We have lots of ideas, and in particular assumptions, about how safety-critical software is developed, but there is very little public knowledge of an ethnographic, descriptive character. We have some first-hand and second-hand experience, where researchers are (or have been practitioners), or where they teach or consult with practitioners, but we know that such unstructured knowledge is very vulnerable to distortion through all kinds of biases . So much of what we do in the safety-critical software field is therefore on shaky foundations.
In this project you will study a wide variety, using surveys, interviews, and (ideally) ethnographic/contextual-inquiry methods on-site in industry. You will build a descriptive process model of how safety-critical software development really happens (see [2,3,4] for examples in related fields).
Social science research skills will be valuable for this project, as will real-world industrial experience. Competent software development skills will be necessary (otherwise, you probably won’t understand what you are observing).