Reclaim Your Time: Upgrade Your Research with Smart Data Management

4/18/2022 12:45:45 PM Hannah Wirth

Data is integral to research, and data management is at the core of best practices in research methodology. Good data management, however, is often overlooked, resulting in wasted time and resources.

The Interdisciplinary Health Sciences Institute (IHSI) recently hosted Reclaim Your Time: Upgrade Your Research with Smart Data Management, attracting researchers from 60 departments and 13 colleges across campus. Presentation slides and a video recording are available.

Fatima Ahmed, Assistant Research Biostatistician in IHSI's Biostatistics, Epidemiology, and Research Design (BERD) core, discussed the added monetary cost to clean data and prepare it for analysis. “It can easily cost anywhere from $1000 to $2500, per 20 to 30 hours,” said Ahmed. “This cost estimate is for a small dataset, a basic cross-sectional study, and not a longitudinal multi-site study, which can have even more complications due to the variety of hands the data touches.”

Sandi Caldrone, Research Data Service librarian, discussed the human element. “When planning for data management, it can be tempting to focus on technological risks like storage failures, but really the greatest risk to your data is you,” said Caldrone. “Even if we start out with the best intentions, under pressure, we tend to cut corners, and that can end up costing us in terms of time and money.”

During the event, Caldrone and Ahmed discussed:

  • Life cycle of a dataset, from planning and collecting, to analyzing, sharing, preserving, and reusing data
  • Best data management tips, such as file naming conventions, data documentation, and data storage systems, such as Illinois REDCap
  • Examples of data management pitfalls and how to avoid them

Both Ahmed and Caldrone offered suggestions to save time in the long run. Ahmed recommends creating a data dictionary, using Illinois REDCap, and hiring (or at least assigning) a data manager. Caldrone recommends consulting with experts early in the planning process, establishing a file naming convention, and starting a ReadMe file up front to keep notes on your data as the project progresses. 

The IHSI Biostatistics, Epidemiology, and Research Design (BERD) core offers expert biostatistical consulting and analysis services in support of health-related research. Please contact us at for assistance with designing studies and enhancing data collection, management, and analysis for health-related research projects.

The University Library Research Data Service offers the expertise, tools, and infrastructure necessary to manage and steward research data. Reach out to them at to schedule a data management consultation and discuss your research project. Check out the Data Nudge for more tips, and subscribe to get a monthly nudge towards better data management practices.

Subscribe to the IHSI e-newsletter to learn about upcoming webinars hosted by the BERD team and teams from other IHSI cores aimed to help health sciences researchers increase impact at each stage of the research cycle.