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Responsible Conduct of Research Training

Data Management and Lab Practices

Data management is an extremely important aspect of the overall research effort. The following material is adapted from the ORI Introduction to the Responsible Conduct of Research, Chapter 6 and Making the right moves, A practical guide to scientific management for postdocs and new faculty from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Data collection and management are often at the very core of any research project. The methods used and the detailed documentation of the data collection process is extremely important. This section highlights some of the most basic aspects of data management and lab practices. Principal Investigators must clearly communicate policy and expectations to incoming graduate students and postdocs. In addition, regular lab meetings help to ensure common understandings and expectations.

Data Ownership:

In general all data collected at a institution is the property of the institution. It is useful to distinguish between grants and contracts. Data collected with grant funds remains under the control of the institution. Contracts typically require the researcher to deliver a product or service to the government or industry sponsor, and the product or service is then owned and controlled by the sponsor (government or industry). Institutions and principal investigators have responsibilities and obligations regarding research funds and data collection. Institutions, as the recipient of research funds, own the data and have budgetary, compliance, and contractual obligations that remain even after a PI is no longer at the institute.
  • Before data is collected the PI and project personnel should clearly understand who owns the data, who has the right to publish, and what requirements or obligations are imposed on the researcher or the institution.

  • When a PI leaves the institution an agreement on the disposition of research records (and materials) should be negotiated between the researcher and the Department Chair or Dean to allow the transfer of research records.

  • Whenever a graduate student or postdoc leaves the lab a similar agreement should be negotiated between the PI and the graduate student or postdoc.

  • Collaborative research agreements regarding data ownership and use should be agreed to (in writing) prior to the collection of the data. In general, each member of the team should have continued access to the data/materials (unless a prior agreement was negotiated).

Data Collection:

Data collection must be well-organized and detailed. The laboratory notebook (bound sequentially numbered pages, with signatures and dates) is often key to keeping daily records. Detailed records help:
  • Establish good work practices
  • Teach the people in your lab
  • Meet contractual requirements
  • Avoid fraud
  • Defend patents
Data Storage and Protection:

Once data has been collected it must be stored and protected to be of future use. Data storage must be done in such a way that results and conclusions can be clearly discerned from the data and materials that have been archived. The data and materials must be protected so that research findings can be confirmed and/or reanalyzed by others. If data and materials are not properly stored and protected they could significantly reduce the value of the research (or even render the research worthless).