This is a guest post by Saoirse Cummins, who is two months into herPhD on the impact of grass-legume mixtures on soil carbon & citrogen cycling & greenhouse gas emissions. Saoirse recently did the online MANTRA training course, and shares her experience here.
What is Mantra?
The Mantra online training course http://mantra.edina.ac.uk/researchstudent.html is a free online course for those who manage digital data as part of their research project. The training breaks down & explains the different components of what makes data & differentiates between types. This was useful for me going from undergraduate to PhD as beforehand I was not really aware of the major differences between data forms i.e. primary, secondary, and compiled data, & what criteria allot data into each category. There were many new concepts & the training familiarised me with approaches to data organisation such as database normalisation & statistical normalisation. Although I have never dealt with highly sensitive data, the training also made me aware of the steps & measures which are taken to ensure the ethical handling of personal data in other research fields.
How do you learn?
Training is divided into nine sections which do not have to be completed in one sitting which is useful as they delve into quite a bit of detail. The video interviews & interactive exercises throughout each section help you pay attention during the training & make you familiar with the key points of each section. The interviews with academics in different stages of research (such as PhD students & professors) provide an insight into the importance of data management throughout the career of a researcher. One interviewee shared their experience of paying £600 to a data recovery company. Therefore, simply for monetary reasons, it is important to make sure data is backed up and safe both throughout research & beyond publication. The training poses questions such as, what you would do if after publishing a paper your data credibility or originality is questioned? This outlines the need for good records & backing up of data to prove data integrity if there is a query.
I always understood the importance of referencing & citing material. As a PhD student, the citing of other people's data to create gaps in knowledge & formulate methodology for upcoming experiments is a large part of the process. I always understood the importance of referencing & citing; however, Mantra training delves into the logistics behind ownership of data & explains how easy it is to infringe on data protection & rights. The training therefore reiterates & explains the importance of data citation as part of the scholarly record & emphasises the importance of organisation & traceability. I particularly enjoyed the training on keeping a laboratory notebook as I know that this will be useful once I complete fieldwork & begin analysis. I might not have considered other small details before, such as file formatting & naming files correctly to keep them traceable, but these minor details actually turn out to be very important. Data handling tutorials in SPSS, R & ArcGIS are great, especially for those in environmental science research.
30th November 2017