Technology is moving fast and has an ever-increasing influence on the way researchers work. Sarah Porter, head of innovation at Jisc, has worked alongside her colleague Torsten Reimer to pull out key predictions for the future of research.
“With rapidly increasing amounts of data generated, digital technology offers new and innovative ways of finding and analysing relevant information. It also allows academics to work with citizen scientists and engage the public in their research. This will allow researchers to undertake projects on a larger scale with more impactful results.”
Sarah and Torsten believe that, in the future, the quality of research will depend on an informed use of technology and hope the below predictions will help you to stay ahead of the game.
1. Researchers will go mobile
We all use mobile devices to access and share all sorts of data, and researchers are not different in this respect. Increasingly though, mobile devices will also be used as tools for conducting research. Tablet computers and mobile phones are now sophisticated enough to collect data during field work and sometimes even to process it – which allows researchers to share findings with distributed teams across the globe.
VERA, the Jisc-funded Virtual Environments for Research in Archaeology, has already demonstrated how a similar approach can be used to collect data from archaeological digs and share it with researchers off-site.
The recently launched BatMobile project explores how researchers can use mobile phones in the field to record, analyse and share data about bat populations in the UK.
2. Lines between professionals, amateurs and the public will blur
Researchers and citizen scientists are collaborating together through ‘Crowdsourcing’. This approach is employed to build up digital collections of materials, for instance relating to the First World War or a dictionary of Scottish words and place names.
Interested citizen scientists can actively contribute to research by working on source materials, for instance by transcribing historical documents such as Royal Navy ship logs that help to provide data for climate research, or by classifying galaxies in what may be the largest “citizen cyberscience” project so far, Galaxy Zoo, to which hundreds of thousands have contributed.
The use of this type of information gathering will not end here. Amateur researchers and members of the public now have access to a rapidly growing number of research datasets, open access research publications and offer inexpensive processing time.
This means that researchers no longer have to spend weeks in archives abroad or be associated with an academic institution to get access to tools and data to undertake research.
3. Researchers fully embrace social media
A variety of academic disciplines are increasingly using social media to share and discover information, alongside a new culture of more rapid academic publishing in blogs. As the technical means to understand the impact of these channels increase we will also see them becoming more important in the assessment of researchers; the Research Excellence Framework will look at more metrics-based ways to assess the impact of social media.
We can already see how a social media presence enhances the visibility and reputation of researchers as shown in this blog. Some researchers are proposing alternative metrics to journal impact factors though this is not without controversy.
Social media is also becoming a space where research questions are discussed and answered. A current example is that of Tim Gowers, a UK mathematics professor who through co-ordinating the efforts of many mathematicians through his blog was able to solve a complex mathematical problem in weeks instead of years.
Find out how you can get the most out of social media tools and techniques for your research.
4. Data will drive research across many disciplines
Everyone talks about Big Data; in many sciences the processing of large, sometimes huge, datasets has become almost common.
With increasing amounts of existing data digitised we will see data-driven research become more prominent in other disciplines too, for instance the humanities.
The importance of managing research data is growing, as illustrated by new mandates from research funders. As we generate more and more information, real time analysis of data will become more prominent. Thanks to social media there is now a rich source of data available that will be critical for areas such as sociology or healthcare. Jisc is supporting this emerging field through a range of activities, for instance the analysis of social media as communications channel in times of crisis, such as the 2011 UK riots or the real time analysis of social data, such as that being carried out at Cardiff University.
5. Automate it
In order to help researchers deal with the deluge of information available we will need new and improved tools to automate parts of the research process. Text mining, for instance, can help with identifying relevant research publications, potentially even those where critical information is hidden in footnotes. This will help literature review, but also save researchers much needed time. It has been estimated that using automated summaries through text mining can reduce the time needed to deal with research papers to 1/6, for example a biomedical researcher used text mining to draw upon almost 1,000 distinct resources – for just one article.Here are some values and benefits you could gain.
Mendeley helps researchers to manage references, work together and find new relevant literature.
6. Visualise it
The use of visualisation and info-graphics will increase. These are another highly useful way to deal with the ever increasing amount of data. Tools like visual.ly and easel.ly can create compelling digital posters for communicating research results.
The digital humanities, for instance, visualise the social and information networks that made up the early modern scholarly ‘Republic of Letters’, whereas spatial researchers may be more interested in following the movements of millions of people across the London transport network or social network analysis of scholarly communities.
7. Researchers as data managers
With data at the heart of their activities, researchers will have to be more involved in its management. This starts with their own research data, as data management plans are now required by the research councils, but also includes data about their research such as machine readable lists of publications for citation indices or data on their projects. These are complex tasks, but national and international groups are working together to help.
The European Commission is developing plans to support the emerging role of ‘data scientists’ (researchers who focus on supporting research groups in data creation and curation), Jisc is also feeding into this process through a working group.
Jisc is actively involved in the development of a ‘Common European Research Information Format’ to help reduce the burden of sharing research information.
Managing research data and information more effectively will help us to better understand the research process and make its outputs more visible. Researchers and Jisc believe organisations who lead in this area will see their reputation and research success increase.
For training opportunities visit the DCC website.
This article originally featured in issue 35 of Jisc Inform (UK web archive).