The interdisciplinary nature of many topics, together with the complexities of University’s academic structures (and consequently its website) mean that there is no easy way for a prospective PGR (Post Graduate Research) student to identify relevant PGR opportunities on the basis of their academic interests. This can lead to prospective students failing to pursue PGR opportunities at the University, and also the concentration of requests for supervision around a small number of better known academic staff.
This proposal would create a searchable online database that would bring together information about research areas, topics and expertise, resources (e.g. exclusive collections which only exist at the University) and funding opportunities on the basis of keywords associated with their research interests.
This project was originally initiated in August 2016 to deliver the project as originated in this proposal. A previous draft project brief was prepared, and during the course of those planning discussions it was realised that the project scope significantly overlapped with the Service Excellence Programme (SEP) work being defined in the Student Recruitment and Admissions (SRA) Programme. The project was then suspended until May 2017, at which time the work for the SEP SRA Programme was sufficiently defined for this project to be re-started.
The project is re-starting on the assumption that the PURE / Edinburgh Research Explorer (ERE) will be the basis for the PGR Opportunity Finder searchable online database. It is accepting that there will be limitations as to what can be developed because this application is built on the University's Current Research Information System (CRIS) provided by Elsevier PURE. This assumption has been driven by the over-arching objective from SRA that there be a consistent view of profiles for prospective applicants. PURE / ERE is used by all staff as the support for the UK REF reporting. EdWeb staff profiles were considered but not pursued as a number of Schools do not use EdWeb and SRA do not wish a solution that would only work for some Schools.
As there has been a significant delay in starting the project, there is less funding available than was originally allocated, and scope will be prioritised and included accordingly.
There is a timing dependency on Funnelback planned work on how to take advantage of the PURE APIs, and how this potentially fits with the requirements of the project.
Objectives & Deliverables
Enable PGR students to search for opportunities in PURE via EdWeb by keywords (without choosing a specific School first)
|D1.1||Enable PGR students to search for opportunities in PURE via ERE by keywords (without choosing a specific School first)||S||Complete|
Defined requirements for the search functionality needed, with priority, and corresponding capability to deliver via PURE
(Note that it is not possible to amend the functionality directly, and so some mandatory requirements may not be able to be achieved in this project).
Build a search capability using Funnelback to expose PURE data via API's to return, among others, the fields "Willingness to take Ph.D. students" and "Ph.D. research projects available".
|D2.1||Build Funnelback Results Page supporting search output.||M||Complete|
|Provide guidance and policies on the use of PURE to enable those entering the data to enter better quality data.||M||Incomplete|
|D2.3||Test the use of PURE APIs to consume among others the "Willingness to take Ph.D. students" and "Ph.D. research projects available" fields as data input in Funnelback results page||M||Complete|
|D2.4||Test the search capability to manage return of terms in line with requirements in D1.1 (only those which can be supported on PURE / ERE).||M||Complete|
|D2.5||Develop a widget/function based on Funnelback search capability, that can be embedded into other staff profiles such as EdWeb and School-specific profiles, to enable the same search functionality to be accessed from a variety of sources.||C||Complete|
Analysis of Resource Usage:
Staff Usage Estimate: 126 days
Staff Usage Actual: 71.5 days
Good outcomes were achieved in terms of the technical deliverables of the the project and a prototype has been built. The search capability requires further development to complete the user journey when applying for Ph.D supervised projects. Data quality within Pure remains the barrier for the application to be commissioned into live service. Therefore the prototype will not be deployed to a live environment at this time.
Pure data profiles needs to be more consistently completed and hold the data needed for a rich the search. Further work is needed on standardising the information in Pure. In addition, Guidance and Policies need to be developed and implemented to ensure a consistent supervisor search. This aspect of the project is being driven by the sponsor beyond this projects.
From the sponsors perspective there is a sense that there is a much better chance of persuading academics when there is a complete product to demonstrate, but that a pilot within a small group focusing on content provision (academics in a smaller discipline/School) may be the best approach, before attempting to demonstrate the potential to a wider community.
Even then, there are concerns about realistic chances of securing the data from the wider academic community. Working on attitudes to PURE and re-framing it as a ‘recruitment’ resource may work in some disciplines (particularly within CAHSS), but this message is less convincing in STEM disciplines, where students are more driven by funding/projects. However, if PURE could deliver/underpin a search resource of value to both the researcher community and the prospective student community, then it would become much more plausible.
The Service Excellence Programme (SEP) have agreed to take the output and the learnings from the project forward and will work with LTW on how they will be able to deliver this service in the future.
There is a significant piece of work around getting academics to actually provide the data and the implication of this means that this work would have to continue into business as usual for the SEP team. SEP's aim is to get the minimum viable product completed and then absorb the remaining activity of getting the data for Pure as part of business as usual and continuous improvement.
Explanation for variance
The development work required for the search widget was considerably less that had been estimated. As the search will not be deployed to live, development services, deployments, acceptance and productions services were not required.
Key Learning Points
The use of new technologies proved to be a constraint and a risk to the project as more time is needed for skills to be acquired and grow within organisation.
External dependencies on the implementation of Pure standards, policies and guidance proved to be the main barrier to completing the project tasks.
Significant variations exist across the Schools on how Pure profiles are used. This includes the use of other staff profiles.
The lack of quality golden source staff profiles severely limited the introduction of the new search functionality.
For the prototype application to be considered for production use a number of key elements will need to be rewritten and be delivered by Development Services. Discussions are ongoing with key stakeholders to support this.