Research and quilting have a similar Zen in that both combine and build upon multiple prior works. But the workflow is difficult to reproduce in research software: how can we combine group X’s state-of-the-art ODE solver with group Z’s state-of-the-art parallel linear algebra to create Y’s new biology model when they all use different libraries and conventions? This is the problem that Julia tackles head on, thanks to it’s innovative type system and multiple dispatch. In “Shared Memory Parallelization of Banded Block-Banded Matrices” we describe how to combine the parallelization capabilities from one package (SharedArrays) with the specialized matrix of another (BlockBandedMatrices.jl) – without modifying the internals of either.
2019 has been another very busy and productive year for the RSE team in the Research Computing Service at Imperial College. Our core mission is to accelerate the research conducted at Imperial through collaborative software development, and we have now completed 24 projects since our inception 2 years ago with 75% of our first-year projects resulting in follow-on engagements. We’ve highlighted 5 of our most fruitful collaborations on our new webpages, which also provide more information about the team and the services we offer. We are about to appoint our fifth team member, reflecting the value we’ve offered to research projects (and proving that there is a career pathway for RSEs!).
In addition to our project work we’ve assisted researchers at over 40 RCS clinics this year and played a strong supporting role in Imperial’s Research Software community, from Hacktoberfest to departmental events. We’ve developed two brand new Graduate School courses in Research Software Engineering (to be delivered next term) and have helped deliver 4 Software Carpentry workshops. We’ve also played an increasingly active role in promoting the benefits of RSE (and the role itself) to relevant stakeholders in the College. This has complemented our broader engagement activities: acting as expert reviewers for JOSS submissions, contributing to numerous OSS projects, presenting at 3 international RSE conferences (deRSE19, UKRSE19 and NL-RSE19), and promoting our work via blogging, social media and attendance at several other relevant events – locally (e.g. RSLondonSouthEast 2019) and nationally (e.g. CW19, CIUK).
We continue to develop tools and infrastructure to support RSE within in the College. The nascent Research Software Directory aims to showcase the breadth of software developed at Imperial, encouraging collaboration, re-use and citation. We’re also attempting to give software a stronger position amongst research outputs through our current work on the Research References Tracking Tool (R2T2) and helping researchers submit their software to Spiral via Symplectic. Finally, we continue to share advice and guidance on how to adopt better RSE practices, such as QA and CI.
As we look forward and further develop the Research Computing Service’s RSE capacity and expertise we’d like to thank all the academics who have trusted us with their projects, and all the researchers who’ve taken the time to explain their work and have enthusiastically embraced good software engineering practices. We’re looking forward to another 12 months of strengthening RSE at Imperial!
On Thursday 12th of December the Research Computing Service joined the College’s Research Software Community in celebrating the 1st Research Software Winter Seminars and Roundtable, the final event of another great year of building research software at Imperial. The event had two goals: first, to celebrate the research software-related achievements of the RS Community during 2019, and second, to plan the activities and goals for the year that is about to start.
The seminar session featured nine exciting talks, ranging from a review of the activities of the Community during 2019 and the training opportunities in computing and data science skills, to technical talks on the use of complex analysis pipelines for RNA sequencing and the extension of open source software with custom features.
This is the full list of talks, including several relevant links:
- Jeremy Cohen (Department of Computing) – Another successful year for Imperial’s Research Software Community – 2019 in review
- Katerina Michalickova (Research Computing Service) – Research Computing and Data Science Skills Training at Imperial (Computational Methods Hub, Graduate School Research Computing and Data Science Programme)
- Chris Cave-Ayland (Research Computing Service) – Graduate School Courses for Research Software Engineering (registration)
- Loic Salles (Department of Mechanical Engineering) – Software for Computational Vibration
- Combiz Khozoie (Department of Brain Sciences) – scflow: a Reproducible and Scalable Analysis Pipeline for Single-Cell RNA-Sequencing Data
- Diego Alonso-Álvarez (Research Computing Service) – Research References Tracking Tool (R2T2)
- Felipe Huerta Perez (Department of Earth Science & Engineering) – Extending OpenFOAM Computational Fluid Dynamics capabilities with an emphasis on chemical engineering
- Elsa Angelini and Jazz Mack Smith (Department of Metabolism, Digestion and Reproduction) – Software Engineering activities for the faculty of Medicine in the ITMAT Data Science Group
- Mark Woodbridge (Research Computing Service) – RSE in the Research Computing Service: 2019 in review (accompanying blog post, RSE team homepage and new case studies)
After the talks, there was a roundtable discussion chaired by Diego Alonso, with a panel including Elsa Angelini, Jeremy Cohen, Phoebe Pearce and Mark Woodbridge, to help answer some questions about what the audience would like to see from the Community next year, how we can communicate with each other better and who can get involved to make those things happen. There were many excellent contributions from the audience, who were also very engaged and eager to see the community grow and take an active role on it.
Among the activities that were discussed – and that gained volunteers to help make them a reality – were the creation of a Slack workspace as an instantaneous, bidirectional communication channel within the community (already up and running; sign-up now!) and the recruitment of RSE Champions in the different communities (PhD students, postdocs, etc) to promote Community events and bring more people aboard or to assist with the organisation of departmental events.
The event concluded with informal drinks and nibbles in the ICT Kitchen – including mulled wine! – where the enthusiastic attendees and speakers mingled together and shared experiences and plans for the future.
There are plenty of things going on and 2020 is due to see a very bright RS Community at Imperial!
Their presentation, Strength in Numbers: Growing RSE Capacity at Imperial College London (10.5281/zenodo.3548308) described the expanding groups involved in RSE at Imperial, their respective activities, and how examples of these are fostering collaboration and awareness across the College. They also took the opportunity to display a poster first shown at UKRSE19 that highlights key aspects of these initiatives. The talk and poster generated much interest and resulted in productive discussions with members of the NL-RSE community in relation to building inclusive communities, long-term support for research software, personal development opportunities for RSEs, and how best to support the broad range of research typically carried out in larger institutions.
Many thanks to the organisers (in particular Niels Drost and Ben van Werkhoven of the Netherlands eScience Center) for the opportunity to engage with the vibrant and rapidly growing RSE community in the Netherlands.
Diego Alonso Álvarez is a Senior Research Software Engineer in the Research Computing Service at Imperial College London. In this post he reflects on his career so far, from post-doctoral researcher to working as a full-time software engineer since joining Imperial’s RSE team in November 2018.
1. Setting the scene: who I am and why I am writing this
I am a research software engineer (RSE) but until just one year ago, I was a post-doctoral researcher in the Department of Physics at Imperial College London. Before I forget how being a researcher was, I am writing my experiences on both career paths and the pros and cons of each of them. This has been an exciting task for me to reflect on my own career and why I made the decisions I made. Hopefully it will also be something interesting for others to read and, possibly, benefit from.
It is worth to emphasise that this blog post is about me and how I have experienced both roles. This is not, by any means, an unbiased description of the academic and the RSE careers neither it is an attempt to describe what being a researcher or an RSE generally is, the latter being a hot topic of discussion in the RSE community, anyway. Some people will find my experiences mirroring some of their own; others will feel completely identified with everything; others will consider my whole story completely alien and nothing to do with their own.
Either way, let’s begin!
2. My career as a researcher
2.1. The context
It took me a while to realise I was a researcher. Indeed, I do not think I thought of myself as researcher until after finishing my PhD and starting my first postdoc in Edinburgh, back in 2012, probably because I had not experienced the whole “research world” until then.
However, I certainly was a researcher before that. For 6 years, since 2006, I carried innovative research in the field of quantum semiconductor nanostructures for novel infrared photodetectors and solar cells. I am not sure if my PhD supervisors were very permissive or if I was very independent, but in any case, I generally worked a lot on my own and did things my way, normally quite successfully.
Going to Edinburgh immediately after finishing my PhD was an intermediate step. As with the PhD, I was pretty independent there and could work anyway I wanted, whenever I wanted, as long as I produced scientifically sound results. But others were not so independent. I could see around me (within the same group and in others) much more demanding constraints and bitter discussions on who should author what and in what order, on how many hours someone had been using some equipment, etc. I did never experience any of that myself.
By the time I went to Edinburgh, I had already submitted a Royal Society Newton International Fellowship application (failed!) and a Marie Curie Fellowship application (success!) to come to Imperial College London. This was my first crash course on research: impossibly long applications; incredibly long waiting times; zero or very limited feedback if not successful. In any case, I was successful in the end, so here I came. I worked happily as part of the Quantum Photovoltaics group, first as Marie Curie Fellow, then as research fellow associated to a European project and finally as a plain postdoctoral researcher associated to an EPSRC project. Not exactly going up the academic ladder.
During these years, I followed the “book of the researcher”: I enjoyed facing the challenges of creating new experiments and shedding some light into novel, potentially ground breaking data, I published a few tens of papers, collaborated with many institutions and travelled worldwide presenting my work in the top conferences of the field of solar energy. I also did some undergraduate teaching, student supervision, lab management, a lot of coding – both for research and also related with outreach – and wrote applications for fellowships and lectureships. Often, all of it at the same time, multitasking.
Cutting the story short, I was not successful with any of the lectureship applications, neither with the fellowships, so my career was not really going anywhere. All of them were very time consuming to prepare – the last fellowship took me a whole year -; all of them took a lot of time to be resolved – in one case I had to write to find out what was going on -; in none did I receive any feedback beyond “it was very competitive.” Well, I already knew that. What I wanted to know was where I was weaker, to further develop that area and have better chances the next time.
The bitterness in all of this is not so much for failing but for the complete absence of any gain from those failures. There was no learning experience. They were very time consuming just to reach dead ends. And the same applies to rejected papers or collaborations that end up going nowhere.
2.2. Pros and cons
So, after this dissertation to put into context my opinions, I have come up with the following list of pros and cons of life in research. They are not in any particular order, but it should be pretty obvious by now to which I give more weight.
– Freedom of working any time of the day and day of the week: Results matter more than hours worked
For me, this is one of the biggest benefits of life as a researcher, but also a double-edge sword. It requires for you to be honest about what to do and by when, and then do it. And also, for your supervisor or line manager to demand and value those results appropriately. Otherwise, no one will do anything. Or you will need to work many more hours in order to have the work done.
– Work for your own benefit and reputation
This is a bit vague, as it could be “for the benefit of humankind”, but I think there is a bit of selfishness and desire to be recognised in any researcher.
– Limited supervision and/or accountability
Clearly dependent on who is your supervisor, but in my experience, I rarely had to give any explanation on what I had been doing beyond the outcomes (aka papers, conferences, etc.) we had agreed and that were expected.
– Very clear career progression path
PhDPostdoc Research Fellow Lecturer Reader Professor. Some steps slightly different depending on the institution, but roughly speaking, the same anywhere, and with more or less clear responsibilities and benefits.
– A lot of opportunities to learn soft skills
Soft skills being anything that is not in your job specification, that you can use somewhere else and that, for some reason, you spend most of the time doing. It is important to note that soft skills become relevant only when you think on changing roles.
– Unhealthy competitiveness between researchers for publishing first, accessing or controlling a laboratory, order of authors in a paper…
I did not experience this personally, but I saw it happen to friends and it is one of the most counterproductive and damaging things for anyone’s mental health. An absolute motivational killer.
– Extreme pressure to publish and get grants
What to say about this? The vicious circle of publishing to get grants to keep publishing to do… what? Very often research misses the point completely: papers and grants are a means to an end, not the end themselves, and in doing otherwise, the result is poorer, emptier research, and a waste of resources and money.
– Very long feedback loops between doing something until having a response to it
My favourite and probably the reason I lost interest in research. I cannot emphasise more the absolute waste of time and anxiety that all of this lead times produces in a researcher:
– Grant/fellowship submission
– Submitting a paper Having the paper published
– Publication of papers Anyone actually benefiting from them
– Too narrow research topic resulting in limited scope for learning new things
This is hard to spot while you are inside, but the truth is that we become experts of things so absolutely specific that if we want to learn anything else slightly off track, we cannot. Two things happen: (1) you rarely have time to do it because you already have plenty of things in your plate and (2) the community of that other field will not accept you because you have not been working on that topic for ages and, therefore, are not an expert. I tried to do it, moving from solar cells to batteries and energy storage. It did not work.
– Often required to spread too thin
Affects all levels of the academic ladder. The upper steps more related to managing too many people, too many project proposals and too many connections and potential partners; the lower steps trying to pursue side research lines and activities beyond the real topics of their jobs because they cannot say “no” to whatever comes from above. Another source of stress (on top of everything else) preventing you to focus on having things done.
– Often requires working many hours outside normal working hours
The dark side that comes with the freedom of working hours. Things have to be done, for the good and the bad.
3. My career as research software engineer
3.1. The context
The first question to answer will be how I ended up being a research software engineer. Sure, I applied to an offer I saw somewhere, but it is interesting to describe how I found out about the offer in the first place, because it is a clear example of where RSE might be coming from in many cases.
I was presenting the solar cell simulation package I had been working on, Solcore, to some potential users at Imperial’s Department of Materials. After the presentation and the discussion, one of the attendees told me that Imperial’s Research Software Engineer team could help me polishing the software and solving some of its issues and limitations. I had never heard of such team, but it sounded useful. I took note of the web page and a few days later join the Imperial RSE community mailing list. I have to admit I never followed up that lead and ignored any communication from that mailing list. Until a few months later, when I had a look at it by chance and saw a vacancy for a research software engineer position.
Reading through the job description was quite an eye-opener. This job was not only very close to things that I had been doing, informally, as a researcher; it was about things I really enjoyed doing! Sure, there were a few technical skills I did not had – and I still do not – but overall, it seemed an amazing fit for me. And it was a permanent position. This had an enormous weight, considering my personal situation of having a few-months-old baby and having spent the last decade on relatively short (1-3 years each) fix term contracts. So, I applied… and got the position!
The job as RSE could not be more different to the one as researcher, at least from the point of view of the working environment and daily routine. Imperial’s RSE team is part of the Research Computing Service, in turn part of Information and Communication Technologies, a massive department in charge of maintaining and improving all of Imperial’s computing infrastructure. We all work in a large open plan office and the look and feel is way more professional than the – often – messy researcher’s offices. Everyone there – including us –have a pretty regular and consistent schedule, being the office mostly empty at 5 pm.
The work itself is faster, much, much faster: we have concrete goals to achieve, concrete steps to get there, concrete deliverables. It does not matter if we are talking about developing a new code to support the research of a certain group, refactoring an old, hard to maintain piece of software, preparing a workshop for a conference (there are indeed great RSE conferences!), or the materials for a training event. We are paid to provide a specific service to a client under some constraints (money, time, scope) and we have to deliver, be efficient and straight to the point. This dynamism is not stressful at all, much to the contrary, it is quite relaxing to have specific steps to take to go to a specific place in a specific time. Tasks are short, feedback comes fast, and reviewing performance (your own or the one of the pieces of software you have been working on) is also very fluid.
Also contrary to what I would have thought before, there is plenty of scope for learning new things and to be creative when applying solutions to the problems you have to face. Indeed, I have certainly learnt way more in the last year as RSE than in the previous few years as researcher.
Not everything glows, of course. Specially being a beginner in the field without any formal training whatsoever in computing, I sometimes struggled with concepts or tools that were taken from granted. Software design patterns could be one of them, correct use (and understanding) of git could be another one, code debugging using proper debugging tools and not “print” statements, basic concepts of parallel computing… All of that comes with practice, of course, but when things move so fast and time is so precious, you certainly fear not being up to the expectations or wasting other’s time when they have to solve your own issues.
I have just become Senior Research Software Engineer. That suggest I have done my job well – of which I am really proud! – but also points to how fast and different things might happen outside the academic ladder.
3.2. Pros and cons
Pros and cons have been mostly described already, but to be consistent and add a few more on each category, here is a more exhaustive list.
– Still enjoying the academic environment and life on campus
I still work at the University, in touch with researchers, embedded in the academic environment, the students, the food outlets… It is the comfort zone, familiar to me, and that makes things much easier.
– Fast pace, with short reporting times and feedback from clients or colleagues
As described above, this is the absolute opposite to life as a researcher and, therefore, my favourite point in favour of the work as RSEs. You can feel that things happen and change in real time, that there is a real impact and specific feedback guiding you to the next steps that week, or the next, or the following month, at most.
– A new, growing community with limitless possibilities to stand out
There are many RSEs but the community itself is quite young. The professional bodies are being formed right now, the conferences are just a few editions old, the structure of the RSE career path is… fuzzy. There are plenty of things to be done and to make a difference, to be pioneer.
– Broad field with many tools, techniques and practices to learn (and growing)
The field of information technologies is huge and growing. Even if you constrain to those things specifically useful for the projects or tasks you are involved at any given time, you will not get bored of options for learning.
– Very open and collaborative community with limited competitiveness
While researchers certainly collaborate with each other, there is always a sense of competition, of being the first in publishing something or getting new results. RSEs seem to be much more relaxed on that. They are enthusiastic about sharing their ideas and expertise in different formats and contexts. They like concepts like sustainability, transparency, open software, open research, collaborative events like hackathons, online forums… In this respect, RSEs are what researchers should have been in the first place.
– 9-to-5 job
As much as I valued the freedom of working in academia, I have come to value more the rigorous 9-to-5 job I am enjoying as an RSE, without any need to work during weekends, in the evenings or to mull work-related issues while commuting.
– Comes in many flavours
The job of RSEs is quite broad and you can easily focus on those aspects that are more fulfilling to you, like teaching and training, coding, HPC or community engagement, for example. Most likely, you will also have to cover some of the other aspects but, at least in my case, I certainly have scope for customising the work I would like to do.
– Rigorous criterium on what projects one can work on, with limited scope to pursue personal projects or exploratory ideas
This is one of the catches of the job. You are very involved with research and what researchers do… but you are not one of them. Even if you have brilliant software ideas that you will like to explore and put into practice – even if they fall into the remit of what an RSE will do – you cannot do them because that is not what you are paid to do. This is particularly annoying for me now that I know a million ways of improving the software I developed as a researcher and I simply cannot devote time to do that.
– Rigorous account of the working hours and the exact activities carried along the week
This is more an annoying thing that an actual negative aspect of the job. Given that you work as a service to others, the time you spend doing each of the tasks have to be carefully accounted for. Sometimes, this is easy, but others – specially days you are less productive for whatever, perfectly sensible reason – accounting for all your time might cause some anxiety.
– Salaries equivalent to those of academic researchers, but much lower than those of similar positions in industry
This is a general issue in academia, including for researchers: we are often paid much less than our counterparts working in the private sector. And probably there is not much to do about it. For RSEs this difference might be more outrageous when you see the starting RSE salaries in companies like Google, but I think that we, in academia, have some other maybe less tangible, benefits.
To conclude, I think it is clear by now that I am very happy in my role as an RSE. I did enjoy – massively – my time as a researcher; I learnt a lot of things, some useful, others not so much; it gave me the opportunity to travel all around the world, presenting my work in amazing places I would have never visited otherwise; meeting great, very clever people…
But in the end, the lack of progression in my career, the cumulative negative aspects I was putting together and – by all means – my own personal situation, made me move on and take that opportunity that popped up out of the blue. This first year as an RSE has convinced me it was the right decision.
At Imperial we’re fortunate to have a powerful and well-maintained high-performance computing (HPC) system. We use this as a batch processing back-end for user-facing web applications that we have developed (such as Smart Forming) and for benchmarking projects including MUSE. The web applications themselves are typically hosted on CentOS VMware virtual machines hosted in our data centre and maintained by a dedicated team within ICT. These servers are set up to authenticate against our institutional sign-on system, are pre-configured with monitoring and alerting, and can directly access other on-premise systems (such as the HPC cluster and our Research Data Store).
Despite this local infrastructure we still derive a lot of value from access to our institutional Azure subscription, in both ad hoc and longer-term use of cloud resources. This gives us capabilities that would be difficult or costly to replicate on-premise. These include:
- The ability to rapidly provision and tear-down systems and services
- Access to higher-level (lower-maintenance) abstractions i.e. PaaS and FaaS
- Access to a diverse range of operating systems and configurations, from VMs for multiple versions of Windows to macOS build agents
In particular we rely on the following services:
- DevOps Pipelines: Cross-platform QA (primarily testing and linting) and packaging (including PyInstaller builds on macOS and Windows). Build failures are pushed to relevant Teams channels.
- Functions: Our Trending app provides us with information about active repositories in our institutional GitHub organisation. Using Functions makes its deployment zero-maintenance.
- App Service: Our GtR app provides us with alerts for new UKRI grants to Imperial College. It is deployed to App Service to avoid the setup and maintenance required of a standalone VM.
- Cosmos DB: Both GtR and Trending use the MongoDB API provided by Cosmos.
- Virtual Machines: We use Azure when we need VMs for long-running services that are required to accept incoming requests from other systems but don’t need access to on-premise resources, or when we need short-lived VMs for testing purposes:
- We use a Container Linux VM to run Fathom, which aggregates usage stats for some of our externally accessible apps (POWBAL, our Research Software Community Newsletters, and our Research Software Directory)
- We use Windows 7 and Windows 10 VMs to manually test relevant projects in the environments matching those of the intended end-users
- We use CentOS VMs to test in-development versions of applications, including those developed in collaboration with the Cardiovascular Genetics & Genomics Group at Imperial (CardioClassifier and VariantFX)
- Container Registry: We use continuous deployment for all our web apps (including MAGDA and POWBAL), meaning that pushing to the master branch in GitHub is sufficient to run our QA pipeline, build a Docker image which is pushed to the Azure registry, and for Watchtower to pull the image onto the target server and restart the relevant service(s).
- Single Sign-On: This allows users of our internal apps to authenticate using their existing Office 365 accounts – avoiding the need for further login details.
- Notebooks: We have our own Jupyter server attached to our cluster and data store, but Azure Notebooks are very useful for sharing externally, and for teaching large classes.
In short, Azure provides us with services that work alongside our existing systems, enabling us to deliver RSE projects more effectively and with much lower operational overheads than if we tried to replicate the same features on-premise. And by becoming familiar with these services we’re better equipped to advise and assist researchers across Imperial College who wish to take advantage of all the compute resources at their disposal – on-premise and in the cloud.
On Thursday 10th October a Research Software Engineering (RSE) themed Hacktoberfest event was hosted by Imperial College’s Research Computing Service, Research Software community and ICT. Signups from Imperial spanned all four faculties and the event also produced external interest with registrations from UCL and the V&A.
The evening opened with a short introduction to Hacktoberfest from Jeremy Cohen of the Imperial Research Software community. Chris Cave-Ayland from the RCS followed with a crash course on the steps to follow when making a contribution to an open source project on GitHub. The last opening talk was given by Vasily Sartakov from the Large-Scale Data and Systems Group (LSDS). Titled “Open Source Opportunities”, Vasily’s talk showed how open source has become the dominant paradigm for software development.
The opening talks were followed by lightning talks from the research projects participating in the Hackathon. In total, six software projects attended from five different groups:
- Devito (George Bisbas, Department of Earth Science and Engineering)
- Imperial College Research Software Directory (Mark Woodbridge, Research Computing Service)
- Orderly (Rich FitzJohn, RESIDE)
- Solcore (Diego Alonso Álvarez, Research Computing Service, formerly Department of Physics)
- EActors and SGX-LKL (Vasily Sartakov, LSDS)
Pizza-fuelled hacking then commenced! Participants either chose one of the presented projects to work with, or an alternative project that they were interested in contributing to. Thanks to having direct access to project developers, attendees were able to get up to speed quickly and start working on pull requests for submission. Participating in Hacktoberfest was found to be very valuable for the research projects involved with a total of eight new contributions made so far.
Many thanks to all the speakers and participants who took part, and to Imperial College ICT for supporting this event. We hope to see many of you claiming your Hacktoberfest t-shirt by the end of October!
September 2019 saw the 4th Conference of Research Software Engineering (RSEConUK 2019) take place in Birmingham, UK. From the 17th-19th September over 350 RSEs, software engineers, researchers and people with a wide range of related roles came to the University of Birmingham to participate in the largest Research Software Engineering conference yet.
While the majority of the attendees were from the UK and Europe, the conference attracted people from around the world.
The conference has been growing each year and this time there was a packed schedule including two keynotes, a series of parallel sessions with talks and panels, a day of workshops and some additional special sessions such as RSE Worldwide.
Imperial was well represented with 11 members of the College attending the conference at various times during the week and getting involved by volunteering, giving talks, joining panels, running workshops and presenting posters:
- Paul Bartholomew, Department of Aeronautics, gave a talk in the Revitalising Legacy Languages session: Developing Fortran using Python and Literate Programming.
- Lucy Whalley, Department of Materials, was part of a panel discussing Software development best practices – Why aren’t we implementing them?
- Gerard Gorman, Department of Earth Science and Engineering, was one of the presenters in the RSE Summit @ Microsoft – Cloudy in Brussels session.
- Jeremy Cohen, Department of Computing and Mark Woodbridge, RSE Team Lead, supported by Stefano Galvan, Department of Mechanical Engineering, presented a poster on Supporting research software at Imperial College London which included a number of authors involved in the RSE Team, community, and training activities from accross the College.
- Led by Diego Alonso Álvarez and supported by Mayeul d’Avezac and Christopher Cave-Ayland, the RSE Team ran a 3-hour workshop session on GUIs for Python – improving the accessibility of scientific software.
- Marko Krznaric, Department of Surgery and Cancer, was one of the many volunteers helping to make the conference run smoothly, assisting attendees and supporting the session chairs amongst a range of other tasks.
- Susan Littleson, HR, and Jeremy Cohen were on a panel Supporting RSEs at the Science and Engineering South universities and across the UK. The panel was organised by 4 members of the UK RSE community representing different SES institutions. Jeremy Cohen was one of the panel’s co-organisers.
It was fantastic to see so much participation from Imperial and representatives from many different departments across the College. This provides a great example of how Research Software Engineering at Imperial is such a vital element of the College’s research output and we look forward to seeing an even greater presence from Imperial at next year’s conference.
On the 9th and 10th July 2019 the Research Software London community ran its first regional Software Carpentry workshop. The event was jointly organised by Imperial, UCL and Queen Mary with Queen Mary hosting the workshop at their Mile End Campus. Several Imperial software carpentry volunteers and members of the Imperial research software community were involved in organising and running the event along with organisers, instructors and helpers from UCL and Queen Mary. The workshop covered a standard Software Carpentry syllabus with the attendees being taught the basics of the Unix shell and git on the first day of the workshop with an introduction to Python on the second day.
The majority of attendees were from Queen Mary, UCL and Imperial but spaces were also made available to the wider RSLondon community. This provided a great opportunity for newcomers to the research software field from institutions that don’t currently run carpentry workshops to attend and learn some core computing and software development skills. More than 30 people registered for the workshop and we received significant positive feedback as well as helpful suggestions on possible enhancements for future workshops.
Building on the success of this event, RSLondon are planning to run further such workshops and are looking at other areas covered by The Carpentries for future sessions, in addition to Software Carpentry. If you have contacts at other institutions in London and the South East region who you think would be interested in hosting or attending an RSLondon Carpentry workshop later in 2019, get in touch with Jeremy Cohen
Imperial College RSE Team members Chris Cave-Ayland (instructor) and Mayeul d’Avezac (helper) assisted at this workshop.
The first German national RSE conference took place in Potsdam on 4th-6th June 2019 with 187 attendees. deRSE19 was a really vibrant, welcoming and well-organised event in a great location and had a diverse agenda, encouraging participants from across Europe to share experiences of software engineering in research.
In terms of presentations Imperial College was the best-represented institution from outside Germany, with the following speakers:
- Jeremy Cohen (EPSRC RSE Fellow, Department of Computing) who presented a talk on building research software communities and a poster about RSLondon.
- Alex Hill (Senior Web Application Developer, Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology) who spoke about the challenges of conducting constructive code reviews, particularly in a research setting.
- Mark Woodbridge (RSE Team Lead, Research Computing Service) who gave a talk on RSE 2.0, reflecting on progress in Research Software Engineering and how it may develop in the near future.
Also during the conference a keynote on RSE collaboration was delivered by Alys Brett, chair of the newly established Society of Research Software Engineering and head of the Software Engineering Group at the UKAEA. UK RSEs also attended deRSE19 from the Software Sustainability Institute, the University of Westminster, and the University of Southampton. We look forward to reuniting with them, as well as colleagues from Germany and beyond at UKRSE19 in September!