Workshop on Data Management for Ecologists a Success

Photo courtesy of Brianna Marshall

Photo courtesy of Brianna Marshall

By Erin Carrillo, Information Services Librarian, Steenbock Library

In November, RDS held a two day data management workshop for graduate student researchers. Participants were from several departments across campus, including Limnology, Entomology, Forest and Wildlife Ecology, Geography, and the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, and were part of a cohort of graduate students doing research in the area of biodiversity conservation, funded by an NSF Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship grant.

We planned the workshop with two graduate students, Kara Cromwell (Zoology) and Alex Latzka (Center for Limnology), who saw a need to provide new researchers with the knowledge and skills to navigate the changing research data landscape. From funder and publisher requirements for data management plans and data sharing, to the ongoing development of metadata standards and discipline-specific data repositories, researchers need to be aware of trends within their discipline and practice good data management from the outset. Kara and Alex also wanted to encourage and facilitate the sharing of research data within the group.

The workshop addressed several broad topics within data management, but content was tailored to the specific needs of the group. We administered a survey to the group at the beginning of the planning process to gauge students’ current knowledge of data management practices, as well as their specific needs. We identified several areas of focus, and modules were developed for each area. Stephanie Hampton, a visiting scientist coming from Washington State and former deputy director of NCEAS (National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis), was invited by grad students in the Center for Limnology. She had recently published a few high impact papers on the future of ecology, especially with respect to Big Data, and gave a short talk giving participants perspective on why sound data management will matter as they advance in their careers.

The final program was:

  • Spreadsheets, Jan Cheetham, DoIT Academic Technology and Barry Radler, Institute on Aging
  • File Organization, Elliott Shuppy, School of Library and Information Studies (SLIS)
  • Storage & Preservation, Brianna Marshall, Digital Curation Coordinator; Luke Bluma, DoIT Storage & Backup; Elliott Shuppy
  • Metadata, Corinna Gries, Center for Limnology, North Temperate Lakes Long Term Ecological Research (LTER)
  • Data Management Plans, Corinna Gries
  • Keynote talk by Stephanie E. Hampton, Kaeser Scholar, Washington State University, Director of the Center for Environmental Research, Education, and Outreach

We built in designated work time at the end of the first day to give participants an opportunity to apply what they had learned and collaborate with their colleagues. Module presenters were available to answer questions.  Presenters deposited slide decks and other workshop materials in a Box folder that we shared with participants after the workshop.

We had participants complete a pre- and post-workshop survey to assess the effectiveness of the workshop. The results revealed that participants generally rated their ability to practice good data management higher after the workshop. We also got this positive feedback from Kara:

“Alex and I heard a lot of positive feedback throughout the workshop… The schedule flowed smoothly, the content was very well suited to the needs of the group, and all the modules were engaging. We really appreciate the time you invested, and I know everyone (including many who weren’t able to attend) will continue to take advantage of the resources posted in the Box folder. It was a definite success!”

It was a pleasure to work with Kara and Alex and their group, and we look forward to using what we learned from planning this workshop to organize similar workshops tailored to the needs of researchers in different disciplines across campus.

Is your lab or department interested in working with RDS to develop a discipline-specific data management workshop? Contact us.

DMPTool Unavailable May 28


As current users of DMPTool may have heard, DMPTool will be upgraded to a new and improved version on May 29th.   This new version will give users increased functionality, such as the ability to add a collaborator with equal editing rights.

Between 8:00-12:00pm CDT the DMPTool will be unavailable during the first phase of the transition.

At Wednesday May 28, 12:00pm CDT the old DMPTool (Version 1) will be available at You can continue to access and edit your existing plans, but you will not be able to create new plans.  The new DMPTool2 will be unavailable as the data are migrated before the wide release.

At Thurs May 29, 8:00am CDT the new DMPTool2 will available at  All users and plans will have been migrated from Version 1. You can create new plans and edit existing plans in DMPTool2.

Version 1 of the DMPTool will remain available at for a limited time (approximately one month).   You can access any plans you have already created, but will not be able to create new plans in Version 1; new plans should be created in DMPTool2. Any changes to plans in Version 1 will not be carried forward after May 28.

We will be following up soon with more details about DMPTool2.

Survey: What do you want in a data publication?


The California Digital Library (CDL) is conducting a survey to better understand researcher practices and perceptions around data publication. Their aim is to learn what a “data publication” should look like: what should accompany a dataset to make it re-useable, how should creators be credited, what do you expect from peer review of data? The results will help to shape the CDL’s efforts, and will be made publicly available for anyone to use.

If you are involved in research in any branch of the Sciences or Social Sciences, your input would be valuable, even if you have never shared or published data or given much thought to the issues involved.  In addition, CDL would like you to consider sharing this survey with any of your colleagues who might be interested.

The survey can be taken anonymously in 5-10 minutes.  It is available at:

Got Box?

UW-Madison now provides 50 GB of free online storage to students, faculty, and staff through Box, an online storage and collaboration tool.  Read our previous blog post to learn more about Box’s features, and read our case study to see how a UW-Madison researcher uses Box to collaborate with researchers across the country.

For more information:

Case Study: Box

I recently sat down with Breanne Litts, a doctoral candidate in Digital Media, Curriculum & Instruction, who has been using Box for file storage and collaboration for her research on learning in makerspaces.

Project needs:
The research project, Learning in the Making: Studying and Designing Makerspaces, is funded by the National Science Foundation.  Breanne and her advisor are collaborating with co-investigators from George Mason University and the Children’s Museum Pittsburgh.  Box appealed to them as a tool for file storage, sharing, and collaboration because it was free and supported cross-institutional collaboration.
The group is conducting ethnographic research at makerspaces in Madison, Detroit, and along the east coast, with the goal of designing activities for the Makeshop in Pittsburgh.  They are conducting interviews and generating video and large audio files, as well as meeting notes, and other documentation related to the research.  They also do brainstorming and initial analysis in Box.  There are eight individuals working on this project, including undergraduate students, so another requirement for their data management tool was the ability to grant differential access privileges.  They organize files using Box’s folder system and have a main folder, a public folder, a private folder in which their sensitive data is stored, and each research site has its own folder.

Favorite features:
Storage and sharing – The group creates Word documents and Google Docs right in Box and appreciates the ability to lock open files to prevent conflicting copies.  This feature is also available on the mobile app.  The previews for documents, audio, and photos are “fantastic”, and the folder system for organization, tagging capability, and search feature are helpful.  Breanne expressed the opinion that the 50 GB of free storage that UW affiliates have access to will be a huge draw for graduate students.
Security – Box makes it easy to comply with IRB requirements regarding access to sensitive information.  In fact, the biggest attraction of Box was that it meets NSF and IRB standards for secure data management.  The ability to create, open, edit, and save directly to Box and not on your machine adds to this security.
Permissions – It’s simple to manage permissions of each individual file, unlike other project management tools the group looked into, which required users to go through an administrator.
Collaboration – Comments, tasks, and discussion features facilitate cross-institution, cross-country collaboration, making it easy to communicate while minimizing the need to email.  The group also found it easy to control email notifications to avoid being overwhelmed, compared to other project management tools.  The ability to link directly to files and folders is very convenient, as is the ability to track changes and revert to previous versions.
Overall, Breanne felt that it was easy to get started with Box.  There’s a low barrier to entry: one can use it without exploiting its total functionality and start getting things done without being overwhelmed.  In contrast, other tools the group considered require too many decisions to set up, as well as requiring meetings with an administrator.  Box offers collaborative teams autonomy, flexibility, and adaptability.
She’s found it to be a great tool for project and data management and collaboration and described it as “Facebook, Dropbox, and a project management tool in one!”  She feels that it does data management, as well as day-to-day project management, better than other tools.

Tools: Box

What it is

Box is a cloud-based file storage, synchronization, and collaboration service.  It can be used by groups for storing, creating, editing, and sharing data files, documents, and other digital objects.


A personal account offers 5 GB of storage and a 100 MB file size limit for free; you can pay for more storage and larger file limits.  Business and enterprise accounts are also available for a fee.  UW-Madison affiliates can participate in the Box pilot, which includes 50 GB of storage.

Sharing and collaboration

Users can share folders with other users, share files with individuals without Box accounts, and embed files in websites.  In addition to sharing and editing files, users can post comments and discussions and assign tasks.  You can also lock files while you are editing them.  Email notifications keep you updated about edits, comments, tasks, and uploads.  In addition to the web interface, there are desktop clients for Windows and Mac as well as Windows, Android, and Apple phones and tablets.

If you are the owner of a Box account used for collaboration, keep any private files you also store there separate from the files the group sees. One way to do this is to set up separate folders for shared and private at the top level of your folder structure and ensure that files always go in the appropriate area.


You can’t readily make links between documents in Box like you can on a wiki or website; putting related documents together in folders is the most straightforward way to associate them in Box. Before your group starts adding documents to Box, collaborators should agree on a folder hierarchy structure so that all parties know where everything goes and related files/docs can be tied together by their folder location.


To export files in bulk from Box, download the folders that contain them. It will be more convenient to do this if you have a well-organized hierarchy of nested folders rather than multiple folders at the top of your hierarchy. If you have installed Box Synch on your computer, you can also duplicate the files in your Box Documents folder and save them in another location on your computer.

Box does not give you options for exporting your documents in new formats. If you need to convert a file to a different format, you will need to do this in an application that can open and read the file.

If you have important information about what was done to create different versions of files that you need to preserve, there are currently only a couple of options for getting this information out of Box:

  • Take screenshots of screens in Box that display the comments, version information, discussions, etc.
  • Copy and paste the text from these items into a “read me” file.

Be sure to give the files you create using either of these methods meaningful names so you know which files they are describing. Save them alongside those files in the same folders.


It is always a good idea to keep multiple copies of your data in several secure places and in formats that will be usable over a long period. You can download folders in Box and save them in other locations. But, will this preserve everything you need?

Backups and Versioning

Box keeps a record of file versions, and users can restore a previous version.


Box is a member of the Cloud Security Alliance, and has provided safeguards to help ensure  HIPAA compliance.