Software is fundamental for modern day research. In a 2014 survey [1], carried out among researchers at 15 Russell Group universities in the UK, 7 out of 10 researchers responded it would not be practical to conduct their work without software. Software has evolved from a useful tool into a highly valuable and complex research infrastructure with a lifetime that is substantially longer than typical funding cycles.

Despite its significance academic research software is often poorly managed and maintained. Common practices do not stand comparison with commercial standards of the corporate world. The fact that academic software is often left for afterthoughts jeopardises the feasibility of research projects [2]. Given that a significant amount of public money is being invested into its development, it is also a very inefficient and unsustainable practice and actually not justifiable.

The UK community of Research Software Engineers (UKRSE) has come together to raise awareness of this issue, to campaign for change, to collaborate and to share knowledge that helps improve the quality of research software. UKRSE is in the vanguard of the new academic profession of research software engineers. They combine expertise in programming with an intricate understanding of research. This pioneering campaign, spearheaded by EPSRC, is the first of its kind in the world and has now attracted global attention.

Please have a look at the recent ‘State of the Nation’ Report [3] if you like to know more about the status quo of research software engineering.

[1] Simon Hettrick, Mario Antonioletti, Les Carr, et al., “UK Research Software Survey 2014“, DOI:10.5281/zenodo.14809, (2014).
[2] Greg Miller, “A Scientist’s Nightmare: Software Problem Leads to Five Retractions”, Science 314, 1856-1857 (2006), DOI: 10.1126/science.314.5807.1856
[3] Alys Brett, Michael Croucher, Robert Haines, Simon Hettrick, James Hetherington, Mark Stillwell, Claire Wyatt, “Research Software Engineers: State of the Nation Report 2017“, DOI:10.5281/zenodo.495360, (2017)