A growing number of people in academia 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. This means there is no easy way to recognise their contribution, reward them, or represent their views.
Without a name it is difficult for people to rally around a cause, so a group created the term Research Software Engineer (RSE) at the Institute’s Collaborations Workshop in 2012. Since that time we have campaigned to raise awareness of the role and to build a community around it.
A recognised position for RSEs in academia is fundamental in a world where most research is powered by software. The next stage of our campaign is therefore to focus on the employers of RSEs to ensure that career paths are put in place. We will also campaign within different domains to draw a wider variety of RSEs into the community, and we will raise awareness of the importance of including RSEs on funding proposals.
In 2019, the UK RSE Association transformed into the Society of Research Software Engineering. This move enables the Society to hold funds, employ staff, and operate as an independent organisation to represent the interests of the RSE community.
You can learn more about the community in our not-so-brief history of RSEs and the RSE: State of the Nation Report 2017 . If you are interested in how RSE Groups have been successful in the UK, then you can read about the experiences of RSE group leaders in "The secret behind the growth of RSE Groups in the UK”.
In 2016 we began surveying hundreds of RSEs in the UK and Canada to learn more about their demographics, impact and careers. In 2017 and 2018, we also conducted surveys in Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa and the USA. You can read a summary of the surveys or review the data yourself.
State of the Nation report
The RSE Network published a State of the Nation report in 2017, describing the growth of the RSE community. The report is available for download from Zenodo: 10.5281/zenodo.495360.
We have now organised three annual RSE conferences. The latest will be held at the University of Birmingham in September 2019. The conference brings hundreds of RSEs together countries around the world.