Software and research: the Institute's Blog

Latest version published on 13 December, 2017.

Good software development practiceBy Toby Hodges, EMBL, Roman Klapaukh, UCL, David McKain, University of Edinburgh, and Tobias Schlauch, DLR

WSSSPE members recognise the value of good practice in software development and the benefits of robust and reproducible code in research. The adoption of such practice requires an investment of time, energy, and money, and unfortunately it can be difficult to convince research scientists that this investment is worthwhile. Several initiatives already aim to encourage good practice in research software development, for example, Software Carpentry, the Software Sustainability Institute, the internal Software Engineering Initiative at the German Aerospace Center (DLR), and the Bio-IT project at EMBL. However, some research groups have remained difficult to reach.

Different approaches can be targeted at different levels and career stages. The majority of these share a common theme of support for the local research community.

For those at an early career stage, adoption of good practice can be encouraged by the availability of training, resources, and tools…

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Latest version published on 12 December, 2017.

 

Citation neededBy Stephan Druskat, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Radovan Bast, University of Tromsø, Neil Chue Hong, Software Sustainability Institute, University of Edinburgh, Alexander Konovalov, University of St Andrews, Andrew Rowley, University of Manchester, and Raniere Silva, Software Sustainability Institute, University of Manchester

The citation of research software has a number of purposes, most importantly attribution and credit, but also the provision of impact metrics for funding proposals, job interviews, etc. Stringent software citation practices, as proposed by Katz et al. [1], therefore include the citation of a software version itself, rather than a paper about the software. Direct software citation also enables reproducibility of research results as the exact version can be retrieved from the citation. Unique digital object identifiers (DOIs) for software versions can already be reserved via providers such as Zenodo or figshare, but disseminating (and finding) citation information for software is still difficult…

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Latest version published on 11 December, 2017.

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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Latest version published on 8 December, 2017.

Fellows 2018

By Raniere Silva, Community Officer

We started recruiting for our Fellowship Programme 2018 in August 2017. 44 applications, 176 reviews and two online review meetings later, we are happy to announce our 17 new Software Sustainability Institute Fellows for 2018. With many amazing candidates, our new research software ambassadors represent some of the best people working in—and advocating for—better research software.

Compared to previous years, we noticed a drop by more than half of the number of applications, probably due the changes to this year’s application process, but every reviewer commented that the candidates were excellent and that this was the hardest year so far to select our fellows.

2018 Fellows come from eight fields in the Joint Academic Coding System (JACS) code, including Medical Sciences, Biological Sciences, Physical Sciences, Mathematical Sciences, Engineering, Computer Sciences, Social Studies and Business and Administrative Studies. Their work is supported from BBSRC, EPSRC, MRC, NERC and STFC.

We have representatives from 11 institutions in the UK, including the Cabinet Office for the first time. The University College London and the University of Sheffield are the institutions with more fellows this year (three fellows each). Our theory is that this is a…

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Latest version published on 7 December, 2017.

Overcoming barriersBy Alys Brett, UK Atomic Energy Authority, Sam Cox, University of Leicester, Carina Haupt, German Aerospace Center (DLR), and Jason Maassen, Netherlands eScience Center.

When we talk in general terms about software development practices most people will nod along, maybe slightly nervously. From experience, we know that it can be hard for some commonly accepted good practices to gain traction or be sustained after the initial enthusiasm. However, this can often be overcome if standard approaches are adapted to better fit within a research context.  

What are the barriers?

The research sphere is very varied, but there are a number of recurring barriers to adoption of best practice in the research context.

The career histories of researchers create a wide range of skill levels - while some researchers are already used to best practice in a number of areas, others have a very basic level of experience. While in a corporate context most team members may be at a similar level due to shared…

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