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You are in: Home > Digital Research > Approaching Digital Research - Gareth Cole

Q&A: Approaching Digital Research - Gareth Cole

  • Name: Gareth Cole
  • Position: Research Data Manager
  • Location: University of Loughborough Library

Gareth Cole photo

We ask Gareth Cole, Research Data Manager, University of Loughborough Library, about his involvement in the UX Project and his experiences of working with post graduate researchers to manage their online research.


1. What is your current role at Loughborough University, what are the main priorities in your job?

I am the Research Data Manager at Loughborough University, based in the University Library. My main priorities are managing and promoting the Loughborough Data Repository, advising researchers on data management plans, and ensuring that Loughborough researchers are aware of the advantages of increasing the visibility of their research data.


2. In your opinion what are the challenges currently facing today’s researchers?

There are a number of challenges that researchers currently face. These include: a lack of time and resource to do all the research they would like, the pressure to apply for research funding, the pressure to publish in the "right" journals, and a fast changing policy environment.


3. Why did you choose to get involved with the library UX project and what do you hope to learn?

I was involved with a project at my previous institution looking at how PhD students created and managed their research data. The UX project is an interesting opportunity for me to build on the knowledge I gained in the previous project.

I hope to learn the best ways to communicate with research students of all disciplines and backgrounds as well as to understand what (if any) disciplinary differences exist in finding information. I also have a research background and still do research when I get a chance so I’m also hoping for some tips from the students on the tools and techniques they use to both find and organise information!


4. What is your role in this project?

I mentor two of the PhD students involved in the project as well as sit on the project’s Steering Group.


5. What is the most fascinating aspect of this project to date? Has anything surprised you in the results so far?

The most fascinating part of any project involving PhD students is actually finding out about the students’ research. It always demonstrates the breadth, depth, and quality of university research.

A couple of responses to one of our monthly surveys did surprise me. We asked the students to evaluate a number of university library research support websites. A couple of the students stated that they wouldn’t have thought to go to the Library pages to access the information they provided. As someone who has helped create web pages at both Loughborough and my previous Institution this raised more questions than answers and I would hope to follow through with the students when we meet with them.


6. From your perspective as a research data manager, what is the value of undertaking research into the user experience?

The main value as I see it is to actually get a feel for what our users want rather than what we think they want. This feeds into not only online help (e.g. web pages, guides etc.) but also in face to face training. The vocabulary we use can only be helped by user experience.


7. How does your department help researchers navigate online content? (Any teaching courses, any initiatives?)

The Library provides numerous courses around Information management looking at topics such as “Keeping up to date” and “Managing References”. In addition, I co-teach a session on research data management, part of which covers data citation and data repositories.


8. What tips do you give to researchers managing their research online?

Have a plan and be consistent. It’s no use managing part of your research using one system and another part using a second system. I would also ensure that all the research you have is securely backed up and to ensure that the backup is a backup rather than an older copy. In addition, I would encourage researchers (and all users) to spend a bit of time identifying which tools and solutions are best for them. Once the best solution has been identified then also spend a bit of time learning the solution so that you use it most optimally.

9. What advice would you give to others running similar projects with PhD students in their institutions?

Where possible try and have a range of disciplines within the project students. In addition, it helps to have students at different stages of their studies e.g. first years or third years, as well as those studying full time and part time.

I would also make it clear what benefits the students will get out of the project. This could be skills and information the students use throughout their studies and future careers or it could be financial.