What should we be giving our researchers?

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This work by Peter Sefton with assistance from Andrew Cheetham and Deborah Sweeney is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia License.

I recently briefed our Campus Development Committee at the University of Western Sydney about the eResearch. I asked the question, What Information and Communications Technology support do our researchers need?

The eResearch team has put together a roadmap which is not quite ready for release. Central to the roadmap is this overall diagram of how we see eResearch, spanning from basic shared infrastructure that supports admin, teaching, learning and research at the bottom via the three ‘pillars’ of eResearch to higher-end, more specific research infrastructure like the NeCTAR funded Virtual Laboratory for Human Communications Science that we’ve recently started, led by the MARCS institute.

Making it topical

To put eResearch in context I referred to something that’s happening in the learning side of the enterprise. At the University of Western Sydney we have a bold new initiative in place. The headline reads “UWS Deploys iPads to support IT-enhanced learning”.

From the website:

This bold move – believed to be the largest rollout of its kind ever carried out in an Australian university -marks the start of the University’s major longer-term strategy to engage students in new ways of learning and interacting with all that UWS has to offer across its campuses and online. 

“With digital technology revolutionising how we connect and interact with the world, university study should be no different,” says Professor Kerri-Lee Krause, (UWS Pro Vice-Chancellor (Education)

“This initiative will not only readily equip our students and academic staff with mobile tools to enhance learning, it will also help them to engage with an ever-increasing online world.” 


This is a multi-million dollar play – designed to support the phased rollout of the ‘blended learning’ initiative throughout the undergraduate programs as well as to attract and retain students and to show our commitment to providing a modern, responsive educational environment that spans the online and face-to-face worlds.

So, what’s the eResearch equivalent? What would be the headline? What wold be the initiative that would put UWS ahead of the curve?

UWS deploys <insert-initiative-here> to support IT-enhanced research

<insert photo of happy researchers>

Question is, what can we do that demonstrates a similar commitment to our research community? We’re always open to new ideas on this, but the eResearch team has consulted extensively with research communities, IT and administrators in the University to come up with a Roadmap which will be published soon, subject to any further comments from the eResearch committee.

eResearch activities

  • Specific support:

  • Generic support:

    1. Research Data Repository project (including two other projects funded by the Australian National Data Service)

    2. Research computing project*

    3. Research collaboration project*

  • eResearch Readiness Program*

*These are yet to be funded and established.

All this is in the service of the research objectives of the university:

  • Objective 1 – Increase external research income to the University

  • Objective 2 – Increase the number of fields of research at UWS operating above or well above world standard

  • Objective 3 – Increase the number and concentration of funded research partnerships

  • Objective 4 – Ensure UWS attracts and graduates high quality HDR students to its areas of research strength.

It’s worth looking at where we sit in the research landscape. Here’s a chart put together by Andrew Cheetham, our Deputy Vice Chancellor Research that shows the distribution of Australian Research Council discovery grant allocations for 2013. This shows how well our young university performs in attracting Australian Competitive Grant income compared to the cohort of Dawkins Universities  formed post 1988. Note that UWS (in red) is sitting just behind Griffith,



Figure 1 © Andrew Cheetham, University of Western Sydney, used with permission

There are 21 people listed in Griffith’s eResearch team.

At UWS the core ongoing team numbers two at the moment, increasing to three soon, plus a couple of extras (present total 4.5).

With such a small team we need to try to find a big lever to have an impact on the eResearch culture at UWS; even though we were unable to secure funding in the latest budget allocations for a dedicated trainer/disseminator to coordinate eResearch education for staff and students, and set up a series of interest groups where we can reach multiple people at once to help create peer-support networks – these will be organised around various kernels of community that we have found around the place:

  • High Performance Computing (HPC) users,

  • Statistical computing (in particular the those using the R language),

  • Reproducible Research and

  • Digital Humanities.

One of the other things we need to do is encourage an eResearch culture. This means asking not just ‘what services do we need to provide to researchers?’ but also what are the attributes of an effective IT-enabled researcher. We have started work on mapping-out what kind of support we need to give our research community to improve eResearch readiness and capability.