Getting a master’s degree or PhD is a long and arduous undertaking with many unexpected stumbling blocks along the way. For some graduate students in the social sciences the first barrier to success is finding secondary data that will be the foundation of their research.
Librarians help students with just such problems every day.
Many researchers make their data freely available to other scholars by depositing data in institutional repositories. And librarians are experts at helping researchers discover existing datasets that are relevant to their research. Still, there may be restrictions placed on use of that data — typically, to protect the privacy of human subjects. In that case, researchers are required to seek approval from an Institutional Review Board (IRB) — potentially a long-drawn-out process and another significant barrier to timely completion of graduate research.
UT librarian Brianne Dosch is trying to help graduate students bypass the IRB hurdle by creating a virtual guide to unrestricted and openly available datasets. Her project is being sponsored by the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) through a $2800 fellowship fund. Dosch, who is UT’s social sciences data librarian, was awarded an ICPSR Visiting Representative Fellowship this past year to create the electronic resource.
ICPSR has hundreds of datasets that are related to or close to topics that frequently involve restricted data. Dosch is creating an electronic guide that will help researchers identify openly available ICPSR datasets that closely cover the same topics as restricted-use datasets but do not require IRB approval or a restricted data use agreement.
Grad students and faculty often abandon research topics because they are only able to find restricted-use datasets and it can be difficult — or almost impossible — to access restricted-use datasets in a timely fashion. With help from Dosch’s online guide, researchers who have encountered such setbacks may still be able to obtain secondary data to inform their research interests.
Dosch will present her project at the ICPSR Biennial Meeting in October 2021.
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