouping data at the University.

Next year’s eResearch will be held in Brisbane, but in the meantime if you're interested in this year's conference you can work backwards through the event by reviewing the #eResAu2016 hashtag on twitter.

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Nick Smale

03 9035 6084