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Use of USCS datasets in research?

Crucial BBQ

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I am still waiting on decisions, so I am not a grad student as of yet.  However, I have a question.  


One of my POIs mentioned the possibility of using datasets from USGS in my research, suggesting even going as far as working with the USGS to help with my research.  This is something that did not occur to me, but doing so does seem to make sense; in the past I just assumed I would collect my own data and then perhaps compare my own data with that found in literature.  Or something like that.  


I have been in communications with a POI from a different program and I want to mention the possibility of using the USGS datasets with my research, but I am not sure if that is proper, let alone how it works.  The first POI has a grant from the USGS for one of his projects and this would be a project that my own research would contribute to.  I know that the USGS is a Federal agency and that as such their datasets are in the public domain(?), but I am afraid that I would look like too much of a n00b if I bring this up with the second POI.  If I were already admitted I would just get straight to the punch and ask, but since my application is still under review as far as I know I don't want to come across as someone who is ignorant to how these things work at this point in time (ahem, that is, appearing to be grasping at straws in the final stretch).  


Do grad students commonly use available datasets?  Is it ethical to use datasets provided by the same entity that issued the research grant? 



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If its a publicly available data set, it's fair game.


For example, most seismology graduate students use publicly available (and published) seismic records for their research.  There is often more data then there are people to process. IMO, using already collected data for a masters project is perfect: perfect to build on (find inconsistencies in the data set) for a PhD project. Think about applying for the GRF next year:


"I have used this data set, and this data set doesn't all us to observe x, so I need to go and collect this to observe x".


What may be unethical (IMO) is that you got the idea to use this data set (for what you want to do) from this other POIs research grant, and if you were to do the same thing with this other POI, it could appear like you are scooping the original POI. Beating someone to the punch happens a lot, but hopefully much of the time its because both people had the same good idea independently of each other.


So you have to decide if the idea is tied to his grant or not, and perhaps include this POI in the conversation. It all depends. 

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Thanks geoDUDE!


The POI mentioned it as a possibility only, and one that would be for my own research not his.  To be frank I think he was throwing me a bone so that I would not spend 2-3 years in the field collecting data if admitted.  

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