Week 11: What we have built, and how we did it.

Hi there!

Finally, we are reaching the end of our journey.

This blog post will discuss our product, as it is at the moment, and how we managed to build it. At this stage, we have implemented all the specified functions of the platform:

  • Users can create different account types: Students, Supervisors and Directors of Studies.
  • Students can upload dissertation projects
  • Students can propose a number of supervisors for their projects
  • Students can set/ edit/ delete milestones for their projects
  • Supervisors can chose projects to supervise and add to their cohorts
  • Directors of Studies can add supervisors to their groups
  • Directors of Studies can have permissions for everything on the platform
  • Any User type can comment & reply on Student projects
  • Matching system which assigns students with supervisors if they both picked each other

We built the whole platform using Agile methodologies and rapid iterations. We(Claudiu and Silviu) spoke with Robert about the specs nearly everyday in order to implement different features needed. We also consulted with Pete Walker, when we were in difficulty or simply needed that extra advice on how to implement something.

As specified in earlier posts, we are using Ruby on Rail 4.0 and Heroku for web hosting.

Finally, I can say we learned many things about web development in general and also about delivering to clients and working under pressure. We are grateful to have such a wonderful team and support and we would like to thank JISC for everything they have done to make this happen!

Robert, Silviu and Claudiu


Our project management approach


This week’s post is going to cover our experiences with managing our project and what we have learned from the process.

From the beginning, we decided to go for the lean startup approach. We combined this with agile development techniques, namely kanban. For the latter approach, we used Trello board and cards to arrange the desired features of the website into Needed, Desirable, Doing and Done. Claudiu, Silviu and me worked closely, often talking on Skype and on the phone, or via email and Facebook. We kept discussing the needed features and usually gathered feedback from our technical advisor, Pete Walker, and from Paul Caulfield.

Pete was instrumental in us choosing a permission systems when segmenting the types of users our platform can have. This made it easier for Claudiu and Silviu to code the three types of users and it is also easily scalable, in case the project grows bigger.

Paul Caulfield’s input was also incorporated into the platform, and Robert spoke with several lecturers from the University of Bath and the University of Bristol, asking them for what they would improve on the platform. Students from the aforementioned universities and LSE were also asked what they thought of the project, and the feedback was positive.

Overall, our project management approach was to talk to a lot of people and to listen carefully to what they said, identifying the pain that they have, so that we can provide a proper solution that satisfies all groups involved, students and lecturers alike.

Two Months IN!

Hello there!

It’s been almost one month since our last blog post but we are back! It’s been two months since we’ve started working on our project and before we jump in, I feel it is the case we recap our mission. At first, we focused on helping academics connect with companies interested in funding their research projects through our crowd-funding platform entitled SciFund; for details see our first blog post https://novumsci.wordpress.com/2013/07/03/week-1-an-introduction-to-scifund/. The entire functionality of the platform was finished for this scope of the project.

However, after doing some serious thinking and discussing with experts from Jisc, we felt the need to pivot the original idea because of several issues. Now, students will be able to express early stage dissertation proposals, and course supervisors will be able to offer feedback to students. The platform will also give the director of studies allocated for each programme the chance to digitally manage the allocation of supervisors to students and to closely monitor the activity and interactions between students and supervisors.

We are actively working on developing the code for this new idea and everything it’s going pretty well. Hopefully, for the presentation in Birmingham on the 30th of September, our platform will be finished. Finally, we would like to announce that a few Directors of Studies from the University of Bath are thinking of trialing our platform with their MSc cohorts for 2013-2014.

Until next time, take care!

Claudiu, Robert and Silviu

Week 5: Useful resources and support + Google Campus Special

It’s that time of the week again!

… and the whole team has gathered for the first picture at the Google Campus in London.

(from left to right: Silviu, Robert, Paul, Claudiu)

This one is going to be a bit chaotic, as it will embed many topics into one post. Luckily, they are all connected with  each other, as I will try to expand on this in the next lines. You may have noticed we’ve changed the name of our blog, and that of the project into NovumSci; Robert seems to like Latin quite a bit, haha.

Moving on!

When developing the website, we often find ourselves stuck for different reasons, but most of the times google.com and stackoverflow.com seem to be very helpful when it comes to Rails. Try cooking recipes and maybe, just MAYBE you’ll get lucky.. I have found many useful ways to handle problems, as there is always someone that has tried doing something before Silviu and me. If you have a specific question, you can always ask, and there is always someone good-willing to help you. Another good reference for Ruby-on-Rails is Michael Hartl’s tutorial book, which can be found at http://ruby.railstutorial.org/ or can be purchased as a screen-cast series, if you are too lazy to read the damn thing.

From a business perspective, things are morphing and the idea is constantly changing and improving. Such as Derek Jones(@plug103) explained to us at Google Campus, we found a problem and we are building a solution, BUT we are also finding other problems along the way, so we need to re-iterate the business model again and again. In just a couple of hours, after talking to people, we shifted from the original idea several times.

We are going to be taking baby-steps, following a methodological approach. For now, we are going to focus on helping students (MSc and PhD) and lecturers manage dissertations and theses. NovumSci will be a platform that allows lecturers to manage their students dissertation and theses, whilst promoting cooperation and knowledge sharing within a specific cohort of students.

Finally, Google Campus!

We hit the road on Tuesday to Google Campus for the first JISC event. I can say we had a blast! We met LOTS of interesting and innovative people, got to explore more cool projects and we had lots of good guidance from JISC; yeah, I’m making a reference to the previous paragraph involving the business model. There were several workshops involved where had the opportunity to ask questions and also be asked questions by staff and other students.. and I can say, it was the most beneficial we’ve done in terms of the project.Oh and..I’ve had coffee for the first time in my life – actually two of them – and some great pizza!

The venue itself is very cool: there many start-ups based there and you get a different vibe when you enter one of the offices or the caffee area.


We enjoyed it very much and most of all, we learned many lessons; the first in a series of many to come.

P.S. David Kernohan, hope you find some of the tips and tricks about blogging in this one, and thanks for the workshop!

A new shape and form

Hi everyone!

First of all, we want to welcome our newest team member Silviu Simeria! He’s a Computer Science student at the University of Bristol and has joined us on the technology side as a developer, working side by side with Claudiu.

It’s been quite a few days here at SciFund and the original idea is slowly starting to form, our tech team slowly shaping it into what we envisioned. We are currently trying to change the name of the project  due to IP rights, but I am sure we will find something appropriate, with a certain ‘charisma’ to it.

And that’s about it for now. Looking forward to the Google Campus mentorship event on the 30th of July. We will keep you updated on our journey and progress.

Thanks for following!


Week 3: Our development approach, or.. just the geeky stuff

Hi everyone!

We’re back this week with another post and I can happily say that so far we have been very productive, and you’ll soon learn why; but first, we’d like to talk a bit about our approach to designing and building the application. The first choice design choice we had to make was choosing a programming language and web-framework that would work best for our needs. After doing research on the web, it came down to PHP, Ruby, Python and Java. I had some previous experience with JavaServerPages (or JSP), Java’s web framework, but as I remember, it was somewhat a pain to make it work on my machine. PHP and Python I had little experience and Ruby, I also had some experience with one of its frameworks, Ruby On Rails.

What I believe to be the bad thing about JSP and PHP is that code tends to get messy: you get a soup of mixed HTML tags and server-side code, which can make adding new features or changing the behaviour of the application a very hard thing to do.. and it’s very hard to follow your code, but maybe that’s just me. After diving deeper into forums and the likes of stackoverflow.com, and after trying to  write small applications using the aforementioned languages, I made my choice: Ruby on Rails!

Many successful companies have built applications using Rails: Scribd (over 70 million readers each month), Groupon (over 38.5 million subscribers in North America) and of course, you all know Twitter. The advantages of using Rails are obvious: it allows us to build highly scalable applications, and we can do this rapidly and elegantly. It takes just a bit of time to adjust to the framework, but it’s worth it! Rails makes it so easy to rapidly start developing applications. A huge plus, the community is very large and supportive, and the development team and public contributors are constantly improving the platform ( as of June 25th, Rails 4.0 has been released! )

Finally, all these factors help in our desire to use agile software development methodologies, which basically means iterative, incremental development and flexible response to changes.

Next stop: 

  • Implementing user authentication system
  • Adding projects to users
  • Users can  support projects
  • Payment System

I hope this wasn’t too geeky post, and we’ll see you next week with updates!



Week 1 : An introduction to SciFund

Hi everyone!

First of all let me say we are very proud and happy on the outcome of the Student Summer of Innovation competition and would like to express our gratitude for the opportunity given to JISC.

As the title says, we will be introducing our idea in this first post, so here it goes:

SciFund. What is it?

A crowd-sourcing platform that will connect students and teachers who have research projects and need help implementing them, with companies or individuals that are interested in the same research area.

Sounds good, but how might this actually work? 

  1. Students and researchers upload an abstract of their research proposal on the website, mentioning exactly what they need in order to achieve their research goals (funds, technical equipment, access to laboratories, etc.)
  2. Academics with similar research interests can give precious feedback or offer to collaborate.
  3. Companies can browse through the projects and fund the ones that are pertinent to their research interests. They can also allow access to resources such as labs or other technical equipment, which the teachers and students might use for their research projects. Finally, individuals with interest for those specific projects might offer to contribute.

Why are we doing this?

It so often happens that people’s proposals are turned down because the university can’t afford to spend any more money, so we are trying to mitigate this by allowing companies to fund directly these projects, offering them direct benefits; as you can see, it is a win-win situation for all parties involved.

It’s been a tense wait but here we are: we’ve all made it! Huge congratulations to everyone and good luck in accomplishing your goals for the summer; we are looking forward to meeting you.

Robert and Claudiu