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Sun: Early-career herpetologist

Name, age, and education: 

Sun is a biologist specializing in desert tortoises. She did her masters and PhD at California State University San Marcos. She has spent her career studying tortoises in their natural habitat.

Life or career goals, fears, hopes, and attitudes: 

Sun recently started working for the USGS Western Ecological Research Center, "one of 18 Centers of the Biological Resources Discipline of the U.S. Geological Survey" (http://www.werc.usgs.gov/who.aspx). Her broad interest is how human activity and climate change will affect tortoise populations. Her research needs to inform decisions by land managers in various state and federal agencies. She works with NGOs on conservation issues and speaks to the public on tortoises and conservation issues. For example, she collaborates with biologists at the Wildlife Research Institute (https://www.wildlife-research.org/) on a project tracking desert tortoises relocated from the expanding Fort Irwin Army Base. She writes technical reports and also publishes peer-reviewed journal articles (e.g., http://www.conservation-science.com/Products.html ; http://www.werc.usgs.gov/person.aspx?personID=52).

A day in the life: 

Sun and other members of the research team go into the field with a notebook, camera, simple instruments and sample containers. They capture and tag tortoises before collecting data about individuals such as age, weight and sex. They also collect data about entire tortoise populations by taking a census, collecting feces and monitoring carcasses. Much of these data are recorded in a notebook and later copied onto a spreadsheet for analysis with desktop statistics software. A number of her research subjects are radio tagged, giving her a lat/long position as often as every 10 minutes.

Reasons for using DataONE to share and to reuse data
Needs and expectations of DataONE tools: 

Sun feels that she cannot easily share her own data for fear of disclosing sensitive information because of the work location and the fact that she works on endangered species. Even an embargoed dataset could be problematic, as tortoises keep the same home range and the lifespan of a tortoise vastly exceeds the duration of any reasonable embargo. However, she might be able to share derivative datasets, if these could be easily created, or a subset of less sensitive data, such as life history, demographic or behavioural data (e.g., home range size, daily and seasonal activity, diet, social biology or thermo-regulatory behaviour).

DataONE might also be useful in improving Sun’s overall data management capabilities, e.g., educating her on best practices for data quality and metadata development. If DataONE provided tools for cataloguing and managing locally-stored data, these could be very useful. She might be willing to deposit data at a member node for limited sharing, preservation and for ensuring long-term preservation of data (e.g., migration of data formats), though only if its privacy can be assured and doing so were as easy as (or at least, not much harder than) maintaining local backups.

Sun is interested in finding additional data that correspond to the location of tortoise populations, and additional tortoise data so she can put her current study into perspective and perhaps find collaborators. For example, data on invasive species in the area she studies could help explain changes observed in the populations. She does not have much technical support, so she need the tools to be easy to use. Given that her research is motivated by both scientific interests and policy concerns, she is extremely wary of using data of unknown origin or quality, so discoverability and validation of datasets are key issues.

Intellectual and physical skills that can be applied: 

As a trained research scientist, there should be no overt challenges to dealing with data per se. However, though Sun strives to follow established data-collection protocols, the realities of field research mean that her methods are often adjusted on the fly and her data needs secondary analysis and clean-up. If DataONE provides tools to aid in the integration of similar, yet not identical, datasets, and can help her to troubleshoot data-entry and other errors in her own data, her own use and possible subsequent deposition of her data into a DataONE member node would be simple.

Technical support available: 

Sun has very little computer support within her research group and institution but she does have experience with field equipment and general computer competencies. Thus far, complex visualizations and data-handling algorithms have not been a factor in her work, so any system that did not offer the option to work with simple datasets using easy tools would probably intimidate her.

Personal biases about data sharing and reuse (and data management more generally): 

Sun is interested in reviewing data that might inform her studies, but does not depend on it and it is not yet an important part of her work. On the other hand, she does not have the technical skills to prepare her data for sharing nor does she have large quantities of data that she thinks would be of interest to others. Furthermore, she is hesitant to share her geolocated data because she works with a threatened species. So far, she has only shared raw data with close colleagues.

Comparison of current and DataONE-enabled practices:
Project Planning: 
  • Management Planning: Develops a project Data Management Plan following examples provided on the DataONE portal.
Current data collection: 

Collects tortoise field data.

DataONE enabled data collection: 

No change.

Current data assurance: 

Validates data using own standards.

DataONE enabled assurance: 

Could apply more broadly-used data quality standards and assurance tools.

Current data description: 

Describes data for her own purposes, using her own data description techniques.

DataONE enabled description: 
  • Training: Learns how to use Morpho (a metadata management editor) based on instructional materials available in the DataONE Best Practices Database and associated downloadable video instructions.
  • Creates metadata for datasets following best practices.
Current data preservation: 

Sun publishes summary and analysis results but does not deposit data. Data preservation is done only within her lab.

DataONE enabled preservation: 

Sun might deposit data with a DataONE member node for long-term preservation, with appropriate protections for sensitive data.

  • Data Preservation: Deposits data and metadata in the USGS data repository with appropriate protections for sensitive data and redaction to create shareable data subsets.
  • Data Preservation: Submits a research paper to an ecological journal associated with Dryad—a DataONE Member Node. Upon acceptance, she submits the publication-relevant data, metadata, and model to Dryad where they are given a DOI (digital object identifier) and preserved in the Dryad repository.
  • Citation: Upon publication, she adds the publication reference and the data citation (including DOIs for both; provided by Dryad and the journal) to her CV.
Current data discovery: 

Does not use other researchers’ data.

DataONE enabled discovery: 

The possibility of discovering relevant data from other researchers is likely to be a main motivation for Sun’s use of DataONE and DataONE tools.

  • Data Discovery, Access, Use and Dissemination:M Searches for tortoise food web and area meteorological data in the region at the DataONE portal. Searches for land-use histories, especially for former grazing lands. Searches for co-locality data for other animal species as possible signals for other ecological changes in the region.
  • Data Discovery, Access, Use and Dissemination: Identifies relevant data and downloads data and metadata from previous LTER studies as well as data collected by state and Federal agency scientists (i.e., non-LTER).
  • Data Discovery, Access, Use and Dissemination: Acquires supplemental data from another DataONE Member Node with complete citation information.
  • Citation: Another scientist working in Mexico on a similar study discovers the new publication and data created by Sun and cites her in his work.
Current data integration: 

Does not use other researchers’ data.

DataONE enabled integration: 

Could use DataONE tools to integrate her data with data discovered from other researchers.

Current data analyses: 

Uses standard desktop data analysis tools.

DataONE enabled analysis: 
  • Data Visualization:
  • Uses data analysis and visualization tools identified through DataONE Tools Database or available as part of the Investigator Toolkit to analyze existing data and develop initial model parameters that she will use in her own research.

  • Data Visualization:
  • Creates graphics using tools identified via DataONE.


Data Conservancy Sun persona by Anne Thessen; comments from Lynn Rogers; revised by Kevin Crowston with some details based on William I. Boarman, USGS.