Report offers big data research advice to universities

A new report examining how big data research is conducted in academic settings was released on Tuesday by Ithaca S + R, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping the academic community use digital technologies to advance research and teaching.

The conclusions of the report, “Big Data infrastructure at a crossroads: support needs and challenges for universities, were drawn from a partnership with librarians from more than 20 colleges and universities who interviewed more than 200 professors working in various disciplines.

The report also explored methodologies, workflows, results, and challenges faced by big data researchers. Ithaka S + R said the report was intended to provide advice to universities, funders and others focused on improving how institutions support big data research.

Big data research is typically interdisciplinary and involves practitioners who need to collaborate across fields, the report says. But the report’s authors found that too often “divergent incentive structures, cultures, and unequal access to funding can affect disciplinary participation.” Tension mounted as computer and data science methods became more widely used, raising questions about how disciplinary views align with a trend towards machine learning, according to the report.

The report also states that managing complex data has been a challenge as researchers often choose to work with existing data rather than incur the expense of generating new data.

“The work of acquiring, cleaning, and organizing data is typically the most labor-intensive aspect of big data projects,” the report says.

Another area that institutions need to improve is how they structure big data research for collaboration, including how and when student support is used and whether local laboratory computing resources are prioritized over computing options in the lab. campus, according to the report.

Institutions will benefit if they do more to foster a culture that encourages formal knowledge sharing among academics, the report says, and if they do more to overcome the concerns of some researchers that the regulations of academic committees. Institutional review is not in step with the evolution of research methods. Professors and other researchers also need more formal training to work with big data.

“Adapting to the technological, human and financial demands of data-intensive research is a major strategic challenge facing research universities,” says the report. “Given the importance of big data research and the closely related issue of data sharing with researchers and stakeholders in the research system, the challenges of creating infrastructures capable of supporting research on big data is high. “

Sean N. Ayres