A major part of our year long effort to plan a US research software institute is to understand the diverse challenges and barriers that researchers face when using or developing research software. To better understand these challenges, we are currently in the midst of running a large scale survey aimed at researchers who develop or use software in academia, government, and other research focused institutes. If you’re involved in any aspect of research software or know colleagues who are, please take and share the survey:
(reposted from Daniel S. Katz’s blog This blog post is intended as companion text for a talk I gave at the September 2018 NumFOCUS Project Forum in in New York, though I also hope it stands on its own. To address software sustainability, it is important first to understand how the term sustainability is used more generally. It’s most often used in the context of ecology, often specifically in the relationship between humans and the planet.
CiteAs.org links between pieces of software and their requested citations. It enables moving from the name of a piece of software, its webpage URL, or a DOI, directly to the machine-readable metadata (e.g., BibTex, Zotero auto-import) for the citation the author of the software package wants you to use. CiteAs.org is funded by the Digital Science program at the Sloan Foundation (Grant Number 8028), and conceived and developed by Heather Piwowar and Jason Priem at ImpactStory, together with James Howison from the Information School at the University of Texas at Austin.
What do sociologists, ecologists, economists, engineers, anthropologists, geographers, hydrologists, evolutionary biologists, and environmental scientists all have in common? Software! Science at the intersection of humans and the environment increasingly requires collaborative, interdisciplinary work among researchers with varied computing backgrounds to gather insights from highly diverse data at multiple scales. Reliable software is necessary to achieving this synthesis. At the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC), we provide cyberinfrastructure support oriented toward helping researchers choose, apply, and develop software to meet the research needs of the 40+ interdisciplinary projects we support at any given time.
When I first started thinking about how we could create a career path for Research Software Engineers (RSEs) in academia, I assumed it would involve persuading university managers to implement a new career path. Quite frankly, I wasn’t looking forward to the interminable bureaucracy that such a change would require me to navigate. Fortunately, a completely different solution quickly gained traction in the UK: the rise of RSE Groups. An RSE Group is a centralized group, based at a university or other research organization, that employs a number of RSEs and then hires them out to researchers across the organization.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a biologist in possession of a data must be in want of a computer to analyze it on. Or, perhaps not. In 2016 as part of our efforts to better understand the needs of users and potential users of CyVerse (NSF-funded cyberinfrastructure for life sciences), we conducted a survey of NSF-funded investigators to determine what was important for them when it comes to analyzing large datasets.
Software has been both ubiquitous and largely neglected in computational science and engineering (CSE) since before the field became a recognized entity. The interest in CSE software for both practitioners and sponsors has primarily been on the scientific insights and advances it enables rather than on its value as a long-lived tool or product. As a result, the culture of CSE, broadly speaking, has a structure and reward system that focuses on the algorithms and the results, but where good quality research software, as well as the time and effort required to produce it, often tend to be marginalized.
Among the many efforts that are underway as part of NSF’s SI2 program, one of the most cross-cutting efforts is the planning for a US Research Software Institute (URSSI), which was funded in December 2017. This effort aims to plan an institute that would address challenges around making research software sustainable and robust, and more importantly, improve the sustainability of the researchers who develop such software. Some of our initial discussions, described in detail below, have surfaced problems encountered by specific researchers working on specific software applications, but the solutions conceived of and planned for by URSSI are not aimed at any one domain or discipline of research.