July 27, 2020

Open science initiative at Brunel University London: introducing postgraduate students to research data management

As part of its open science advocacy and engagement strategy, the Library at Brunel University London has developed a research data management workshop for students, embedded and delivered within teaching programmes, partnering initially with the College of Health, Medical and Life Sciences. The workshop was part of a pilot initiative, working with academic leads for the MSc Disease Mechanisms and Therapeutics, with the eventual aim of offering it across all programmes at the University. 

The workshop is aimed at Master’s-level postgraduate students, although it can be delivered to undergraduates. Open science skills are now a critical part of the research process, and while support is provided centrally, it is often not yet explicitly embedded within academic programmes.

One of Brunel’s aims is to help researchers at all levels develop the skills needed to successfully navigate and contribute in the evolving open knowledge landscape. In particular, developing these skills in those who may later go on to research careers within academia, industry or other professional setting. 

The session, designed by Research Data Manager Catharine Bailey and Academic Liaison Librarian Joanne McPhie, introduces students to research data management concepts through activities and discussion. Students, working in ‘research collaborations’, use Lego to create a model, then go on to record instructions on how to build it. They then exchange instructions with another group, which uses them in an attempt to recreate the ‘research’. 

Students have found the interactive and collaborative teaching methods engaging, and their feedback suggests the workshop has helped them think about how they might apply the concepts to their own research projects, and understand that good data management planning and organisation helps them better retrieve and analyse results, and benefits the research community. 

The workshop underlines the importance of managing data systematically and rigorously to support reproducibility and validity of research, a skill which not only supports a robust open research and knowledge culture, but is also a skill which equips our students for professional life beyond university, whatever career path they follow.  

As of Spring 2020, the session has now been offered across three programmes across all three Colleges at Brunel, with discussions underway for including it in further programmes. In the current Coronavirus pandemic, this will take place when they can safely resume.  

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