28 June 2014

How researcher seniority affects attitudes to data management

I have been reading a really interesting article from Katherine Akers (Data Services, University of Michigan) and Jennifer Doty (Emory University Libraries) about how social factors such as the age or seniority of a researcher might influence their views on research data management [1]. I highly recommend this article not just because the results of the study at Emory are interesting, but also because it provides a review of the evidence base in this area, which should probably be informing practice more than it actually does.

The starting point for the study was the assumptions in discussions by information professionals that younger researchers are more interested in data sharing because they are immersed in an environment of more openness to information, and that older researchers might be more interested in preserving their legacies towards the end of their careers. As the authors point out, these are just that, assumptions, that are "primarily based on anecdotal evidence or small numbers of researcher interviews". They also note the contradictory results that have come from more formal studies.

Akers and Doty conducted a survey of academics at Emory in 2012 that received over 200 responses. The academics were divided up into four categories: professor (professor, professor emeritus, or dean); associate professor; assistant professor; or non-tenure track (instructor, lecturer, visiting scholar, or adjunct professor). In analysing their survey results, Akers and Doty found no significant rank-related differences in:
  • the volume of data or methods for data storage
  • willingness to share data
  • methods of data sharing
  • barriers to data sharing (such as private information, commercialisable intellectual property)
  • attitudes to not getting credit, possible misinterpretation or misuse, and the value of the data to others
  • the likelihood of depositing data in a repository
  • familiarity with data documentation and metadata
  • interest in most data services such as: help preparing data management plans; advice on legal and ethical issues; data management consultations for individuals and groups; an institutional data repository; help identifying suitable discipline repositories; metadata assistance; workshops for graduate students; digitisation; and data citation support.
However, some key differences did emerge:
  • Most professors and assistant professors and about half of the associate professors were somewhat or very familiar with data management plan requirements from funding agencies while most non-tenure staff were not. (Akers and Doty suggest this could be due to focus on teaching and less involvement in research grants.)
  • More senior researchers were more likely to indicate that the time and effort required for data sharing was a barrier. 
  • Non-tenure track researchers expressed a higher degree of interest in general data management workshops as a service that could be provided. 
Akers and Doty make some interesting observations. They suggest that outreach to early career researchers could focus on how datasets can be used to increase personal research impact and on the evidence that openly sharing research data increases the citation rate of associated journal articles.

For more senior researchers though, they suggest that investment in infrastructure might be more useful: these very time-poor researchers need tools that help them more efficiently organise data, generate metadata and deposit into open repositories. The lack of incentives in the current system might also need to be addressed for the time and effort involved in data management to be seen as worthwhile. 


[1] Akers, Katherine G., and Jennifer Doty. 2012. “Differences Among Faculty Ranks in Views on Research Data Management.” IASSIST Quarterly (Summer): 16-20. http://www.iassistdata.org/downloads/iqvol36_2_doty_0.pdf.