BIDS Research Scientist Karthik Ram has been awarded NSF funding to lead a project toward designing and creating the US Research Software Sustainability Institute (URSSI), a community hub that will provide services to help scientists create improved, more sustainable software.
The project team - composed of lead PI Ram with co-PIs Jeffrey Carver, Daniel Katz, Sandra Gesing and Nicholas Weber - will work with scientists nationwide (via workshops, an online survey, a website and other focused communications efforts) to understand how the research community can best work together to design and maintain better software that will be operable and viable over extended periods of time and across different platforms and various disciplines of study.
According to Ram, "a significant proportion of the software that scientists use in their research are developed by academic researchers. However, since researchers aren’t explicitly trained in software development, or receive academic credit for such work, the quality of research software is quite variable and often not sustainable. Our goal is to understand and improve the practices around how such software are developed and maintained in a sustainable way.”
Modern research is inescapably digital, with data and publications most often created, analyzed and stored electronically, using tools and methods expressed in software. This "research software" is essential to progress in science, engineering, and all other fields, but it is not currently being developed in an efficient or sustainable way. The researchers who develop this software, while well-versed in their discipline, generally do not have sufficient training and understanding of the best practices that ease development and maintainability and that encourage sustainability and reproducibility. In response, this project will conceptualize a US Research Software Sustainability Institute that will validate and address various concerns impacting a wide variety of software development and maintenance projects. The conceptualization process will include workshops and a widely-distributed survey to engage important stakeholder communities and to learn about the software they produce and use, and the ways they contemplate sustaining it, following paths blazed by other successful software institutes.
Communication is a key component of this project, with newsletters, a web site, survey outputs, and social media being used to provide broad dissemination and engagement. The workshops, survey and community management approach will allow the conceptualization project team to build on existing and extensive understanding of the challenges for sustainable software and its developers. The project will also address how URSSI could formalize, diversify and improve the pipeline under which students enter universities, learn about and contribute to software, and then graduate to full-time positions where they make use of their software skills, in order to increase the diversity of those entering research software development and to retain diversity over their university careers.
More information can be found at this NSF website:
NSF Award #1743188 - SI2-S2I2 Conceptualization: Conceptualizing a US Research Software Sustainability Institute (URSSI)