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What would happen if you lost all of your research data?

8th April 2014
By Katy Alexander

The loss of scientific data can have a devastating impact on careers. Imagine if you lost all of the research data you’d been diligently collecting for four years. Now imagine the knock-on effect; you wouldn’t get the PhD you’d been working towards, affecting your future career. This nightmare situation happened to Billy Hinchen. Hear his story.

Have you had a data drama similar to Billy’s? Share your stories with us via #datadramas.

After moving all of his data home to write up his paper, biologist Billy Hinchen returned one afternoon to find that his laptop and all backup hard drives had been stolen. All that remained was a disparate collection of data, spread across numerous flash drives, email attachments and scribbled drawings that were difficult to piece together.

The consequences were disastrous. As Billy elaborated:

 “I was focussed on creating high resolution, 3D time lapse videos of developing crustacean embryos, so all of my work was digital-based. When I lost my laptop and backups, I lost 400GB of data and close to four years of work. As a direct result I ended up getting an MPhil rather than the PhD I’d been working towards. I was hoping to have an illustrious career in science and for a time it seemed like everything would be stopped in its tracks.”

Billy explains that when you’re dealing with 400GB of data you end up with a mish-mash of data in a variety of places. 

“If at the time I’d had Projects I could have added meta data within the files which would have allowed me to quickly access my data as opposed to having to trawl through numerous folders on my computer and lab notes. Also if I’d had an online repository like Figshare where I could take key data and findings along the way and upload them to Figshare to be stored safely and in a referenceable way, it would have made a huge difference.”

Luckily there’s a happy ending; Billy has ended up with a career in science that he loves. 

“Despite everything, I haven’t given up on science. Since secondary school the only career I ever wanted was to do was to be a scientist”.

Have you had or know someone who’s had a data drama similar to Billy’s? Do share your stories with us via #datadramas.

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