Research

MapBy Simon Hettrick, Deputy Director.

If we want research to benefit from reliable software, we need to create a home in academia for Research Software Engineers (RSEs). In the long term, this means the creation of an RSE career path, but that involves a rather heavyweight shift in the way that universities deal with staff. Fortunately, there’s also a short-term solution: create more “research software groups”. This week, leaders of these groups met to discuss how they can work together, and how they can support the formation of new research software groups across the UK.

If you manage Research Software Engineers (even if they don’t use that job title) and want to benefit from the experience and resources of similar groups, please get in touch. We are keen to include representatives from across the UK.

RSEs who work on their own tend to have a difficult relationship with their workload: there’s either too much work, or there isn’t enough to sustain their salary. By collecting RSEs into a Research Software Group, the demand for RSEs can be equalised, providing a more managed workload and an even income stream. This makes it easier to choose a career as an RSE, which means we get more RSEs working in academia - and more RSEs can only be good for research.

The purpose of the RSEL is to help leaders of research software…

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By Simon Hettrick, Deputy Director.

No one knows how much software is used in research. Look around any lab and you’ll see software – both standard and bespoke – being used by all disciplines and seniorities of researchers. Software is clearly fundamental to research, but we can’t prove this without evidence. And this lack of evidence is the reason why we ran a survey of researchers at 15 Russell Group universities to find out about their software use and background.

Headline figures

  • 92% of academics use research software
  • 69% say that their research would not be practical without it
  • 56% develop their own software (worryingly, 21% of those have no training in software development
  • 70% of male researchers develop their own software, and only 30% of female researchers do so

Data and citation

The data collected during this survey is available for download from Zenodo. Please cite "S.J. Hettrick et al, UK Research Software Survey 2014"​​, DOI:10.5281/zenodo.14809. It is licensed under a Creative Commons by Attribution licence (attribution to The University of Edinburgh on behalf of the Software Sustainability Institute).

Software is far more important to research than anyone knows

If we do not know how much we rely on software, we cannot…

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ClocksBy Mike Jackson, Software Architect

Working with researchers is something the Institute has been doing for many years now. So we thought it was about time to put together our top tips for software developers working with researchers to help foster productive, and enjoyable, collaborations.

1. Remember they are not software developers

You may know the difference between centralised and distributed revision control, classes and objects, pass-by-value and pass-by-reference, upcasting and downcasting, coupling and cohesion, processes and threads, or a stack overflow and StackOverflow, but your researcher may not. Knowing how to knock together a few dozen lines of code does not make someone a software developer, as writing code is just a fraction of what a software developer does.

Be aware of your researcher’s level of knowledge about software development and keep in mind that it can be hard for people to admit that they don’t know or don’t understand something.

It can also help to adopt a technique from storytelling—show, don’t tell. Don’t tell them to apply the factory pattern, a recommendation daunting in its abstract vagueness. Rather, provide an introduction to the factory pattern and show them an example of how the factory…

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One of the biggest problems facing researchers is the best way to share their research to as broad an audience as possible. In fact, it’s this important part of research impact, or how academic research makes a contribution to wider society, that is used as one of the yardsticks to judge the success of a research project.

The Software Sustainability Institute has been addressing this problem through its blog, which regularly features articles by researchers from across the disciplines, all of whom have used software to enhance and develop their work. The question, however, was how to make all this fascinating material and the researchers’ output even more accessible.

With this in mind, the Institute has launched its own Android phone app. This displays the latest content from the site in an easy to read mobile and tablet-friendly format and lets users access the site's complete blog archive. It also allows offline functionality and opens the content in its own streamlined interface rather than through a browser.

This includes blogs about making Dinosaurs and ancient spiders walk again, Google Glass in the operating theatre, tracking the…

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By Simon Hettrick, Deputy Director.

This article originally appeared in Research Fortnight.

With few exceptions, every significant advance in research over at least the past 30 years would have been impossible without computer software. Research software—used to produce results rather than for, say, word processing or web searches—has spread far beyond traditionally computational fields such as particle physics and bioinformatics to achieve near ubiquity in all disciplines. In my role at the Software Sustainability Institute, I have worked with everyone from fusion physicists to choreographers.

The institute, which helps researchers with software and promotes a better understanding thereof, is conducting a survey of researchers selected at random from 15 Russell Group universities. Early indications from about 400 respondents are that almost 90 per cent rely on research software. About 70 per cent report that their research would be impossible without it, and almost 60 per cent develop their own software.

This dependence on software is making it impossible to assess the reliability and reproducibility of results without access to the code used to generate them. Yet researchers often overlook the importance of producing well-written, accessible computer code.

One reason for this might…

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If you agree that software is fundamental to research, we invite you to sign our petition.

Everyone who signs this petition will add weight to our lobbying of research stakeholders, and will help us prove the fundamental role of software in research.

For more information, read the petition - and don't forget to let your friends and colleagues know!

By Simon Hettrick, Deputy Director.

Over the last few months, we’ve been working on improving our understanding of the size of the research software community. In previous posts, I’ve discussed our plans for this research. Although we've not yet finished our analysis, we thought that it would be interesting to release some early results. First of all, how much money do the Research Councils invest into research that relies on software? The answer: at least a third of the entire RCUK budget - or £840 million in 2013.

Summary

The UK Research Councils and Technology Strategy Board (TSB) have been investing, at a minimum, around 30% of their total budget for project grants into software-reliant research, which is £840 million in the financial year 2013-14. We expect the actual investment to be significantly larger than this figure due to the fact that software is rarely discussed in the title or abstract of a grant - data on which this research relies.

Investment per council into software-reliant research is relatively stable, with an average increase of 3.3% over the last four years. Notable exceptions to this rule are the TSB which, despite a significant increase in total research investment, has invested a lower percentage of those funds…

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University College London now has a vacancy for a new member to join its Research Software Development Team.

Working as a research software developer (Ref: 1429197), the successful applicant will help code the scientific applications UCL needs to continue with its world class research, from simple data analysis scripts to supercomputer-based complex simulations.

Other duties will include making sure UCL's research software meets high standards of sustainability and helping researchers from across the disciplines with their software needs.

To apply for this job, you need to be able to provide expert software engineering skills in one or more fields, can quickly grasp and write code for new scientific projects and be able to use at least one or more languages and platforms used in scientific computing.

To find out more details and to apply for the post, please visit the…

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A new collection of visualisation tools for representing biological information is now available thanks to TGAC, EMBL-EBI and F1000Research.

TGAC’s BioJS collection, published today by the journal F1000Research, comprises 14 open-access articles detailing the functionality, design, implementation and potential applications for a suite of open-source, JavaScript software components contributed by developers all over the world. The collection marks a significant step towards improving the way scientists can visualise biological data.

Data visualisations help researchers generate hypotheses and translate them into knowledge. Now, for the first time, developers can freely access a central software library for sharing standardised, community-approved JavaScript tools for visualising biological information. BioJS, an open-source, community-based project, has a modular, structured design that is ideal for scientists working in data-intensive research. The BioJS community, initiated at EMBL-EBI and coordinated by TGAC, has enabled the creation of 39 different software components in a very short time. Its new collection, like the community itself, provides a valuable resource for disseminating knowledge swiftly.

Manuel Corpas, Guest Editor of the F1000Research BioJS collection, and Project Leader for Plant and Animal Genomes at TGAC, said: “…

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Can you present complex data to tell a compelling story that anyone will be able to understand?

The British Library Science Team and Cottage Labs are running a challenge sponsored by the BBSRC and AHRC to visualise the data now avalable about publicly-funded research in the UK. Entry forms are available from 27 January 2014 and deadline for submissions is on 21 March 2014.

Every year the seven Research Councils, funded by UK tax payers, spend around £3 billion on research that improves lives and the world around us. Research Council funds are awarded on the basis of applications made by researchers, which are subject to independent, expert peer review. Applications are judged by considering a combination of factors, including their scientific excellence, timeliness and promise, strategic relevance, economic and social impacts, industrial and stakeholder relevance, value for money and staff training potential.

Key data from the seven Research Councils are now available from one place - Gateway to Research - enabling anyone to interrogate grants awarded, publications, people and organisations.

The purpose of this challenge is to develop visualisations of the Gateway to Research data that can be easily understood by the public. Displaying these data in an accessible way will also have benefits for a range of sectors, stakeholders including policy makers, other funding bodies and the media.

We are inviting designers, graphic artists, software developers, programmers and anyone with an interest…

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