Due to the need for keeping the data for 10 years or longer after the end of your research makes your data one of your most valuable assets. This means it’s worth investing some time and effort making sure that the data is kept in a safe and secure location.
At the RVC, the Infrastructure Services Directorate (ISD) provide centrally managed storage for research - see Costing Research Data Management for cost details. These storage areas are mapped under the O: and R: drive under research storage and all Principal Investigators will be able to request that a folder is set up in one of those areas. Once the folder has been set up access can then be given to others who are working on the same research project.
The data that you generate in your research is one of your most valuable assets, so it's worth investing some time and effort in keeping them safe. By keeping the data safe you can:
- Avoid the effort, cost and stress of recovering from lost work due to an accident, crime and natural disaster
- Avoid losing data when Postgraduate students and research staff leave
- Prevent unauthorised access to data by storing the data on the network drives
- Make it easier for collaborators to access and share data
- Ensure key data remain understandable and usable by yourself and others
- Enable your data to be used and cited by other researchers
Preventing the loss and corruption of your data
We all know that files can be lost accidentally in many different ways. Even if the data isn't completely lost, the files can sometimes get corrupted. If you have a file that has been severely corrupted, most likely it will be unusable, meaning you have to redo that bit of data again. Sometimes though files aren't fully corrupted and may only contain subtle corruption which may introduce errors into your document, which might go unnoticed and affect the outcome of your research.
When thinking about keeping your data safe you might wish to think about:
- Regular backups: (will be automated on the research storage drive) If you aren't using the central storage you will need to back up to several different locations. This will ensure that if one copy is lost or corrupt, you can easily get it back. When you are deciding on how often to back up your data, think about the amount of work days you might lose.
- Non-digital data: If you have data like hand-written laboratory notebooks, journals and other materials which are not kept on a computer at all you will need to make sure these are protected as well.
The files for your research/project can be lost in many different ways:
- A postgraduate, postdoc or a researcher may take the data with them when leaving the RVC without leaving a copy
- Any hardware that you have on which any data are kept on may be lost or stolen
- Any hardware that you have where and data is kept may be damaged by accident or through a disaster such as a fire or flood.
- Any hard drive where the data is stored, either leaving you with huge costs to retrieve. But if the damage to the hard drive is too great it could lead to total loss of that data.
Even if they remain available, they can occasionally become corrupted. If a file is severely corrupted it may be unusable, but even subtle corruption may introduce errors which go unnoticed while affecting the outcome of your research.
Ensuring the data remains usable
Even if your data remains available and intact, they may be rendered useless if no-one understands them or remembers how to process them. Postgraduate students, postdocs and staff arrive and leave on a regular basis, and it might seem to be easier to repeat any expensive experiments rather than try to work out how to understand any data left behind by anyone who have already left the university.
What you should be thinking of doing.
- Organising your data: Use folders to group together all the work relevant to your current research/study and name the folder(s) so that it relates to your project or area of research. Make a note of these folder names in an index file, for the benefit of others and yourself in case you need reminding later on.
- Documenting and Metadata: Record of the information about the structure and format of your data and the process you went through to obtain it. In some cases this can be stored in the data files themselves; but ideally, it needs to be stored in a "index" document in the same folder as the data.
- File naming - use available standards: Be aware of standard file formats and standard nomenclature (such as letters used for variables) used in your field. When creating your datasets consider saving the files in open formats so that they can be read by a variety of software for years to come.
Further information can be found here: