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Howison Wins NSF CAREER Award

Thanks to a grant from the National Science Foundation, Assistant Professor James Howison can help sustain the software underlying scientific research. Howison earned the National Science Foundation’s Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program award bringing $535,349 to the UT iSchool to support his project, “CAREER: Sustaining Scientific Infrastructure: Researching Transition from Grants to Peer Production.” The NSF award recognizes pre-tenured faculty who exemplify the role of teachers and scholars and integrate programs of research, education and curriculum development. Over forty percent of the grant funding will provide tuition, health insurance, stipends and travel funds for doctoral students. Around one-third of the grant goes to the university to fund the services that make a research university possible.

“It's exciting to know that this research project is seen by peers and the National Science Foundation to be of value,” Howison said. “Best known from open source software development, peer production is a promising way to sustain software, yet peer production projects are run differently than grant funded projects through the NSF and other agencies. We are researching how projects successfully change to thrive after their original grants end. Our research builds on what is already known about peer production outside science by seeing how and when it succeeds in science.”

UT School of Information Dean Andrew Dillon said this NSF grant will greatly support Howison’s research. “James is developing a very impressive research program that offers us real insights into the emerging world of information work, particularly the ecosystem of software that underlies collaboration and large projects in the sciences. This is truly cutting edge, interdisciplinary work at the heart of information science. An NSF Career Award is a major achievement and is clear evidence that others consider James’ work to hold tremendous promise.” Howison’s award is the second NSF CAREER award for the iSchool in recent years, joining Associate Professor Matt Lease’s project “ CAREER: Achieving Quality Crowdsourcing Across Tasks, Data Scales and Operational Settings.”

Howison will spend five years working on the project in two phases - a first set of six case studies and then a panel study of over forty projects. Additionally, he will write curriculum for a class at the iSchool on managing open projects and short courses for students and faculty about running software projects in science.  “Comparing cases lets us build theory about what works in what circumstances,” he said. “iSchool students will be involved in both doing the research and in preparing and delivering our educational materials.”

Howison has served as an assistant professor at the iSchool since 2011. Prior to working at UT, he served as a postdoctoral associate at the Institute for Software Research at the Carnegie Mellon School of Computer Science. He received his doctorate in 2009 from the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University.