Archive for May 1, 2018

In Praise of Research Software Engineers

Posted in Cardiff with tags , , , on May 1, 2018 by telescoper

Yesterday in the Data Innovation Research Institute we held a special event, our first ever Conference for Research Software Engineers. Sadly I was too busy yesterday to attend in person, but I did turn up at the end for the drinks reception at the end.

In case you weren’t aware, the term Research Software Engineer (RSE) is applied to the growing number of people in universities and other research organisations who combine expertise in programming with an intricate understanding of research. Although this combination of skills is extremely valuable, these people lack a formal place in the academic system. Without a name, it is difficult for people to rally around a cause, hence the creation of the term Research Software Engineer and the Research Software Engineer Association.

We have quite a few RSEs associated with the Data Innovation Research Institute in Cardiff – as you can see here. These are quite different from system administrators or other computing support staff as they are involved directly in research, working in teams alongside academics and other specialists.

One of the biggest problems facing RSEs in the UK university system is there isn’t a well-established promotions route for them. For researchers in an academic environment, performance is usually judged through publications, PhD students supervised, grants awarded and so so. Although RSEs play a vital role, especially (but not exclusively) in large collaborations, they do not usually end up as lead authors on papers and generally do not apply for grants in their own name. That means that if they are judged by these criteria they struggle to get promotion and often leave academia to work for higher pay and better terms and conditions elsewhere.

In my opinion, one of the important things that must be done to improve the lot of Research Software Engineers is to construct a career structure in parallel with the academic route  and other grades (such as laboratory technician) but judged by more appropriate criteria tailored to the reality of the job. Writing the necessary grade profiles and getting them agreed by the relevant university committees will take some time, but I think it will pay dividends in terms of better retention and job satisfaction for these highly talented people.

I hope Cardiff can take some sort of a lead in defining the role of an RSE, but this is really a national need. There are pretty uniform grade descriptions for academic and research staff across the United Kingdom so I don’t see any reason why this can’t be the case for Research Software Engineers. They are vital to many research fields already, and their importance can only grow in the future.

 

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May Day, by Phillis Levin

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on May 1, 2018 by telescoper

I’ve decided to waste my life again,
Like I used to: get drunk on
The light in the leaves, find a wall
Against which something can happen,

Whatever may have happened
Long ago—let a bullet hole echoing
The will of an executioner, a crevice
In which a love note was hidden,

Be a cell where a struggling tendril
Utters a few spare syllables at dawn.
I’ve decided to waste my life
In a new way, to forget whoever

Touched a hair on my head, because
It doesn’t matter what came to pass,
Only that it passed, because we repeat
Ourselves, we repeat ourselves.

I’ve decided to walk a long way
Out of the way, to allow something
Dreaded to waken for no good reason,
Let it go without saying,

Let it go as it will to the place
It will go without saying: a wall
Against which a body was pressed
For no good reason, other than this.

 

by Phillis Levin