The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the UK’s main agency for funding research in engineering and the physical sciences. In 2015, the EPSRC released a fellowship call specifically targeted at Research Software Engineers. This was the first fellowship of its kind in the world.
The call will support Research Software Engineer (RSE) Fellowships for a period of up to five years. The RSE Fellowship describes exceptional individuals with combined expertise in programming and a solid knowledge of the research environment. The Research Software Engineer works with researchers to gain an understanding of the problems they face, and then develops, maintains and extends software to provide the answers. To support the role of RSEs and establish a cohort in the academic environment, up to £3m was available for this pilot call.
Candidates were invited to provide an ‘Intent to Submit’ document in the first instance to register interest. Full proposals were subject to a rigorous peer review and sift process before a final selection by interview.
Software developed for experimental facilities and instrumentation, modelling, simulation and data-analysis is a critical and valuable resource. Software and algorithm development represents major investments by skilled scientists and engineers, and the large suite of codes and algorithms used in research should be regarded as a research infrastructure, requiring support and maintenance along the innovation chain, and throughout its lifecycle. Through the publication of the EPSRC Software as an Infrastructure strategy, EPSRC has recognised the importance of investing in software development. Previous funding has focused on support for the development of the key software codes that are used by the EPS community in their research.
However, other important aspects of the strategy are the development of skills and career development for those engaged in software engineering, and it is these aspects that the call addressed.
The EPSRC-funded Software Sustainability Institute has begun a campaign to develop a UK community of Research Software Engineers, with the aim of raising awareness of their roles, and improving their career paths and reward/recognition within Universities.
Research Software Engineers are the people behind research software. They make a huge contribution to science but often lack reward and recognition for the work that they do. This fellowship is a huge step in the right direction to providing some of that recognition.
Seven proposals were successful and as part of his work with the EPSRC funded Research Software Engineering Network (RSE-N), Mike Croucher from the Sheffield RSG got in touch with the new cohort of RSE fellows and interviewed them about their projects and careers. Click on the Fellows name to read the interview.