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Vive la différence - research software engineers

This will be a hybrid event with an in-person element from 19-22 April 2022 at the Lorentz Centre in the Netherlands; and online events from March-May 2022 across different time zones.

See the event page for general information and details on how to be involved.

Workshop rationale

Research software engineering is becoming increasingly essential as the role of research software is becoming at once more critical to scientific discovery (Barker et al., 2020), and more difficult to sustain. Research software engineering combines professional software engineering expertise with an intimate understanding of research, and is critical to achieving open science goals.

Research software engineering is at a critical point in its evolution, with the demand for research software engineers expected to continue to rise as open science becomes the norm in research culture. However, significant cultural change is needed in the research software engineering community to increase the DEI that can facilitate the rewarding and enabling research environment needed to enable higher-quality research, by increasing innovation, collaboration and productivity.

Redefinition of broader research culture to embrace diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is also a major challenge, and novel solutions to complex research challenges need to come from a diverse, engaged community. This issue is particularly important in the research software engineering community, which is conservatively estimated to include 330,000+ worldwide (Hettrick, 2020). Available data reveals a more significant lack of diversity than in the mainstream research community, and there is almost no research on equity and inclusion. International analysis in 2018 on research software engineer demographics found that 73-92% were male, and most commonly ranged in age from 25-44 (Philipe, 2018). 2018 data specifically on United Kingdom research software engineers documented a breakdown of 14% women, 5% ethnicity of black, Asian and minority ethnic/mixed, and 6% reporting a disability, with these figures being <50% less than for the UK workforce as a whole (Chue Hong et al., 2021).

The research software community is well situated to evolve to frame DEI at its centre due to its dependency on community involvement for innovation and sustainability. Expanding the pool of research software contributors is a concrete, desired outcome that improved DEI could contribute to, with benefits including:

  • Increasing innovation: research has found that diverse teams can improve scientific outputs (Campbell et al., 2013; Liang et al., 2007). Research software work usually occurs in teams, and this work will continue to require the ability to maintain critical relationships with diverse stakeholders in the research community. However, Chue Hong et al. also identify research that demonstrates there can also be drawbacks, and maximisation of benefits depends on effective implementation (2021).
  • Increasing sustainability: Research software is often open source software, which is characterised by development by a network of people working together. However, the culture of open source software faces similar challenges in improving DEI (Benjamin, 2019; Dunbar-Hester, 2020; Vasilescu et al., 2015).

There are other potential benefits to centering research software engineering on DEI to ensure that publicly funded research supports wider society, such as the critical role that research software engineers could play in avoiding bias in software design that would cause negative social repercussions, such as on questions of algorithmic bias and data ownership

Click to read the full schedule.

There is also be an online-only program for workshop participants that runs from late March to the end of April.

ReSA is also collaborating with national research software engineering associations on DiveRSE, a series of talks that provides a public forum to complement the “Vive la différence - research software engineers” workshop, which is limited to 55 participants. Find out more about the DiveRSE event series.