No Scientist Left Behind: The Case for Data Education (Part II)

If you read my last post, you know that I am an advocate for better data education for scientists at all levels.  I focused on the need for better education of scientists-in-training (i.e. graduate students and postdocs), but this might actually be a bit late.  All science graduate students took classes with a mandatory laboratory component as undergraduates.  These same students are also likely to have taken courses in high school that involved laboratory experiments, data analysis, and rudimentary metadata generation (data documentation).

If our scientific training begins in high school and continues through our undergraduate courses, why should our data education and training not develop alongside more traditional skills, such as wearing safety goggles and close-toed shoes in the laboratory?

I know what you are thinking (because I’ve thought it myself): what about lab notebooks? Almost all science courses require students to keep some form of lab notebook; even in grammar school, students are often instructed to document their exercises on a lab worksheet.  The lab notebook is a mainstay in science education: document your work so others can verify or reproduce it.  I wholeheartedly agree with the importance of the notebook, however I contend that this crucial piece of data education (the only data education most students outside of graduate school receive), does not always make an appearance graduate school.  This is because the lab notebook has slowly fallen away with the digitization of scientific data and analysis.  Why keep an accurate, up-to-date notebook when all of  your notes, analyses, data, and visualizations are on a computer?

Lab bench with lab notebook

What happens to all of these handwritten notes? From flickr.com proteinbiochemist, CC0

So what does this mean for data education of scientists? I believe that data education should start earlier.  I would suggest MUCH earlier (grammar school!) but certainly it should be part of the science curriculum in undergraduate science courses.  Like the Logic course I was forced to take as part of my undergraduate liberal arts education, Data Management is at the core of so much of our daily lives, that its applicability reaches far beyond you what you might expect.

Next week I promise to return to the Excel add-in and where we are with the project. Stay tuned!

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