Implementing a Research Data Management System (RDMS) at Tufts

Christine Fitzgerald
Wednesday, July 1, 2015 - 12:15pm

“It is critical for Tufts University to effectively manage our research data. RDMS will not only ensure that Tufts is compliant with federal regulations and guidelines but also provide a strategy and the tools that support a much needed University-wide data management service towards enhancing research across the Tufts community.”

Professor Diane L. Souvaine, Project Sponsor and Vice Provost for Research

What is Research Data Management and Why RDMS?
Data management is an essential area of responsible research. Effective data management can increase the pace of the research process, contribute to the soundness of research results, and meet funding agency requirements by making research data easy to manage and share over the long term. By creating a plan for managing data at the beginning of a project, principal investigators (PIs) and their research teams will save time and effort later on and ensure data produced will be preserved in a clear, useable format.

To address the importance of data management at Tufts, Diane Souvaine, Vice Provost for Research and David Kahle, Vice President for Information Technology and CIO launched the RDMS Project back in November 2013 following an exploratory phase which began mid-2012. The project is a collaborative effort among Tufts Technology Services (TTS); Prof. Albert Robbat, Chemistry along with some of his doctoral and post-doctoral students; Office of the Vice Provost for Research (OVPR); Tisch Library; Hirsch Health Science Library; and the Tufts Research Community.

With Professor Robbat’s participation and guidance since the projects inception in 2012 and under the leadership of Lionel Zupan, Project Steward and Director of Tufts Technology Services (TTS) Research Technology, the project team has always focused on engaging with the Tufts research community to understand their needs with a goal of selecting, implementing, managing and supporting a University-wide data management service. Based on their research and the diverse needs of the research community, two software platforms were selected at the end of 2014: Agilent’s OpenLab and LabArchives.  LabArchives and Agilent’s OpenLab both offer Electronic Lab Notebook (ELN) software. Agilent’s OpenLab – which is a more comprehensive solution – also includes an Enterprise Content Management (ECM) module.

 “Research data is a valuable intellectual asset to Tufts that requires thoughtful stewardship. This Research Data Management solution and tools will enable researchers to document, deposit, and manage data; facilitating efficient search and retrieval. Increasing access to the data underlying Tufts' published research will foster a collaborative culture of discovery within departments, across schools, and with other research institutions.”

David Kahle, Project Sponsor and VP for Information Technology and CIO

Pilot Phase (July – August 2015)
In order to help plan the summer pilots and to prepare for a fall roll-out, the project team completed an initial pilot (Lab 0) with the help of Professor Robbat’s lab. 

“I am excited to begin using the software tools to better manage my research from both a project and group dynamic perspective. Both software tools allow PI's to move from paper to electronic notebooks, provide the means to search meta "tagged" data, and share that data both internally and with external collaborators. Although the software tools appear to be science-centric, they can be used by all faculty and staff to record and manage their activities.”

Professor Albert Robbat, Project Steward, Core Team Member and Initial Pilot Tester

Beginning in July through the end of August, ten additional labs (5 using Agilent’s OpenLab and 5 using LabArchives) across the Medford, Boston and Grafton campuses will act as pilots for the service and the tools.

Compliance and Implementation
Starting in January 2011, the National Science Foundation (NSF) began requiring all submitted proposals include a Research Data Management Plan explaining how the investigators are planning to acquire, store, manage, share and preserve all the data collected during the studies they propose to conduct. In addition, starting in January 2016, the NSF, the National Institute of Health (NIH) and all agencies under The White House Office of Science and Technology Protocol’s (OSTP) guidance will require that scientific publications and the digital data that generated the publication be publically deposited and available. Part of the RDMS project is to enable researchers to fulfill the federal data management requirements and make Tufts competitive with other research institutions.

Based on feedback from the summer pilot labs, training and service materials will be created, and a roll-out plan developed for all Tufts users.  Roll-out will be done university-wide in consultation with interested faculty and staff to ensure specific needs are met. This Research Data Management Service is expected to be available to the Tufts community later this fall. Stay tuned for more information in early September, including a website with how to access the service, and links to key resources and best practices regarding research data management.

If you have questions about the project or want to schedule a consultation to get your faculty and staff onboard, please contact