April 26, 2017, by Stuart Moran

JISC Workshop on Digital Skills for Researchers

The Digital Research Team visited Newcastle yesterday to take part in a workshop run by JISC. The aim was to help explore what role they can play in supporting researchers in attaining the right level of digital skills. There were around 20 people from different institutions, with Research Software Engineers, Librarians, Research Managers and Digital Curators.  The day was broken down into different sessions, with a range of activities and discussions.

Session 1: Types of Research Support Roles

In this session, we discussed the diverse types of roles that are required to support researchers digitally. Interestingly, the group concluded that specific roles were not really a consideration, and it was more a case of providing a broad range of skills and knowledge, with areas of specialisation where needed. This came as no surprise to me, as the Digital Research Team who (as you may know) already work in this way, with a wide range of experiences and skills between us.

Session 2: Research Support Skills

The second session saw us exploring the types of skills or knowledge that research support staff should have. It quickly became apparent that much of the support is already available to researchers, and that it was simply not being communicated well. One attendee suggested that different support services were like aliens who spoke different languages, and that a mediator was needed to help translate. This is something that the Digital Research Team already aspire to do for researchers, assisting with digital focused conversation with Information Systems and other professional services. This highlighted to the group the need for digitally oriented inter-professional teams. The outcome of the session was identifying the need to develop a framework that articulates the skills required by research support staff to help researchers make best use of digital technologies and services.

Session 3: Availability of Digital Skills Training

The final session of the day saw us exploring the availability of skills and training. There was a lot of talk about software carpentry, data carpentry, and library carpentry and how successful these models have been. For me, the most interesting discussion from the whole day was the need for formal accreditation of the emerging profession of digital research support. This covered new roles such as Research Software Engineers and Digital Research Specialists. The accreditation discussion was taken even further, talking about research software and instruments, and how bad design can lead to bad digital research practices (e.g. bespoke file formats, unusual naming conventions, unsecure data transfers).

Final Outcomes

The outcome of the day was a recommendation from the group that JISC might look to provide a managed digital skills training curriculum for researchers and research support staff. The core skills we identified as a group would be used to identify where training was already available, and highlight gaps that could be filled. The curriculum would also look to be endorsed by appropriate academic institutes to ensure that best practice is met.

Stuart Moran, Digital Research Specialist for Social Sciences

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