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STEP-UP: a Strategic TEchnical Platform for University Technical Professionals

The STEP-UP platform is a project to develop and support digital Research Technical Professionals (RTPs) and their ecosystem.

'Digital infrastructure' – enabling computational modelling, processing of larger datasets, creation of advanced research facilities, sharing results openly – is the foundation of an increasing number of research domains, beyond those where computation and big datasets have been central for some time.

STEP-UP starting point is that a trained, motivated 'people infrastructure' of expert technical talent – such as research software engineers, research data professionals and systems administrators – along with the career opportunities to support them, is critical to meet new and increasing demands on institutional and national research digital infrastructures.

STEP-UP project team have extensive experience in supporting research software engineers through the Research Software London (RSLondon) community. We will build on this experience to support and train digital RTPs across software development, data management and processing, and computational infrastructure domains. Four institutions will pool their complementary expertise to achieve this, creating a support ecosystem beyond what any institution alone could, and that many others across the UK will benefit from. A community manager will develop our platform's supportive community and ensure that it is active and diverse, while a technical training lead will ensure that all training – technical and professional development – is produced and delivered to a high standard.

The UK Research and Innovation Strategy 2022 to 2027 identifies a further problem to address clearly: "We must redefine outdated views of a 'traditional' research career path, making more visible the full range of careers available in research and innovation... Many essential skills, capabilities and talents are undervalued."

Valuing staff which are in high demand, e.g. in tech startups and other industry roles, is critical to STEP-UP together with well-defined career path, and mechanisms for recognition within research project teams and institutions. Existing role structures within research organisations frequently create unhelpful barriers between researchers and technical staff. These structures also sustain an outdated view of academic versus technical accomplishment.

The STEP-UP platform will address these challenges in research technical careers and recognition head-on. We will provide short-term funding to develop a robust model for sharing technical talent within and across institutions, and for increasing awareness of its importance with researchers and institutional governance.

In summary, digital research infrastructure depends on skilled people. They are vitally important but underappreciated: they deserve a red carpet, not the brick walls they are more likely to encounter at present. We need a robust and long-term sustainable 'people platform' for digital technical professionals in university research: a skills infrastructure – to maximise return on investments in software, data, and infrastructure – which is what we propose to implement.

Our Partners

Project status: Starting

Principal Investigator

  • Jeremy Cohen

    Advanced Research Fellow in the Department of Computing, Imperial College London


  • James Graham

    Head of Research Software Engineering

  • Arianna Ciula

    Director and Senior Research Software Analyst

  • Michael Bearpark

    Professor of Computational Chemistry, Imperial College London

  • James Wilson

    Head of Research Data Services, ARC Research Data Group, UCL Centre for Advanced Research Computing, University College London

  • Tamas Kiss

    Professor of Distributed Computing at the School of Computer Science and Engineering, University of Westminster


Funding Body: The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

Amount: Total full economic cost of award: ca. £2M; Total full economic costs of award to KCL: ca. £200,000

Period: January 24 - December 2027