Research Groups and the Gift of Spaciousness

by Marjorie Mitchell
Research Librarian, UBC Okanagan Library

As I write this, it is early August. The days are long and hot, and a haze of smoke from wildfires tints the air. It’s a time of year I always find spacious. I have spent much of my life guided by the rhythms of the school/academic year and summer is that glorious time-out from regular duties and a period less scripted than most of the rest of the year. It is the time of the year for “projects” and “research” and “planning” and, my favorite, “reflection.” Traditionally, in the next few days, I would move from this feeling of spaciousness to one of increasing claustrophobia and borderline panic. Oh, it always started off as a mild discomfort. Niggling thoughts of “I should get this done before September” shifted to “I better get this data analysis done” to “OMG, I haven’t done nearly as much as I planned to do and now all my deadlines are getting pushed forward and now I have to plan for the classes I have to teach….” and so on into full panic mode.

This year is different. It’s not perfect, and yes, I still have a few “To Do” lists floating around, but I can see a big difference. This year I have seen evidence of increased research productivity and reduced stress that really are the advantages of sincere, concerted teamwork, specifically a research team.

I have been actively participating in research investigating the research data management needs of faculty from all across Canada and specifically from my institution, the University of British Columbia. I was not the initiator (a big thank you to Eugene Barsky who did initiate these studies at UBC), nor do I do the bulk of any of the work that goes into this research, and that’s the beauty of these research teams – sharing the work really does make it seem more manageable.

The larger team is a group of Canadian librarians, the Canadian RDM Survey Consortium, who saw a situation developing (research data management plans being made mandatory by multiple international granting bodies) and who decided to pro-actively prepare in the strong likelihood that Canadian granting bodies would follow suit. In order to effectively prepare, we needed to understand the research data management needs of our researchers across the disciplines. In other words, we needed to conduct original research about the actual practices and needs of researchers. We sought answers to questions as general as how many research projects did the respondent lead in the past year to specific questions about how much data a respondent’s research generated and where the respondent stored it, etc. We didn’t research all the disciplines at once. Instead, we started first with engineering and natural sciences, followed by the social sciences and humanities in the second round, then concluded with the health and allied sciences. This has taken over two years to complete.

The smaller team is a shifting group of librarians at UBC who have all participated in this research as we have worked our way through the disciplines. These research surveys and their results all form the basis of the national research, but were able to provide significant insight into our local research landscape. If you have questions about what researchers are doing with respect to research data management, we have discovered some of the answers.

The spirit of collaboration, goodwill, and support that members of these groups exhibit every time we meet (virtually) is inspiring. We discuss the tasks that need to be done for research, from the ethics applications, to analyzing the data, to writing the paper or poster, to colour schemes for graphics, etc. As we decide on the tasks, we also volunteer for them. One of the biggest advantages of such groups is the depth and breadth of skill within the group. Each of us aspires to creating the best paper or poster possible and each of us contributes something of value.

The other benefit of these collaborations has been the scheduling of the research, analysis, and writing. When working with a group, I don’t always get to set the timeframes for when the work needs to get completed, and that is not a bad thing. Yes, there can be some long days or extra work on a weekend as I race to meet a deadline I agreed to, but, ultimately, not letting the members of this group down is strong motivation for me. I appreciate that all the members of the group are also putting in the time, one way or another. The scheduling is often driven by conference or journal proposal deadlines, and those all happen in the winter and spring, and not so much over the summer. And so, this year, RDM research is not on my list of things yet to do before September. They really were right at the Librarian’s Research Institute when they suggested not being a solo researcher.

If your research practice is stalled, or hitting some speed bumps, or just not going the way you envisioned it, think about creating or joining a team/group/consortium. The benefits outweigh the costs significantly. And you might have some fun – I know I do.

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

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