Hybrid Research/IT Position at PI

Rob sends me information about an interesting new position at the Perimeter Institute (more info here):

The Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics (PI) is looking for a Scientific IT specialist -- a creative individual with experience in both scientific research and information technology (IT). This is a new, hybrid, research/IT position within the Institute, dedicated to helping PI's scientific staff make effective use of IT resources. It has two clear missions. First, to directly assist researchers in using known, available IT tools to do their research. Second, to uncover or develop cutting-edge IT resources, introduce and test them with PI researchers, and then share the things we create and discover with the worldwide scientific community.

By "tools", we mean almost anything. Coding techniques are an obvious example. Collaboration and communication technologies are another: tools for peer-to-peer interactions (such as skype), virtual whiteboards, video conferencing tools, platforms for running virtual conferences (that can do justice to talks in the mathematical sciences), and novel ways of presenting research results such as archives for recorded seminars, blogs, and wikis. Further examples include tools for helping researchers organize information (e.g., specialized search engines and filtering schemes), and end-user software that facilitates bread-and-butter scientific activities like writing papers collaboratively, preparing presentations, and organizing references.

We are seeking a person who brings an independent and ambitious vision that will help define this vision. The job is as yet quite malleable in its scope and duties! We're looking for someone who is inspired by the possibility that new IT tools can improve or perhaps even revolutionize the way that physics research is done, and someone who can take full advantage of a mandate to create and implement that vision.

Some Duties and Responsibilities:

  • Act as a knowledge broker among Researchers. That is, find and test new programs and practices, advertise them, and be prepared to train others in their use.
  • Participate in the creation of a high quality "standard" Researcher IT environment (desktop hardware, software set-up), built from a mix of open source software and popular commercial packages.
  • Help with High Performance Computing demands.
  • Maintain expert level knowledge in the use of the main packages used by Researchers, including Mathematica, Maple, LaTex, etc.

For the official job ad, go here:


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Why does no one ever think to put this stuff in the Quantum Times? Or, if they do, they always send it to someone other than me who then forwards it to me? Am I really that annoying and/or forgettable?

(hmm, just realized that might come off as spam. Rest assured it isn't; it's my semi-but-not-quite tongue-in-cheek reply to a job posting on a blog. It's also me casting a bit. Being a postdoc sucks, and like in grad school, the allure of computing is singing its siren song. Being tired from a cold probably isn't helping any)

The Perimeter Institute is a great outfit, as evidenced by the quality writings on science and sometimes, interdisciplinary matters (like science and culture) from its affiliates like Sabine Hossenfelder (well known for the Backreaction blog, one of my favorites.) One thing I'm waiting to see more on is use of expert programs that actually "think" in various ways. They exist, but aren't mentioned much in either reports or employment openings. Could they help us sort out scientific theories and confusions?

Neil: I think it is something of a stretch to say that expert systems "think" in any kind of meaningful way. That said, there has been some research looking at their use in scientific settings. The reality, however, is that they are not a tool use often by theoretical physicists. I suspect the PI job has far more concrete IT tasks in mind: curating the institutes IT infrastructure and working with researchers to help them put the infrastructure to best use.

I suspect some bioinformatics people (more on the infrastructure side that I prefer to be on!) get roped into aspects of this sort of thing.

Being a postdoc sucks, and like in grad school, the allure of computing is singing its siren song. Being tired from a cold probably isn't helping any)