Developing a Nexus for Research Computing Support

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By Maya Gurarie, Digital Experience Specialist

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Preparing the next generation of research computing and data (RCD) professionals is a moving target. As the field continues to evolve, it is incumbent upon leaders to create a more diverse and equitable environment. 

Dana Brunson and her team of 4 co-principal investigators are redefining what diversity means within the RCD field. They won a $1.49M NSF grant to further career development in RCD. The team includes Thomas Cheatham, Scott Yockel, Patrick Schmitz, and Claire Mizumoto. They will develop leading practices for recruitment as well as advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). One goal of the NSF grant is to bring the entire community together, which is comprised of various research organizations that support RCD development. As the team facilitates this initiative, they strive to be inclusive as they develop a shared voice to advocate for those who enable computational research.

“A big thing you will see is democratizing access. Science happens and research happens at every institution—everything from the Harvards and Stanfords and Princetons to the community colleges. If you think about the workforce we have in this country, and the needs we have for a technology enabled workforce, we can’t be leaving out half the population of brilliant people. They exist at all kinds of institutions,” said Dana Brunson, Internet2 executive director for research engagement.

Bridging a Gap of RCD Professionals

The NSF grant provides funds for workforce development through the RCD-Nexus. The team defines ‘research computing and data’ to include computing, data, networking, systems, software, instrumentation, and the peoplewho support all this. The Resource and Career Center will include:

Brunson would like to ensure that the RCD-Nexus removes barriers in RCD for those in underrepresented and underserved communities. The team working on the NSF grant would like to serve as a bridge for professionals in smaller institutions who are starting programs. As the team is coming to terms with a workforce shortage of RCD professionals, they’ve learned that computer science majors are only some of the college students pursuing an RCD career.

“Whenever we are in groups, we’re making sure we have representation from as many different groups as possible. We’re not sticking with the same old groups. You might think everyone is a computer science major but it’s not so—people in humanities and social science are involved, and always welcome if they want to be part of these roles,” Brunson said.

In addition to welcoming people from diverse backgrounds, Internet2 works with the Minority Serving Cyberinfrastructure Consortium (MS-CC). Internet2 recently submitted a grant proposal with the MS-CC to connect research computing with science, engineering, health, social science, and humanities. The funds would empower historically black colleges and universities, tribal colleges and universities, and Hispanic-serving institutions to fully utilize computational resources and have more of a voice in their communities. 

Taking a National Poll

To make research computing more equitable, the team wants to better understand the research computing landscape. With that goal in mind, they are gathering information from RCD professionals through a national survey. The Research Computing Workforce Survey has received 320 responses since it was published in June, with the goal set to collect 800 responses.

The team aims to provide the first large data set on the composition of the RCD workforce in terms of demographics, job responsibilities, job types, compensation, and perceptions of the RCD field. This survey is part of an initiative with the Campus Research Computing Consortium (CaRCC) Professionalization Working Group. 

Science & Beyond

RCD professionals are building on this feedback and sharing information about DEI at professional conferences. Through several workshops and presentations at the Practice & Experience in Advanced Research Computing Conference (PEARC21), RCD professionals discussed attracting a diverse pool of talent in the field. The International Conference for High Performance Computing, Networking, Storage, and Analysis (SC21) is another opportunity to continue these conversations. A presentation entitled, “Women in HPC: Diversifying the HPC Community and Engaging Male Allies,” will take place on 11/14 at SC21.

Coming up on August 18 at 2 p.m. ET, the Campus Computing Consortium (CaRCC) will hold a webinar. Register for Supporting Data-Driven Discovery on Campus to learn about the RCD Capabilities Model and the People Network. The facilitators will also discuss how CaRCC is working to increase visibility and participation among underserved organizations.

While the NSF grant team is excited about developments in RCD, they’re careful to build resources that are in service to the entire community. They want to ensure the RCD Nexus lowers barriers for entry and empowers skilled professionals to join the ranks. Those missing from the next generation of RCD professionals may define the profession more than ever.

“There is going to be a huge shortage in the workforce, and there already is. If we put up barriers to access for people coming into the field, we’re just limiting ourselves,” Brunson said.