Innovative and ground-breaking research is increasingly dependent on the collection, manipulation, and analysis of data. IDRE’s focus on statistical computing and data informatics acknowledges a campus-wide need to respond to the opportunities and challenges associated with research data.
As technology advances, new types of data and massive data sets – from Twitter feeds to detailed imaging – allow researchers to investigate novel research hypotheses, but require new statistical methodologies for their analysis. This combination of complex data models and computationally intensive algorithms often requires more computing power than most desktop systems can offer. UCLA researchers are also enjoying their new-found freedom to combine data from a variety of sources into a single data set, allowing for a new type of creativity in research that is inspiring seasoned and new researchers alike.
The oft-cited ‘data deluge’ impacts researchers across campus. Data confidentiality is increasingly a concern, either because of the nature of the data, its intended use, or collection method (e.g., the accumulation of personal data when people use certain apps on their cell phone, send a tweet, or purchase groceries). Once the data have been analyzed, researchers face new standards in documenting these data sets before they can be archived and shared with colleagues. These new standards are being established not only by professional data archivists, but also by funding agencies and academic journals. Both the amount of data and the mechanisms of distributing those data are also evolving rapidly. (Researchers are increasingly presenting their results to members of the media in addition to members of the academy, amplifying the importance of data analysis in order to convey complex and important research in a few sentences or a 15-second sound bite.) Methods for merging different data sets, as well as issues regarding data quality, are increasingly important. The increased redistribution of data allows for new analyses over time; it is also extending the life-cycle of data.
Faculty and staff researchers are encouraged to contact the IDRE Statistical Consulting Group (IDREstat@ucla.edu) to discuss and find solutions for specific data-related challenges. The group regularly runs training classes on the most common statistical packages and will work with campus units to tailor sessions to discipline-specific needs. Other resources associated with the IDRE Statistical Computing/Data Informatics program include a Statistical Computing web site, walk-in and e-mail consulting services, and a mailing list for information about statistical computing on campus.