Caroline Jay

RSEsBy Caroline Jay, University of Manchester, Albert Solernou, University of Leeds, and Mark Woodbridge, Imperial College London

At present, few higher education institutions in the UK - or indeed internationally - employ a central team of dedicated research software engineers (RSEs) who sit outside of any specific academic department. The allocation of baseline funding to software developers is considered a risky activity when every member of staff represents a significant ongoing cost which has to be recovered. A cautious approach to employing people in what may be perceived as a completely new role is understandable, particularly in an uncertain financial climate.

Nevertheless, permanently employing RSEs has the potential to pay huge dividends, a fact borne out by the institutions who have established central pools, including the University of Manchester, UCL and the Turing Institute, and rapidly expanded their teams.

Institutional benefits of employing RSEs

A primary benefit of including software engineers on the baseline can be summed up by the Software Sustainability Institute mantra of “better software, better research”. Involving professional software engineers in research projects leads to better quality data, analysis and results, which has a direct impact on the scientific evidence base. Higher…

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Human-like computingBy Caroline Jay, University of Manchester.

Software engineering is difficult. This is particularly true in a research environment, where code is often intended to be a precise representation of a scientific entity, process or system. Developers must grapple with the difficult issues that affect every software development project, but also deal with the fact that the formal representations used by machine computation are frequently at odds with the heuristics used by the human brain (an issue discussed in a recent Institute blogpost on code/theory translation).

Over the past two years, a new research domain has started to emerge, that may ultimately offer a solution to this problem. “Human-Like Computing” is the shared endeavour of researchers from psychology and computer science, with a common desire to improve the interface between technology and people. At first glance, the aim of this domain might appear familiar: research areas such as robotics and natural language processing have been working towards naturalistic communication with people for a long time. The difference with human-like computing, is how this aim is achieved: the focus is on understanding human cognition, and using this to produce a step-…

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Code/Theory workshopBy Caroline Jay, University of Manchester, Robert Haines, University of Manchester.

A group of research software engineers (RSEs) recently gathered in Manchester, to explore the challenges of translating between scientific narrative and software. The full report from the Code/Theory Workshop is available in Research Ideas and Outcomes; here, we summarise the outcomes of the afternoon. Software engineers are sometimes seen as peripheral to the academic enterprise, providing the tool to do research, rather than actively contributing to the research itself. The overwhelming conclusion of the workshop was that, in reality, software engineers play a central role in the research process, and it is vital to get this message across.

Why is code/theory translation challenging?

Participants started by identifying the challenges of translating between code and theory. A key theme that emerged was the difficulty of designing research software. As scientific theory is continually changing, how do you design a plan?

All participants faced the challenge of getting to grips with new and diverse domains. In some…

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career paths in academicaBy Jonathan Cooper, University College London, Ilektra Christidi, University College London, Thomas Etherington, Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, Caroline Jay, University of Manchester, Martin O’Reilly, The Alan Turing Institute, Melody Sandells, CORES Science and Engineering Limited, Andy South, Freelance.

This post is part of the Collaborations Workshops 2017 speed blogging series.

“Is there an alternative to the standard academic career path that would actually make research work better?” There are many essential roles that make up a team. At present, the creativity and skills of those outside of a principal investigator role are often hidden behind academic power structures that do not necessarily…

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Fellows RSE conferenceBy Craig MacLachlan, Met Office; Mark Stillwell, Cisco Meraki; Caroline Jay, University of Manchester.

Software has been an important part of research for several decades, and ensuring that research software is of high quality is essential to ensuring the accuracy of scientific results. Unfortunately, many people who work on source code used on research projects have lost themselves in the gap between IT professional and researcher, lacking a distinct professional identity, at least until relatively recently. It was four years ago that the term Research Software Engineer was born at the Collaborations Workshop 2012. In this short time, many researchers have heard this term and experienced an epiphany: they found an identity.

Now they have more than an identity; they have a community. On Thursday 15 September and Friday 16 September 2016, the first ever Research Software Engineer Conference was held in Manchester at the Museum of Science and Industry. More than two hundred people attended from across the globe. Not all of the attendees were Research Software Engineers; some came to learn about building communities for analogous roles…

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Dagsthul Perspectives WorkshopBy Carole Goble, Manchester Principal Investigator at the Software Sustainability Institute, and Mike Croucher, Robert Haines, and Caroline Jay, Fellows at the Software Sustainability Institute.

How should we build the research software of the future? This was the question under consideration at the Dagstuhl Perspective’s Workshop ‘Engineering Academic Software’, co-organised by the Software Sustainability Institute’s Manchester PI Carole Goble. Experts in the area from across the world spent an intensive week presenting, discussing, debating and writing, to define current problems in the field and determine how we could address them.

The Institute was out in force, with fellows Mike Croucher, Robert Haines and Caroline Jay offering their thoughts on the present and future states of application…

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Path. Image by Miguel Carvalho. Mark Stillwell, Cisco Meraki, Caroline Jay, University of Manchester,  Robert Haines, University of Manchester, Louise Brown, University of Nottingham, Jeremy Cohen, Imperial College London, Alys Brett, Culham Centre for Fusion Energy, Shih-Chen Chao, University of Manchester, Raquel Alegre, UCL, James Davenport, University of Bath, and James…

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By Robert Haines, Institute Fellow & Research Software Engineering Manager, IT Services, University of Manchester and Caroline Jay, Institute Fellow & Lecturer, School of Computer Science, University of Manchester.

As we move into a world where (hopefully) more and more people are trying to make their research as reproducible as possible, a lot of us are turning to Docker to help out with the task of distributing our research software in a way in which it is as accessible as possible to others. As we move in this direction we need to be able to cite the software environments that we are executing, not just the source code itself.


In the IDInteraction project we are working on tools that allow people to use object tracking over a video to create models of human behaviour - a technique known as 'behavioural coding'. This process was previously done manually, and so these tools could be very useful to others, but what is the best way to make them available? Ensuring our code is open source is an important first step, but this isn't optimal for a researcher who doesn't have the technical expertise (or time) to build the software from scratch. In the rest of this post we describe our approach to making research software easily available, by citing the…

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caroline-jay.jpgSenior Lecturer in Computer Science, School of Computer Science, University of Manchester


My research has two strands: developing novel human-computer interaction techniques using reproducible methods, and studying software engineering, so we can improve the way we do it.

I'm a strong advocate for Research Software Engineering, which (I would argue) will have a greater impact on the resilience, reliability and reproducibility of science than any other single factor - as well as being an important creative research process in its own right.


My research involves investigating how humans perceive and use technology, and applying the results to create new forms of interaction. I am qualified in both Computer Science (MSc, PhD) and Psychology (BA, CPsychol), and work across a number of domains, including healthcare, the Web/IoT and television. A key part of my work is modelling how people interact with technology, particularly in challenging situations, such as 'in the wild' when the user's task is unknown, or more when more than one device is in use. Current projects include CityVerve, the largest IoT demonstrator in the UK, Implicit Device Interaction, looking at how we 'sense' behaviour with the BBC, and Britain Breathing, which is using mobile crowdsourcing to…

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