Raising the profile of Research Software Engineers
17 Sep 2019
- Evelyn Greeves



A delegation of Scientific Computing Department (SCD) staff is once again taking an active role in the annual Research Software Engineers’ Conference, which starts today in Birmingham.

Group photo of attendees at the annual Research Software Engineers’ Conference


Credit: Research Software Engineers Association

​Now in its fourth year and still rapidly expanding, the conference celebrates the contributions and expertise of the research software engineer community.

Research software engineers inhabit a new niche in the research community, and one which is increasingly in demand. A survey by the Software Sustainability Institute (SSI) indicates that nearly 70% of research at Russell Group* universities is dependent on research software, representing around four billion pounds' worth of research a year. Despite this, the developers behind such software had no formal job title until just a few years ago. Run by the newly-minted Society for Research Software Engineering​, this conference builds on several years of advocacy and grass-roots organising to recognise and support those working at the interface of research and software development.

​Matthew Richards, an apprentice in SCD, is speaking about his work with the Large Pixel Detector, a large x-ray laser that can image ultrafast chemical reactions in exceptional detail. Matthew developed a program to speed up testing the modules of this ultra-precise piece of machinery by semi-automating the process. This will be his second year in a row speaking at the conference – after a well-received speech last year, he was thrilled to be invited back. “It feels very rewarding to be invited again this year to talk, especially as applications are peer reviewed," he says. “I enjoy being able to show others that even though I'm still learning, an apprentice can do some really valuable work."

Also attending is Eli Chadwick, a University of Birmingham graduate now employed by SCD. He will be presenting a poster about his time spent working on Anvil​, a research software testing platform. He developed a plugin for Anvil that allows users to test software on SCARF, a cluster of computers which work together as one to enable extremely complex problem-solving. Both Anvil and SCARF are hosted and managed by SCD.

Software Engineering Group lead Catherine Jones and Computational Chemistry Group lead Ilian Todorov both had an instrumental role in the establishment of the conference. Ilian sits on the board of trustees for the Society of Research Software Engineering whilst Catherine has been a leading voice on the organising committee, although has stepped back this year to give fresh voices a chance to guide the conference. She has, however, been invited to share her expertise by participating in a conference panel discussing the role of mentoring​ in the still-evolving research software engineering community.​ The panel was co-organised by another SCD member of staff, Alejandra Gonzalez Beltran.

*The Russell Group is a catch-all term for a group of 24 UK universities with a shared focus on research and a reputation for academic achievement.

Contact: Greeves, Evelyn (STFC,RAL,SC)