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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

Schedule (all times are CET)

Note: There will also be an online program for workshop particpants, and some public events.

Day 1 - 19 April, 2022

Aim: Create a welcoming environment and begin to make connections.

until 10:15 Arrival, coffee 10:15–11:00 Welcome by the Lorentz Center and the organisers: Lorentz Center information

  • Workshop goals and structure
  • Ways of working together - Code of Conduct, diversity equity and inclusion (DEI) guidelines

Brief introductions

11:00-12:00 Setting the scene: Understanding the language we are using

  • Research software engineering (RSE) explainer: eg what is RSE and why is it important
  • DEI explainer: what do we need to understand about DEI to improve it in the research community

12:00-13:00 Lunch break

13:00-13:30 Early career research viewpoint on future vision for DEI in research software engineering

13:30-15:00 Ice-breaker: Valuing our lived experience. Breakout groups will be used to discuss personal experiences (where participants are comfortable to do so) of DEI and/or their experience of working to address DEI issues. This will enable participants to begin to connect with others and to reflect on their own unique perspectives. 3 x 30 minute breakouts on each of D, E, I. Group sizes of ~8 people across ~6 groups.

15:00-15:30 Break

15:30-16:30 Inspirational keynote

17:00- Evening reception combined with poster session. (Attendees will be invited to bring relevant posters to stimulate discussion and interaction. Posters will be up all week and available online.)

Day 2 - 20 April 2022

Aim: Learning from social science approaches to stimulate consideration of the workshop’s two research questions.

09:00-10:30 Examples of successful DEI focused initiatives collaborations, to focus thinking on research question 1: What approaches to repositioning DEI as central to the research software engineering community will prove most promising?

10:30-11:00 Break

11:00-12:00 Breakout groups to consider how each participant could apply these frameworks to improve centrality of DEI in their own environments.

12:00-14:00 Lunch break

14:00-15:00 Social science approaches to developing diverse research software communities and teams, to facilitate engagement with research question 2: Which combinations of social processes and supporting technology show effectiveness in advancing the community of research software engineers workers to direct research toward a future centered on DEI? Talks (10 mins each then discussion):

15:00-15:30 Break

15:30-17:00 Breakout groups to consider how each participant could better utilise social processes and/or technology to support DEI in their own environments.

18:00- Informal dinner

Day 3 - 21 April 2022

Aim: What have we learned so far? What are our next steps?

9:00-10:30 Exemplars of successful DEI in the software world.

10:30-11:00 Break

11:00-12:00 The importance of community in research software engineering.

12:00-14:00 Lunch break

14:00-14:30 Early career researcher experiences of DEI in RSE

14:30-15:30 Breakout groups to reflect on learnings and to support each participant to identify their next steps. Where are there opportunities to collaborate for knowledge transfer or to build critical mass?

15:30-16:00 Break

16:00-17:00 Report back on breakout groups to identify commonalities in next steps and opportunities for building on each other’s work.

18:00- Workshop dinner (optional)

Day 4 - 22 April 2022

Aim: Summarise learnings and agree workshop outcomes.

09:00-10:00 How do we incentivise the changes needed to centralise DEI in research software engineering?

10:30-11:00 Break

11:00-12:00 Review of progress on research questions 1 and 2.

12:00-13:00 Lunch break

13:00-14:00 What are useful structures to support this? 5 minute lightning talks to seed discussion:

14:00-14:30 Break

14:30–15:45 Next steps for collaborating and sharing workshop outcomes (including written report).

15:45-16:00- Farewell (workshop organisers)