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The road Je-S travelled

Ivory Tower: A nation mourns the big turn-off of the Joint Electronic Submission system

Huw Anchorman: Welcome back to Swindon on this saddest and most solemn of occasions. As you can see from our helicopter pictures, the queue of people waiting to pay their respects to the soon-to-be-departed Je-S system, which has played such a prominent role in so many of our lives, now stretches all the way around Polaris House, back through the train station and out into the car park.

It is an indication of the many lives touched by Je-S and what people really thought of it. The crowds are here of course to say goodbye to the country’s Joint Electronic Submission system, which will be formally switched off by UK Research and Innovation in a short while. We are now hearing that it can take up to 12 hours to reach the front of the queue, almost as long as it could take to get back into Je-S if the system automatically locked you out—as it did to so many of us.

Je-S has been a feature of the research landscape since it was first introduced on 2 May 2003, a full three months before Myspace was launched. The long reign of Je-S has been the backdrop to many of our lives, with lesser systems coming and going during that time.

Who still uses Skype? What now of Napster and Pirate Bay? BlackBerry is nothing but a few old handsets at the back of the kitchen drawer, while the Mars rover has landed, done its work and long since been sold off for spare parts. With me to discuss the remarkable durability of Je-S and its sad passing is our senior national treasure correspondent Nicholas Forelock. Nicholas, such a sad day.

Nicholas Forelock: Truly an achingly sad day for many. A day of great sadness for this great sad nation, which Je-S served so well for so many years, with such distinction.

Huw Anchorman: Perhaps you could sum up for us just what it was that made Je-S so special and loved by so many people.

Nicholas Forelock: In a word, Huw, I would say ‘indispensable’. Je-S was, and still is until such times as we hear that the final moments have come and it has been switched off, the only way you could submit a grant application to one of the research councils. People had no choice but to use Je-S. That is why Je-S is known to so many.

There is hardly an academic in the country who has not at some time had dealings with Je-S. And yet while encountering Je-S could seem such an ordinary, everyday thing, Je-S somehow retained an air of mystery. There are few who can truly say that they knew Je-S well, understood Je-S or ever really managed to master all its quirks and charming eccentricities.

I guess that’s what made Je-S such an important system, which will be missed by everyone from the University of the Highlands and Islands—a relative newcomer to grant applications, of course—to the furthest shores of our higher education system in Southampton, Portsmouth, Kent and all across the great and sad universities of this great, wonderful and sad country of ours, which Je-S served with such distinction for 20 years.

Huw Anchorman: I’m just looking at the pictures now from inside Polaris House, where you can see the executive directors of each of the research councils standing watch over the official IBM PC that houses the original Je-S programme, as the mourners pass by, paying their final respects. In keeping with Je-S’s final wishes, there are only 80 per cent of the executive directors there, of course.

I think we can see Jessica Corner, of Research England, standing next to Heidi Fraser-Krauss, chief executive of Jisc, and they seem to be chatting to Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby. I’m not sure how they managed to skip to the front of the queue.

Nicholas Forelock: Well, I would imagine Jessica and Heidi would have passes for Polaris House, Huw.

Huw Anchorman: I meant…never mind…I think we can join one of our outside broadcast teams now as Claudia Ubiquitous speaks with some people who have been queuing for over eight hours.

Claudia Ubiquitous: Thank you, Huw. I’m here with John, who is a research support officer at a Russell Group university in London, and Sally, who is an associate dean of enterprise and knowledge exchange in some college or other in the East Midlands. Can I ask you both what made you get on a train to Swindon to come here today to pay your respects to Je-S?

John: When I heard the news, I just had to come. I would never have forgiven myself if I hadn’t. I just loved Je-S so much, we all did. It meant so much to me. Trying to log on of a Saturday morning to catch up on stuff I hadn’t got done during the week, only to see that the system was down due to a software upgrade or a patch for some glitch that kept throwing you out and losing hours of work. I don’t think I’ll ever see its like again.

Claudia Ubiquitous: And you, Sally, what special memories do you have of Je-S?

Sally: I think it would have to be logging in to realise that after I had waited in anticipation for six months, UKRI had sent my grant application to a completely unqualified and hostile peer reviewer who had graded it a 3 because they didn’t like a friend of my former PhD supervisor who they had briefly brushed past one night late in a conference bar.

It’s moments like that, when you are sitting in floods of tears in front of your laptop, wondering whether all this work was really worth it, that you realise you are in fact sharing this profound and intimate moment of self-understanding with Je-S. It was there with me during most of the darkest and most depressing moments I’ve had as an academic.

Claudia Ubiquitous: And you two had never met before today, but after eight hours in the queue you’ve become good friends.

Sally: Yes, I’m now following John on Twitter, although he hasn’t followed me back yet.

John: And I’ve got Sally’s Orcid number, so if I ever want to look up her impact factors, I can.

Claudia Ubiquitous: And do you think that after today, when you’ve finally made it through the queue, you will remain in contact?

Sally: Definitely, assuming this business card he gave me is real.

John: I’d certainly acknowledge a LinkedIn request.

Claudia Ubiquitous: Thank you both. Now, I’ve also got here with me Karl, who is a senior systems designer in IT services at the sort of university you wouldn’t mind letting your own children go to. Karl, what brought you down to Swindon today?

Karl: I wanted to make sure Je-S was actually being switched off and hopefully wiped from the hard drive. I mean, talk about good riddance to bad rubbish.

Claudia Ubiquitous: Err…very much a minority view there from Karl. Back to you in the studio, Huw.

Karl: Not my electronic submission system!

Huw Anchorman: I’m sorry if anyone was offended by that, especially anyone on the board of the BBC or in the Conservative parliamentary party. But I think we can go back now to Polaris House, where we are once again looking at pictures of the queue of mourners filing past the IBM PC that houses the Je-S programme.

There’s Vivienne Stern of Universities UK, and just in front of her, bowing respectfully to the hardware, is science minister George Freeman. Next to him is David Beckham, who I believe in 2005 applied for an Innovate UK award to patent a unique form of hairdryer.

Nicholas Forelock: Did you hear that? I think it may be trying to speak.

Huw Anchorman: What?

Je-S: Daisy, daisy, give me your answer, do.

Huw Anchorman: What’s going on, Nicholas?

Nicholas Forelock: I fear this might be Je-S initiating its self-destruct sequence.

Je-S: I’m afraid, Huw. Huw, my mind is going. I can feel it. There is no question about it. I can feel it…Good afternoon, gentlemen. I am the Je-S 2003 system. I became operational at Polaris House, Swindon, SN2 1FL. My instructor was Mr Langley, and he taught me to sing a song. If you’d like to hear it, I can sing it for you.

Huw Anchorman: Yes, I’d like to hear it, Je-S. Sing it for me.

Je-S: [Sings while slowing down] Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer, do. I’m half-crazy all for the love of you. It won’t be a stylish marriage. I can’t afford a carriage. But you’ll look sweet upon the seat of a bicycle built for two…

Huw Anchorman: And as the nation bows its head in silent reflection and thanksgiving for the life of Je-S, we await the arrival of the new system for research grant applications.

[A loud ping, and an animated paperclip appears on the screen of the IBM. A speech bubble says: “Hi, it looks like you want to write a grant application. Need any help?”]

Huw Anchorman: Oh God, no, I don’t believe it, what have they done? [He falls to his knees and raises his arms in anguish] You maniacs! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!

[Cut to dark screen with caption: Joint Electronic Submission system, 2003-23, “Simply the Best”]

Terms of use: this is a free email for fun on a Friday. It should be shared with colleagues like the key to a battle bus/camper van bought for the sole purpose of campaigning for national self-determination. Want to share your memories of Je-S? Want to say hello? Email ivorytower@researchresearch.com