The Research Software Engineer

Robert Baxter, Neil Chue Hong, Dirk Gorissen, James Hetherington, Ilian Todorov

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Research is increasingly digital. Twenty-first century research has been characterised by the rise of digital methods, the third and fourth paradigms of science – computational simulation and data-intensive research. In their turn, these new approaches are both built on a common foundation – computer software.

Yet despite this increasing reliance on software in research, professional practices for developing research software in academia lag far behind those in the commercial sector. Computational research tools are often fragile, generally not sustainable or usable beyond the lifetime of a given project, and frequently unsuitable for scrutiny. Those trained solely within academia often employ ad-hoc or casual development techniques. Institutions miss out on opportunities to increase the impact of their research by producing robust software deliverables that could be used and cited by their peers.

Computational work must reflect the committed attitude of experimentalists towards caring about precise, professional, repeatable, meticulous work – no-one with the same casual attitude to experimental instrumentation as many researchers have to code would be allowed anywhere near a lab. This is striking considering how often research results now depend on software.

Software engineering professionals are trained in best practices, and in the best commercial institutions follow a disciplined approach to the design, construction, testing and maintenance of software systems. Attempts to leverage these skills within academia by employing contract programmers typically fail, due to otherwise talented programmers lacking sufficient research experience and a necessary appreciation of the significant cultural differences between business and academia. Software engineers that do have research experience and good knowledge of the underlying domain are, however, in very short supply, due to the lack of appropriate institutional homes and career progression paths for their work.

This paper provides a synthesis of discussions that took place during and after the 2012 Collaborations Workshop organized by the Software Sustainability Institute in Oxford, UK.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages3
Publication statusPublished - 10 Sept 2012
EventDigital Research 2012 - Oxford, United Kingdom
Duration: 10 Sept 201212 Sept 2012


ConferenceDigital Research 2012
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


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  • Addressing Research Software Sustainability via Institutes

    Katz, D. S., Carver, J. C., Chue Hong, N. P., Gesing, S., Hettrick, S., Honeyman, T., Ram, K. & Weber, N., 7 Jul 2021, Proceedings of the 1st International Workshop on the Body of Knowledge for Software Sustainability (BoKSS’21). IEEE, p. 11-12

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

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