By Valerie Polichar.
The UC Research IT Committee (RITC, or “Ritzy,” as we like to call it) is a subcommittee of the UC IT Leadership Committee (ITLC). Just over four years old, the current iteration of RITC started when UC Berkeley CIO Larry Conrad, with the endorsement of UC System CIO Tom Andriola and other ITLC members, asked Berkeley’s then-Research IT Director David Greenbaum to chair a systemwide committee to
- advocate for the importance of research computing,
- connect staff charged with supporting research computing, and
- put UC in the best possible position to take advantage of funding opportunities.
HPC roots, big ideas
Initially, the committee had a focus on high-performance computing (HPC), but that quickly expanded to include strengthening UC’s research IT support more generally. Participants began exploring the diverse challenges of addressing researchers’ complex set of technology needs.
“Research facilitation” wasn’t yet a commonly used term. So the group simply began to share the different ways in which we were trying to meet faculty needs and to delineate the challenges of doing so with minimal staffing and maximum demand. After 2015’s joint workshop among the vice chancellors for research, CIOs, and key faculty, we put our heads together to find ways to meet the ensuing requests for additional services.
To start, RITC built a catalog of IT services for research, even though the vast majority were only available to a local campus. Along with documenting all current efforts, this effectively created a blueprint for a portfolio of basic research IT services that every campus should look to provide. Although the catalog was designed for internal use only, it already has served as leverage to help build up new services at the campus level, and as inspiration for what could some day become multi-campus or systemwide services —part of the dream of the 2015 VCR/CIO workshop. Christine Kirkpatrick, who became the committee’s second chair at the end of 2016, helped bring this project and others to fruition.
Growing UC skills to support research
At the same time, with the support of Andriola, Claire Mizumoto at UC San Diego offered a three-day Research Facilitators Workshop for staff at all campuses who had IT jobs supporting researchers. Styled after the wildly successful NSF-sponsored ACI-REF Virtual Residency, this event proved enormously popular and attendees were eager for more. This success led to a repeat in 2018.
The committee set new annual goals for 2018, including creating workgroups around two critical needs in research IT:
- services to store and work with restricted research data, and
- programs to train research staff and faculty in technology skills needed to manage and analyze data.
Many UC faculty work with data that are in some way “restricted,” meaning they are protected by federal and state laws and regulations and/or UC policy, including HIPAA, NIST 800-171, export-control, and UC’s IS-3 policy. The systemwide Secure Data Storage/Compute workgroup took inventory of the many services across the UC system — a massive undertaking in itself — and is working to document best practices (including appropriate use of the cloud) and assess multi-campus offerings. This will ease the lift for any one campus to build or procure appropriate services for its research data needs.
The VCR/CIO workshop revealed that researchers are eager for training in specific technology skills, including R, Python, and Linux. Fortunately, this need is well met by the international Carpentries project. Not only has our UC workgroup ensured that best practices are shared across the system, but also it has provided leverage to increase the number of Carpentries programs and trainings offered to UC personnel.
In July 2018, I became the third RITC chair. We’re now finalizing our 2019 goals. These include instantiating another systemwide workgroup to share best practices on a technology solution, as well as creating a UC Research IT support meet-up, colocated at a California IT conference (probably the UCTech Conference). And in 2019, UC Berkeley will take on hosting duties for the UC Research Facilitators workshop in order to continue to train the UC staff who provide critical research IT support to faculty.
Valerie Polichar is director of Academic IT Services (a division of IT Services) at UC San Diego.