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Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Spreading the Benefits of Research Computing to All Disciplines | EDUCAUSE Review

Gregory Dobbin, Senior Editor, EDUCAUSE writes, "The tools and techniques of research computing were developed alongside a set of academic disciplines that for many years were the primary — and sometimes exclusive — users of those technologies."

The needs of areas including engineering, the physical sciences, and computer science helped guide the ways research computing came to function and be structured, and the synergy between those "traditional" users and the growing capacities of research computing has led to significant breakthroughs. 

At many colleges and universities, efforts are well under way to bring the opportunities of high-performance computing, high-speed data transfer, and storage to other disciplines, including the arts, humanities, and social sciences. Extending research computing to these areas faces some essential challenges, though, including the fact that many of the intended researchers do not have a deep understanding of how research computing can benefit them. Moreover, these new users might have needs that aren't addressed well by the existing methods and tools of research computing.
As described in a new ECAR research bulletin by Lauren Michael and Bruce Maas, the University of Wisconsin–Madison (UW-Madison) created a new role — the research computing facilitator (RC facilitator) — to "[engage] researchers represented in the 'long tail' of computing needs, where potentially significant, compute-enabled transformations to scholarship have yet to be realized." UW-Madison is a member of the NSF-funded Advanced Cyberinfrastructure - Research and Education Facilitators (ACI-REF) network, and the institution's hiring of an RC facilitator was undertaken as part of that collaboration. The university recognized the gaps for "nontraditional" users of research computing and saw an opportunity to provide needed education and support through a dedicated human resource, someone with expertise both in research computing and in academic research methods and teaching. At UW-Madison and other research institutions, RC facilitators "are changing the way that higher education institutions approach research computing" by "helping researchers identify and implement computational approaches that result in the greatest impact to their projects."
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Source: EDUCAUSE Review