Research Software Engineers


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 2018, we announced that the UK RSE Association is turning into the Society of Research Software Engineering. The community’s growth has made the informal, volunteer run format unsustainable. The move will enable the society to hold funds, employ staff, and operate as an independent organisation to represent the interests of the RSE community. Visit the RSE website for more information and to sign up to receive updates.

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”.

RSE surveys

In 2016 we surveyed hundreds of RSEs in the UK and Canada to learn more about their demographics, impact and careers. In 2017, we also conducted surveys in Germany, the Netherlands, 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.

RSE conferences

We have now organised three annual RSE conferences. The latest was held at the University of Birmingham in September 2018, and attracted 314 delegates from 12 countries. That represented a nearly 50% increase over the 2017 attendance and also a 7% increase in women attending compared to 2017.

The 2019 RSE conference will be in Birmingham again, from 17-19 September. We are expanding from two days to three and opening up more delegate places to a maximum of 420 tickets. Find out more, and sign up for notifications if you are interested in attending.

Further reading