Software and research: the Institute's Blog

Founders of the de-RSE chapter
Founders of the de-RSE chapter

By Martin Hammitzsch, GFZ Potsdam, Stephan Janosch, MPI CBG & Frank Loeffler, Louisiana State University

The days following the first conference of Research Software Engineers (RSEs) saw the launch of a German RSE chapter de-RSE. It was formed by RSEs working inside and outside Germany, and it will further the shared objectives of RSEs and become the collective mouthpiece for RSEs within the German science.

All of the authors were exposed to the day-to-day problems caused by using software in science, and this meant that many of us were following the Software Sustainability Institute, and a few other activities around the globe. The lucky ones among us were even able to participate in events over the last few years to see how to improve our situation. Over the last few years a critical mass of motivated Research Software Engineers (RSEs) formed at various locations across Europe, North America and a few other countries. Then in September 2016, the world's first conference for RSEs took place in Manchester. It was the right time for this event. Bringing together RSEs lead to discussions about how to transfer the UKRSE spirit to other countries. How could other national science systems benefit from the professionalisation of software engineering in sciences? How can the people behind research software receive the the acknowledgement and resources they deserve?

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ResearchFishBy Simon Hettrick, Deputy Director.

Researchfish® allows researchers to record the impact of their research outside of the standard metric of how many papers I have written. These outcomes, as they are called, cover publications, but also collaborations, events, awards and other metrics including - and of most interest to me - software.

Researchfish® was established with the support of MRC and initially focused on collecting outcomes from medical research. It has since been adopted by a broad range of funders, including the UK’s seven Research Councils. I recently had an interesting talk with the EPSRC’s Louise Tillman about what these outcomes might say about research software in the UK and, thanks to her, a week later I found myself in possession of a spreadsheet containing the research outcomes related to software for EPSRC researchers.

Just having the outcomes is pretty exciting, but to make things more interesting, I decided that I would write the analysis code myself. I’m not a software developer, but it’s getting progressively more difficult to stay that way when I spend my life surrounded by Research Software Engineers. Hence this post not only reports an investigation into Researchfish…

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DIHDYou find yourself stranded on a beautiful desert island. Fortunately, the island is equipped with the basics needed to sustain life: food, water, solar power, a computer and a network connection. Consummate professional that you are, you have brought the three software packages you need to continue your life and research. What software would you choose and - go on - what luxury item would you take to make life easier?

Today we hear from Mark Plumbley, Professor of Signal Processing at the University of Surrey, and Chair of the Institute's advisory board.

What software do I need if I'm stuck on a Desert Island? Let's see...

Out-of-office with chatbot (based on deep learning, of course). I don't want to be concerned that people will notice I'm away. So instead of an out of office responder that simply replies "I'm away and I will delete your message on my return", my out-of-office-bot would reply in the style that the recurrent neural network had learned from my other messages. Nobody will notice the difference, so I can relax properly knowing that nobody will send out a search party.

Evernote, customized for my GTD/TSW variant. Indispensable. I would finally have time for all those Next Actions accumulated in 5-SomedayMaybe. With the necessary saved searches and shortcuts set up to keep me organised, I'll never be stuck knowing what to do next. Hmm, it seems that most…

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Species modelling run outputBy Thomas Etherington, Senior Research Leader, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and Institute Fellow.

Species distribution models are a computational technique commonly used to map the likely geographic occurrence of organisms.  For example, here at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, we use species distribution models to help conserve plants. This conservation occurs in situ by protecting areas that models show are more likely to contain plants of interest, and also conserving plants ex situ by targeting expeditions to areas more likely to have plants from which seeds can be collected for storage in Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank.

Due to their importance in conservation, species distribution models should, like any scientific computational method, be done in an open manner so that the findings can be replicated and confirmed. Unfortunately, my experience in reading and reviewing scientific papers suggests that many scientists are still using GUI software rather than using a coding approach that enables such replication. I suspect this is probably due to a lack of computational training amongst species distribution modellers, and hence this could be something I could aim to rectify this year as part of my…

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Leeds CityBy Shoaib Sufi, Community Lead.

The Collaborations Workshop 2017 (CW17—#CollabW17) will take place at the Leeds University Business School, from 27-29 March 2017. You can book your place here.

So what makes this event so unique and useful? Is it the breadth of people from research software? is it the IoT and Open Data theme? Is it the unconference inspired format? Is it the knowledge sharing? Is it the networking? Is it the mix of collaborations and competition? Is it the social programme? It’s all of these things and more!

To get a feel for how CW17 will unfold, take a look at the agenda (subject to some tweaks as we get nearer to the event). From lightning talks and discussions on the first day to more collaborative events and Q&A session on the second day through to the Hackday, all of our CW17 activities are designed to inform, inspire and empower those who attend.

Previous CW attendees have said:

“Lively event, mix of un-conference and workshop, open minded people, new ideas and tons of impulses to think further, networking opportunities not in a…

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