Software Engineering Collaborations

Research Software Developers Network

Good software is essential in many areas of research and the University benefits from a large number of talented RSEs who make a vital contribution to Oxford’s research activities; many topics could not be addressed without their input. However, talented Research Software Engineers (RSEs) are often hard to recruit and retain within academia. This is being increasingly recognised nationally, for instance through EPSRC’s “Software as an Infrastructure” strategy and associated action plan, and by the establishment of a variety of support structures for RSEs at UK academic institutions.

In 2015 the University supported the creation of the Research Software Developers Network (RSDN), coordinated within the Oxford e-Research Centre. This provides RSEs, and employers, with networking and other support resources through the bespoke website, hosted by the Centre. Membership has grown to over 320 people from all four University divisions, with a mix of RSEs and those whose work requires them to employ them. The network has been successful in matching PIs with software developers with the appropriate skills for specific projects.

The Network is ideally placed to showcase the innovative and sometimes ground breaking software being developed within Oxford departments, and to help to ensure the longevity and potential of publicly-funded software through transference and development within other projects and disciplines. Through its links with organisations like the SSI and the national RSE network, it also raises the profile of Oxford in this area.

The network’s activities and offerings include:

  • A bespoke website listing relevant events, jobs and news and with a searchable member list
  • showcasing the work of RSEs within the University and highlighting software developed for specific projects
  • maintaining a group of ‘departmental champions’ who help to develop and improve the network and its activities
  • encouraging greater engagement between RSEs, and between RSEs and PIs
  • sharing information on events, training, news, resources, services and other networks relevant to RSEs
  • providing a jobs brokering service, allowing PIs to post job advertisements or project ideas, and RSEs to promote their availability or discuss possible approaches
  • providing a forum for discussion between RSEs to share expertise.

The Software Sustainability Institute

Having been instrumental in helping to set up the Software Sustainability Institute (SSI), a national facility for cultivating and improving research software to support world-class research, the Centre now has an ongoing collaboration with the organisation to promote, improve and advise on software sustainability.

Staff at the Centre assist the SSI in producing some of its events, including the annual Collaborations Workshop, which brings together researchers, developers, innovators, managers, funders, publishers, leaders and educators to explore best practices and the future of research software. The e-Research Centre is also involved in editing and adding content to the SSI website, such as profiles of the SSI Fellows (including the Centre’s Alejandra Gonzalez-Beltran in 2018), and plays a role in building links with other universities to encourage future collaborations through visits and roadshows.

Read more about the founding of the SSI.

Training and capacity building

A number of e-Research Centre staff members are involved with software training programmes as volunteer instructors, such as Software Carpentry and Data Carpentry workshops.

Software Carpentry has been teaching researchers computing skills since 1998 and all of the lesson materials are freely reusable under the Creative Commons - Attribution license. Its sister project Data Carpentry develops and teaches workshops on the fundamental data skills needed to conduct research.

Centre staff are also part of a team of Oxford researchers and staff collaborating on the University project Reproducible Research Oxford, which aims to lay the groundwork for a culture of research reproducibility. The project is funded by the IT Innovation Challenges Fund and the Social Sciences Division, with grants to Laura Fortunato. It is based in the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography and the Oxford e-Research Centre.

The UK Research Software Engineers Association

UKRSE is an association working to create a community and raise awareness of the UK’s Research Software Engineers and their role in the research process.   It campaigns for the recognition and adoption of the RSE role within academia, along with the need for appropriate reward and career opportunities for RSEs. It also holds regular events, such as the national RSE conferences. Members of staff from the Centre have presented work at each of these conferences, and have also been involved in the organisation of the events held under its umbrella. More information can be found at https://rse.ac.uk/ and on our News and In-Depth page.