- Open Exeter
Biography and Research Project
I began my PhD in the autumn of 2010, after passing through five years of undergraduate and Masters research on marine biology at the University of Glasgow. I have really been a marine biologist all my life, growing up investigating the rocky shores of Donegal and County Antrim, so it was wonderful to finally study the subject in detail.
My research before Exeter was focussed on the ecology of deep sea fish, and, I had the opportunity of spending six weeks on a research vessel in the Atlantic, living for a year in Norway and spending a long summer as an intern at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, California. However, I wanted to learn more about other ocean ecosystems and to follow my interest and concern about human impacts on marine communities. I was fortunate to find a PhD that allowed my research to shift into these fields.
It is commonly known that the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) being added to the atmosphere is causing changes to the climate, alterations that are predicted to become severe in the future. However, these emissions are having other consequences that are less widely known.
Approximately one third of the CO2 released by human activities is absorbed into the oceans, and this is causing a decrease of seawater pH and changes in ocean chemistry. These processes, known as ‘ocean acidification’ (OA), are going to impact the development, functioning and behaviour of marine animals.
My project investigates the effect of high CO2 seawater on the early life stages of commercial fish. I take multiple microscopic images to analyse internal anatomy and physiological processes. These are saved as TIFF files but require conversion to JPEG for some analytical programmes. All image file types, retrieved data and the outputs from statistical programmes are saved and stored. I use a lab book to record raw data from experiments which is then added to Excel and, depending on the type of data, I use both SPSS and R software to run statistical tests. All my experimental plans and results are written up and saved as Word documents.
Over the past few months, I have also been compiling data from published literature in order to perform a meta-analysis of the responses of marine species to predicted future ocean conditions. This requires saving multiple PDF files of journal articles, in addition to Excel sheets of raw data and, ultimately, statistical outputs using MetaWin. Often, papers only include visual representation of the experimental results so, in order to obtain the raw data, I have been using Plot Digitizer. For this, a snap shot of the figure must be copied from the PDF and converted into JPEG format before it can be opened by the programme. When collecting data for the meta-analysis, I frequently have seven or more windows open on my desktop which can become very confusing, especially if I have to stop the work abruptly.
Main Concerns about Research Data Management
My main concern regarding data use is effective storage and I am very interested in learning and trying different ways to save, name and store my files so they are easily found, even after long periods of time. I use an external hard drive to transport my papers and data when I am working at home or traveling, however, I find it difficult to remember which files I have added or updated since I last used the hard drive and often end up copying over everything I think may need into a new folder. This makes my hard drive organisation messy and complicated.
A further problem when working from home is the conversion between operating systems. At the University I use a PC and Microsoft software, while at home I have a MacBook. I frequently email myself files from home, forgetting that I won’t be able to open them on my work computer. When I do remember to save the file as a Microsoft type, a duplicate is created and my personal computer is quickly filling up with two copies of any document I have wanted to work on at home. I would also like to know more about the storage and back up facilities available at the University.
I have completed just over a year of my PhD and have amassed a huge amount of files already. This will be greatly added to over the next few years and I would like to feel more confident and in control of these, something I certainly do not feel at the moment.
In addition to this, I look forward to the opportunities of testing software and methods of using and storing my data that this project will give, and the chance to critically discuss these with others. I hope to find a system that works for me and to help other students find something similar.