Overwhelmed: our first researcher workshops at UEL

John and I ran a two-hour workshop  called “Managing your research data” together with Sarah Jones from the DCC on Wednesday and Thursday this week.  Everyone who booked attended, and several others turned up as well – despite taking a few extra folders, I had to nip out to my desk and make up some more during a break in Thursday’s session.

The course was part of the Researcher Development Programme organised by Dr Caroline Dunmore in the Graduate School, who advertised it to all staff and research students in the weekly newsletter. John also emailed each Dean of School and Research Leader to ask them to encourage their researchers to sign up. This all happened within a week or so of the event and the turn-out (and feedback) suggests we have provided something of use. What did the workshop comprise?

12.00 Welcome and Introductions

12.15 Presentation on managing research data by Sarah Jones, DCC

12.30  Lunch

12.50  Presentation – continued

13.00 Briefing on exercise using a simple Data Management Plan template

13.30 Feedback and discussion on exercise, and next steps

14.00  Close

The introductions were designed to break the ice and get the participants talking. We used a slide with prompt questions, and this worked well in getting them to focus on data matters. There were nine on Wednesday, but twenty-one on Thursday – it is difficult to encourage people to share, while trying to cut short those that take too long! A high percentage had lost data – stolen laptops, lost USB sticks, computers failing – and the vast majority mentioned used of Dropbox or other cloud storage services. Generally, there seemed a lot of good practice in backing up data.

Pack 2 We fine-tuned the running order for Thursday’s workshop, to give a short break for questions after Sarah covered the first sections of her presentation (and to load up with lunch). Sarah’s presentation starts with some scare stories and then gives positive reasons to manage and share data (including funder imperatives). The last section goes on to talk about data management planning as a way to help researchers think about and document the data aspects of their research. Sarah has already posted her slides on SlideShare – it was a great presentation, and really set the tone for the exercise.

For the DMP exercise we used a simple template we adapted from the DCC checklist leaflet, and got the participants to imagine they were briefing a new supervisor on the data aspects of their doctoral research. Most of the attendees on Thursday were in that position (20 out of 21), while on Wednesday academic staff were in the majority (6 of 11): the students were keen to use the template since it directly related to their experience, but the academic staff also Template 1found it useful in focusing on a current or recent research activity. We kindly offered to look over the templates if anyone wanted to leave them with us – four did on Wednesday and six on Thursday. We would have been even more helpful if we left somewhere on the template for a name and email address – now we are trying to match handwriting in the forms to signatures on the signing-in form!

Several students were just starting their research and hadn’t yet generated any data, so we were keen to hear when the course would be appropriate – close to induction, to make them aware, or later when they are underway with data gathering? I thought the first-years wouldn’t

Another post will talk about the feedback from participants, but what did we learn about running the workshops?

  • there’s a clear demand, with so many signing up at short notice or even turning up unbooked
  • be flexible with timings if lunch doesn’t appear at advertised times
  • make resources such as the template available electronically, in the workshop if possible
  • if you want to give feedback to a form, make sure there is space to leave contact details!
  • break up a longer presentation to allow time for questions at relevant points
  • consider the scheduling for PGR students – early or later in their studies? both?

We will made the resources available on our project website.

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