How do you start an RSE Group?

Posted by s.aragon on 19 August 2019 - 9:38am
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Photo by Emily Morter.

By Jeremy Cohen, EPSRC RSE Fellow, Imperial College London.

In the weeks running up to the RSE Conference, myself and some colleagues will be providing our thoughts on the questions people have submitted for our panel discussion with senior university management about how RSEs are being supported within academia. (You can submit more questions and vote on the current questions on Sli.do.)

Question: How do you start an RSE group at a university that only has scattered RSEs in different departments?

Research software is now an integral part of research in a vast array of domains. As a result, almost all institutions have people scattered across their departments who are spending at least some of their time writing software.

Are these people all RSEs? Almost certainly not. Do any of them identify as RSEs? That depends very much on local awareness of the RSE movement and whether anyone from the institution has had the opportunity to engage with the RSE community. This is changing and awareness of the RSE movement is growing at a rapid pace.

So, how might you go about starting an RSE group at an institution that has significant numbers of researchers developing code, some of whom may consider themselves to be RSEs, scattered across different departments?

The first question to ask is, perhaps, "what is meant by an RSE group?" Is this intended to be a central team where RSEs are co-located in the same physical space and work on, and are funded by, projects for research groups around the institution? Is this intended to be a more disparate network of research developers who offer training and informal support on a best-efforts basis to help improve the quality of software development around an institution? Is it some hybrid of the two? While the latter would not be classed as an RSE group, it is still an option that can provide benefits when a central RSE team is not a practical option.

One important aspect here is how much institutional support is available. Some institutions may not be in a position to support a central RSE team. Those that have already set up such groups have demonstrated that there can be huge scope to provide research software development services to researchers and academics across an institution. Nonetheless, localised groups of RSEs operating as research groups within departments can also be successful and this is also a valid model that can be more practical to set up without necessarily requiring such extensive support from central institutional bodies.

Hear an expert perspective on this and a variety of other questions from a panel of senior institutional representatives covering roles in research, HR and research software at the Science and Engineering South panel on "Institutional Support for RSEs" at RSEConUK19 on the 18th September at 13:30.