How to make research software a sustainable activity? Lessons from a year of planning out the US Research Software Sustainability Institute

Professor Karthik Ram1

1University Of California, Berkeley, California, United States


Many science advances have been possible thanks to use of software. This software, also known as “research software”, has become essential to progress in science and engineering. The scientists who develop the software are experts in their discipline, but do not have sufficient understanding of the practices that make software development easier, and the software more robust, reliable, maintainable and sustainable. This is an unfortunate state of affairs as researchers in the UK and the US report that 90-95% rely on research software for their work. 63-70% of these researchers also believe that their work would not be possible if such software were to become unavailable.
Through a grant funded by the US National Science Foundation ( we have been engaged in a series of activities to understand specific challenges that make research software unsustainable and why researchers who develop software face uncertain career paths. In this talk I’d like to discuss some solutions based on surveys, ethnographic studies, and workshops that we carried out over an 18 month period in 2018-2019.


Karthik Ram is a research scientist at the Berkeley Institute for Data Science and University of California Museum of Paleontology at University of California, Berkeley. Karthik is also the co-founded of the rOpenSci project, lead of the US Research Software Sustainability Institute, founding editor at the Journal of Open Source Software and has served on the boards of various organizations in this space including Data Carpentry, Many Labs, and more.


AeRO is the industry association focused on eResearch in Australasia. We play a critical coordination role for our members, who are actively transforming research via Information Technology. Organisations join AeRO to advance their own capabilities and services, to collaborate and to network with peers. AeRO believes researchers and the sector significantly benefit from greater communication, coordination and sharing among the increasingly different and evolving service providers.

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