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Research Technology for Research Impact

Research takes place in labs. In libraries. At historical sites. In polls, statistical repositories, and news reels. Research methods can be as varied as the fields in which they occur, but one thing they have in common is an increasing reliance on technology.

Pitt IT provides tech that helps researchers in all disciplines to collect, store, and process the data; document their methods, results, and conclusions; and share and collaborate with colleagues and partners. Here are the top Pitt IT tools researchers can start using today.

Online Surveys for Data Collection

When research involves questionnaires, self-reporting, or feedback from participating subjects, you need a robust survey tool that is easy to program and easy to use. The University’s Online Survey System (Qualtrics) allows you to create and distribute surveys for everything from collecting basic demographic info or tracking daily activity, to monitoring symptoms or exploring participant beliefs and backgrounds. The system is user-friendly and requires minimal experience and training.

What sets Qualtrics apart from other simple survey tools is that it does more than securely gathers and stores survey data. It also allows for complex decision trees based on previous responses, provides easy access to raw data, compiles and analyzes results, and creates high-quality charts and graphs to visually present the data.

Secure and Compliant Cloud-Based Data Storage

Everyone at Pitt has access to 5 TB of storage through their OneDrive Cloud account, with file sizes of up to 250 GB each. Files can be shared to facilitate joint editing and collaboration. For some researchers, their OneDrive account is more than sufficient to support their research.

Other research involves large data sets that would quickly use up a personal OneDrive account. That where Enterprise Cloud Computing (ECC) come in to give researchers access to scalable, reliable computing resources. The most widely used ECC platform for large-scale storage and robust compute power is Microsoft Azure. Azure provides resources to tailor specific solutions to your data storage needs, without the extra time or cost of purchasing, setting up, and maintaining a server. Azure lets you archive data inexpensively, provide shared file storage, and store and compute data in an environment with HIPAA-compliant protections for data privacy.

How and where you store data depends on the kind of information that has been colleced. Protecting sensitive data is a critical responsibility. You are responsible for ensuring that your use of permitted services complies with laws, regulations, and policies where applicable. Pitt IT provides guidance and resources to store data securely, by classifying our information assets into risk categories to determine who may access the information and what minimum security precautions must be taken to protect it against unauthorized access.

Research Data Transfer and Access Management

Research often generates very large data sets, which presents challenges when transferring and sharing the data with collaborators. Pitt’s Research Data Management (Globus) subscription helps to eliminate barriers to data management and keeps your data secure.

Globus lets users transfer and share files with ease, no matter the location of you or your collaborators. Users can also develop applications and access gateways by leveraging Globus’s advanced identity management, single sign-on, search, authorization, and automation capabilities. Pitt IT subsidizes the annual the cost of a Globus subscription for all Pitt researchers.

Documentation with Electronic Research Notebooks

Pitt offers Electronic Research Notebooks (LabArchives) to all faculty, researchers, staff, and students at no charge. LabArchives helps you keep track of all your notes, data, findings, and images in one place. Notebooks can be used to organize and manage all aspects of lab activity, from study protocols and testing progress to documenting results.

Notebooks can be accessed safely using a wide variety of devices. You can also share and collaborate on notebooks with research partners, lab staff, students, and classmates, as well as monitor and communicate with one another about the data and assignments at hand.

LabArchives includes LabArchives Inventory, to track the materials you use and the materials you create, and LabArchives Scheduler, which allows lab personnel to schedule lab space and equipment usage. Free weekly training is available online to help you get started.

Images and Charts to Visualize Your Data

Tables of data can be difficult to understand and have little visual impact. Scientific diagrams, charts, and illustrations can take papers, posters, presentations, and publications to the next level. BioRender is a web-based app that makes it easy to create sophisticated figures. The app has over 40,000 icons and a large stock image collection, and it uses an intuitive interface with drag and drop tools—no artistic skills needed. (Think Canva, but for scientific figures.) BioRender also lets you work collaboratively on figures, which is ideal for group labs and assignments.

Through Pitt IT, faculty and staff receive BioRender at a significantly discounted price (just $100/year for each user). Students have free access to help them learn how to visually present scientific concepts and data in their projects and papers.

Supercomputing Power

Pitt’s Center for Research Computing (CRC) provides researchers with free access to advanced computing hardware and software, along with training and consultation by CRC research faculty. University faculty are able to perform resource-intensive functions, such as simulations; data, image, and text analysis; and genomic sequencing to help give shape to innovative ideas.

University faculty can create an account and add an unlimited number of users - undergraduate and graduate students, post-docs, and staff. This account is completely free to all Pitt faculty and includes 10,000 service units—about 1 hour of computing on a CRC cluster.

Statistics and Fiscal Software

In addition to the services listed above, Pitt IT also provides access to specialized statistical software through the Software Download Center, such as R Stat, NVivo, and IBM SPSS. Grants Management fiscal tools such as the Fiscal Panther (Tableau) and Grants Forecasting (Oracle PBCS) services are also available for grants administrators, financial approvers, department admins, and RC business managers.

Explore the Technology Available to You

Learn more about Pitt IT resources for researchers on the Pitt IT website. If you need help with any of the resources or need advice about addressing a technical issue your research project is facing, contact Pitt IT’s Technology Help Desk.

-- By Karen Beaudway, Pitt IT Blogger