Slow but steady: data management training for students a key to research culture change, especially for humanities




In June of 2022, the University of St Andrews implemented a new data management plan (DMP) requirement. Each PhD student would be required to submit a DMP at their first annual review, and the RDM team worked to train and support students and supervisors. Over the course of the year, it became clear that 99% of students had never completed a DMP before, most did not know what a data management plan was, and many did not realise that data publication and sharing is an important early consideration.  

Trainings sought to equip students not just for meeting the requirement, but for good data management throughout future research endeavours. Training targeted students as broadly as possible with a variety of formats and resources, emphasising education of students with humanities backgrounds. Support offered included:    

Training types included:  

  • Informal drop-in writing workshop sessions   
  • One-to-one consultations (open to both students and staff)   
  • Webpage information dissemination   
  • Blogs, especially targeting the humanities   
  • Twitter—building relationships through supporting young researchers   
  • An electronic research notebook (ERN) and accompanying training and support   

Over the first year, total student attendance was high. Nine of 18 schools requested specialised training, and students from 17 of 18 schools were reached. Of these, humanities schools were first to request training and therefore set the tone for future training. Students demonstrated general preference for online training with the exception of writing workshops, which were overwhelmingly preferred in-person.   

While STEM students’ concerns focused on support for practical, early-lifecycle considerations, humanities students prioritised definitions of data and exploration in group settings. The focus of these discussions generally centred on applying meanings of ‘data’ to individual research projects. Such insights from humanities-focussed training informed the delivery of STEM training with positive results. Over the year, training developed a student-centred, question-based approach. This approach involved students from different disciplines in discussion and information processing that was meaningful to their individual projects.   

Developing this training for both humanities and STEM disciplines included strategic question-asking during one-to-one meetings, keeping a question diary, reflecting on trainings and adjusting future trainings accordingly in a waterfall approach, and practicing anonymous engagement exercises during classroom trainings. Blogs, webpage information, email query responses, and ERN support as applicable to the DMP program took on the same focus of awareness and leaving room for question-asking and user-driven development. Current training continues to emphasise awareness and engagement in ways meaningful to both STEM and humanities projects. Looking forward, and as a review of last year’s DMPs is completed, training will also target increased DMP quality across disciplines.