Campus-wide interest proved strong at informational sessions about the application for a Federal Statistical Research Data Center (FSRDC) on the Illinois campus. Hosted by IHSI on December 7 and 8, researchers in areas ranging from physics and bioengineering to landscape architecture turned out to get a better sense of what this new data center could mean for their research.
Julian Reif, assistant professor of finance and economics, shared his experience working with FSRDC-obtained datasets. Along with describing how the 20 nationwide FSRDC locations operate—which an Urbana-Champaign location would model—Reif explained the process for obtaining access to a FSRDC for data analysis. After a researcher’s project is approved and identity verified, he or she must visit an FSRDC and access the data onsite. Currently, the nearest FSRDC to Urbana-Champaign is in Chicago, located at the Federal Reserve. Because of the nature of restricted-use microdata, information transfer via the Internet or a portable storage device is strictly prohibited at FSRDCs.
What exclusive data can be accessed at an FSRDC? According to Reif, federal agencies including the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), Census Bureau, and National Center for Health Statistics all house their survey data at FSRDCs. These surveys contain restricted-use data such as:
- Vital statistics (exact dates of birth and death)
- Geographic identifiers (by county, census block)
- Detailed occupation/industry codes
- Survey-unique data (varies)
Gillian Cooke, IHSI research development specialist, has had discussions with several lab groups and health-focused researchers about the need for a dedicated Biostatistics Core on campus.
“Similar goals exist across campus, but each group approaches research questions from different angles,” said Cooke. “This data is so rich that it offers innumerable opportunities for a diverse community of health researchers,” she said.
The Department of Economics has taken the lead on the campus-wide application to become an FSRDC branch location. Following the December info sessions, economics professor Ben Marx received research abstracts from 36 separate investigators at Illinois, detailing how FSRDC data would benefit their work. Marx and fellow professor Mark Borgschulte feel they were able to make the application attractive by highlighting the diverse user group for an Urbana-Champaign location.
“While we don’t know our exact chances for approval, we think our application compares favorably to FSRDC applications that were approved last year,” said Marx. “If we aren’t awarded a branch in 2016, it seems likely we’ll receive useful feedback and obtain approval in the next couple years.”
Economics will submit the FSRDC branch location application by January 29, and expect to hear back on the application in fall 2016.