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Boston College Faculty Data Survey Results (Spring 2014)



Results of the Boston College Faculty Survey on Research Data conducted March 19 - 31, 2014

Executive Summary

Boston College Research Data Survey: Executive Summary

Sponsors: Office of the Vice Provost for Research and the University Libraries

Recipients (890): Full-time and adjunct faculty, including: tenured, tenure-track, non-tenured researchers.

The survey was completed during the period March 19 through March 31 by 332 respondents (37% response). Approximately 74% were tenured or tenure-track faculty and 28% had applied for or received Federal funding within the last two years – most from NIH or NSF. 

Approximately half answered that they did not collect or create data as part of their research. This ended the survey for them, leaving 170 respondents for the remaining questions.

Storage and retention

  • Most (70%) respondents estimated the size of their most recent data set at less than 50 GB.
  • Twenty-six percent had recent data sets between 50 GB and 1 TB. Only 6 respondents had recently collected datasets of more than a terabyte.
  • More than 30 people had total data storage needs of more than a terabyte, and 55 respondents (34%) said they had concerns about storage capacity for digital data files.
  • Sixty respondents (37%) keep data in a cloud storage location such as Dropbox.
  • Many respondents indicated they did not have enough storage space (49%), they didn't know what was available to them (53%), or the pursuit of storage was too time-consuming (35%).
  • Forty-five respondents would like digitization services for non-digital data.
  • The need for an electronic lab notebook system was expressed several times.
  • Most data retention requirements fell between 5-7 years; the most popular answer:  “I don’t know.”(43%)

Risk of loss of data (155 responses)


  • 88 respondents (55%) work with confidential data.
  • 11 respondents work with externally provided datasets that impose use restrictions and need more dedicated secure physical space.
  • 43 respondents also need more confidential file storage space.

Analytical services

Seventy-five respondents need analytical services. Current sources of support are: Collaborators at other institutions (44), ITS Research Services (36), Graduate assistants (31), Departmental specialsts (23), External contractors (12).

Service needs frequently mentioned:

  • Statistical consulting unit would be helpful
  • Would like more advanced statistical consultation
  • more support for GIS
  • yes, additional resources/specialists in a range of software for analyzing qualitative data and visual media


Sharing data with collaborators within and outside of BC is heavily dependent on email and Dropbox (or other cloud storage). MyFiles is used within BC but with outsiders, cloud services increase in popularity. Several comments expressed frustration with MyFiles. Google docs are popular. Many expressed needs for better and more secure collaborative tools:

  • A secure file transfer server site. 
  • They are often too big/unwieldy for email, but dropbox has a low memory limit without paying and myfiles is difficult for external sharing.
  • What I most need is a BC contact who can help me figure these things out.
  • More secure, cloud-based tools to share and exchange data with those external to BC -- alternatives to DropBox
  • Adobe connect, professional Skype memberships, GotoMeeting (multi user video conferencing apps that charge a fee)
  • secure project wikis, shared storage, svn/cvs/git
  • Something like Canvas, but for research and administration, rather than just courses.

Data management/education

  • 37% of respondents have been asked by funders to provide a Data Management Plan (DMP).
  • They have sought help from colleagues (34), ITS Research Services (17), OSP (13), Departmental specialists (11) and Librarians (9).
  • About half would like more assistance, particularly in the form of examples, templates and consultations.
  • Most respondents said that their graduate students find out how to take care of their data either from instruction by the faculty member or from informal mentoring.
  • A large percentage (86%) would encourage or require their graduate students to take advantage of training in data management if it were offered.

Providing access

  • A surprising 70% would be willing to provide access to their data in some form (analyzed or redacted = 62%) in an openly accessible repository.
  • Before deposit, they would like help with data clean-up or de-identification.
  • They would appreciate help depositing in BC’s institutional repository or with identifying appropriate subject-based repositories.
  • Many respondents would like services to help provide access to their data in websites or portals.

Biggest unmet needs

Several areas of concern were identified, including storage space, analytical services and tools, better understanding of best practices in data organization and management, more secure file sharing and collaborative tools, website development and help with archiving and providing access. Survey results often indicated that respondents were not aware of currently available services and that greater communication across departments and service providers would be helpful.