Research Facilitation on a Budget


Achieving broad uptake of research computing services is a tremendous challenge when funding for staff positions is constrained. Outreach and ongoing engagement with researchers is both essential and time-consuming, leading to a tension between supporting day-to-day operations and building the kinds of partnerships that ensure ongoing support for the program.

Since 2015, Berkeley Research Computing (BRC) has been hiring primarily graduate students into a part-time "domain consultant" role (influenced by ACI-REF job descriptions and Campus Champion activities) that addresses the program's staffing needs in an affordable way, while providing those graduate students with the technical training and professional work experience required for professional research facilitator positions. The domain consultant program has evolved from an hourly student position into a codified set of practices informed by IT service management, addressing needs including: in-person consulting, tier 2 triage of HPC troubleshooting tickets, support for cloud computing and compute in virtualized analytics environments, and user training. In addition, consulting engagements are reviewed and discussed regularly, both in team meetings and in one-on-one meetings with the service manager, to provide opportunities for consultants to hone their skills.

This paper will also highlight the value of programs such as BRC's for addressing gaps in graduate education practices that can hinder PhD recipients' success when applying for research facilitator positions. It will also illustrate the value of thinking broadly about partnerships when developing a consulting program, by describing the program's recent expansion into research data management, and at the Lawrence Berkeley Lab.

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"Research Facilitation on a Budget". Jason Christopher, Aaron Culich, Quinn Dombrowski, Debra McCaffrey, Amy Neeser, and Andrew Wiedlea. 2018. In Proceedings of the Practice and Experience on Advanced Research Computing (PEARC '18). ACM, New York, NY, USA, Article 72, 5 pages