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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/V052128/1
Title: Sustainability and EDI (Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion) in the R Project
Principal Investigator: Turner, Dr HL
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Department: Statistics
Organisation: University of Warwick
Scheme: EPSRC Fellowship
Starts: 01 July 2021 Ends: 30 June 2026 Value (£): 776,695
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Fundamentals of Computing
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
No relevance to Underpinning Sectors
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
27 Jan 2021 RSE Fellowships 2020 Panel - Full Proposal Announced
25 Feb 2021 RSE Fellowships 2020 Panel B - Interview Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Many large scientific software projects depend heavily on the research community for their maintenance and development. In the case of R, the free software environment for data-analytic computing and graphics, the core developers have mainly been people in traditional academic roles, such as statistics professors. As such, their focus has been on aspects of development related to their areas of research, with other necessary functions being done as service, that may or may not be recognised by their institutions.

This paradigm has led to a crisis of sustainability for the R project, since there has been insufficient investment in establishing open, sustainable development practices or mentoring new contributors. Many of the current core developers are past or nearing retirement, leaving the R project in a precarious situation. Since R is widely used in the development of research software, this is an issue that the research community must urgently address.

The current model of core development has also led to a diversity problem. Contributing in a substantial way has required a privileged academic position, with the security and flexibility to make time for this work, which has favoured white men in high-income countries. Although the core developers have acknowledged this issue, a lack of time, along with a limited perspective of the barriers faced by under-represented groups, has meant that little action has been taken.

Through this fellowship, I aim to establish Research Software Engineers (RSEs) as part of the solution to creating more sustainable and inclusive large-scale research software projects. I will demonstrate how RSEs can be critical contributors, by modelling this role in the context of the R project. One aspect will be contributing to the maintenance and development of fundamental code in the R project, either the core R codebase, or important add-on packages that are (or will be) orphaned. Making these contributions as a woman myself will demonstrate the potential for RSE positions to support contributors from under-represented groups. It will also show the potential for RSEs to take on work that may be less desirable to people in traditional academic roles (since it does not represent novel research). However, I intend to go beyond this and also demonstrate how RSEs can contribute to promoting sustainability and inclusion. This aspect will form a large component of my work and involve activities such as helping to make the core development process more transparent, mentoring short-term projects, and providing training.

Key Findings
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Potential use in non-academic contexts
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Date Materialised
Sectors submitted by the Researcher
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Further Information:  
Organisation Website: http://www.warwick.ac.uk