Spooky Data Management Lessons from 'What We Do in the Shadows'

You might be reading the title of this blog post and thinking 'Really, Hannah? Data management in a vampire mockumentary?' Hear me out, because not only is the 2014 film What We Do in the Shadows a phenomenal story about the trials and tribulations of daily life for vampire roommates in Wellington, New Zealand, many of the themes and plotlines can be translated to data management principles and challenges! So, when I was searching for a topic for a spooky-themed Tartan Datascapes for Halloween, this film stood out to me as a perfect way to draw some popular culture connections to data management. While What We Do in the Shadows is not inherently a Halloween movie, there are certainly some parts in the film that are spooky to me, such as this scene where Viago attempts to wake up Petyr, their 8000-year old vampire roommate, from his slumber. Warning: this video has a jump scare!

Note: there's also a television series for What We Do in the Shadows, and while that series is absolutely lovely, this post focuses on the movie!

Spoilers ahead, and content warning for dramatized blood and general vampire themes. 

1. Understand your data and what it can and cannot do

Like a lot of housemates, the vampires have regular house meetings to talk through chores and other home maintenance logistics in order to keep everyone on the same page and contributing to the overall well-being of the household. Deacon, Viago, and Vladislav come together for a house meeting, deciding to not invite Petyr due to his advanced age. The vampires begin discussing their chore wheel and various chores around the house that need to be done, mainly led by Viago, who sees cleanliness as a primary virtue. Deacon, the youngest of the vampires at age 183, is often seen as the rebel of the group with one of his views being that 'vampires don't do dishes,' much to the dismay of Viago and Vladislav who lament the growing pile of dirty dishes in their kitchen. After a struggle, Deacon eventually concedes and spitefully does the dishes, but it's clear that the older vampires in the house don't share his same view about vampires and dishes.

Just like Deacon and dishes, those of us who work with data in our research may sometimes find ourselves trying to get our data to do things that it simply is not meant to do. Maybe we're trying to do an analysis but our data isn't formatted in the proper way. Or, maybe we're trying to create a visualization from our data, but it's clear that the data isn't meant for that type of representation. In our data consulting endeavors at CMU Libraries, we work with a lot of folks who have a very specific analysis or visualization in mind, but are having a hard time getting it to work. After we get the chance to look at their underlying data, it's usually the case that either the data is formatted incorrectly, or it's simply not the right analysis/visualization for it. Just like the vampires have their own quirks and requirements due to their age and backgrounds, your data has its own unique characteristics as well. Always get to know your data and understand what it can and cannot do!

2. Know the technologies available to you

In the film, the vampires befriend a delightful, soft-spoken human named Stu and regularly invite him over to their house, forging a warm and meaningful bond with him despite the fact that he 'looks delicious with his big red cheeks.' This bond is deepened by a house-wide agreement that the vampires will not eat Stu, nor turn him into a vampire himself. As a software analyst working for a geographic information systems (GIS) company, Stu introduces the vampires to new technologies that enrich their life, including computers, cell phones, and digital cameras, allowing them to play pranks on each other and finally see the sunrise in a safe manner. The vampires are grateful for Stu for all the new knowledge that he brings to the household, and his willingness to train them in using these new technologies for their benefit.

Similarly, it can be helpful to leverage the technologies for data management that are available to you! Data management can be intimidating especially for those who feel it may add extra time to their research workload, and several available technologies help relieve some of that time burden while also keeping your data secure and organized. For our CMU campus community, we at the University Libraries license several tools that can help enrich your own data management workflows and overall processes, including LabArchives, protocols.io, DMPTool, KiltHub, and Open Science Framework. Treat us at the Libraries like the Stu of Carnegie Mellon University's campus, providing access to a host of technologies that can benefit your research data process!

3. Don't be afraid to get help from others

Because vampires don't have reflections, the crew in What We Do in the Shadows have to rely on each other to see if their outfits strike the right tone for their excursions into the Wellington nightlife to find their next human meals. While preparing their looks, Viago, Vladislav, and Deacon give each other critical feedback on their outfits, and draw pictures to help each other get an idea of what vibe their fashion is projecting, such as Vladislav's 'Dead but Delicious' look. It's truly a heartwarming lesson in helping out others so they don't have to navigate difficult situations alone!

You don't have to go it alone when it comes to data management, either. At CMU Libraries, we have functional experts in data management (including yours truly) as well as many subject-specific experts in data and research across all domain areas, from humanities to STEM. We completely understand that taking the time to make sure your data is organized, properly documented, and stored appropriately can, for some, seem like a great deal of time that you have to add to your existing research workflows. At CMU Libraries, we can offer tips, tricks, and advice for implementing recommended data management techniques into your research workflows as efficiently and seamlessly as possible! 

I hope you've enjoyed today's spooky-flavored Tartan Datascapes! While we may have different overall motivations than the vampires in What We Do in the Shadows, regardless of if we're human or not, we're all trying to make sense of the world around us. Whether it's research data or picking out the best outfit for going out on the town in Wellington, we all benefit from knowing who we have in our circles that we can rely upon. At CMU, you can rely on the University Libraries to help you through your entire research and learning journey whether you're physically on campus or joining us remotely! I hope you have a great Halloween and don't forget to eat your basghetti.