Building and Running an RSE group: An Open Discussion on the Challenges

A discussion workshop to be held on the second day of RSE 2018.


A large number of research institutions now have successful RSE groups. The model for building and expanding groups differs from institution to institution, often a result of political pressures or the host environment. Within this open discussion Sheffield RSE will start by giving a short overview of the process of building their group, with other groups given the opportunity to share their own experience. In particular, groups will have the opportunity to share the challenges that have been faced and highlight ongoing operational difficulties. The session will provide an open dialogue to invite other groups to share their experiences to promote administrative and procedural solutions for existing groups, and for people considering starting a group of their own. Topics such as underwriting of staff, approaching faculties and university boards and growth plans will be encouraged.

Format of Panel

The panel will be chaired by Simon Hettrick and will start with a short introduction followed by panel members introducing themselves (strictly no more than 2 mins each). Questions for the panel must be submited to ( with event code #C970). A number of questions have been submit in advance (from both panel members and attendees via Twitter). will allow audience members to vote for questions interactively during the session to ensure that questions are prioritised fairly. The questions and answer (Q&A) session will run for 45 mins. Following the Q&A session panel members will be invited to participate in a write up session for 30 mins to summarise the sessions questions with the aim of producing a FAQ guide to be published on the SSI website.

Discussion topics

Please propose and vote on topics that you would like to be discussed!


Panel Members Summary

Panel Chair: Simon Hettrick (Deputy Director – The Software Sustainability Institute)

Panel Members:

Panel Members have completed a short overview which summarises their group and key challenges. These are provided below;

Panel members

Panel Member: Paul Richmond

Group Name: RSE Sheffield

Group Website:

About the Group:

RSE Sheffield was established in 2016 by RSE Fellows Paul RIchmond and Mike Croucher. Mike left in 2018 and the group is now run by Paul who has a team of 6 full time RSEs. The group is shortly to recruit a senior RSE and RSE role. The group is housed in the department of computer science and has a shared risk model with investment from other departments (including the central IT team) to underwrite staff.

How is the group funded?

Shared risk model where groups can underwrite staff who as cost recovered onto grants.

Significant challenges in establishing the group?

Obtaining funding to underwrite posts. E.g. who should pay for this and should the group be cost neutral.

Location and ownership (in terms of reportability) of the group. A number of stakeholders have felt that the group should be located centrally however we have pushed to be distanced from central “business as usual service” instead opting for a “collaborative service” approach.


Panel Member: Alys Brett

Group Name: UKAEA Software Engineering Group

Group Website: (There are no public group pages)

About the Group:

UKAEA is the UK’s national lab for nuclear fusion. The software engineering group sits within the central “CODAS & IT” department and has 10 (soon to be 11) members. The research software team has six members responsible for data systems and tools for the JET fusion experiment covering the whole data pipeline from data storage and processing to access, analysis and visualisation. It has existed under various names for decades – since the early days of the JET experiment. These RSEs also help scientists and engineers with software, computing and data matters and have a remit to improve software engineering practices in the wider organisation, but with limited time to spare for these aspects. A new RSE projects team is now being established so we will shortly have people fully dedicated to working on wider software projects with physics and engineering groups and helping researchers improve their software engineering approaches.

How is the group funded?

Posts are generally permanent employees of UKAEA but are internally assigned to budget areas. The original team have so far been largely funded under the contract UKAEA has to operate the JET experiment. The first posts in the new RSE projects team have been approved on the basis of 70% or work being charged to budgets held by other departments and 30% from overheads for free at point of use help and projects of benefit to the whole organisation.  We had to make estimates of how that 70% project work would break down into budget areas based on our initial planned projects and that will be adjusted according to experience in future budgeting rounds.

Significant challenges in establishing the group?

For the new RSE project team:

Building enthusiasm and lining up enough projects at once to justify the initial posts before being in a position to commit to delivering them in the near term. Requests for input tend to be within a few-month time horizon but recruitment can take 3 months.

Establishing what budgets should pay for the “centrally funded” portion of the work and associated overhead costs like training and travel.

Re-positioning a long-established group and challenging assumptions about the nature of support vs research roles.

Finding time for the important work to grow the group alongside the pressing operational


Panel Member: Robert Haines

Group Name: University of Manchester Research Software and Data Engineering

Group Website: Research IT Umbrella site: ttp://

About the Group:

The RSE team at Manchester was formed in 2014 as part of Research IT, which is itself based in the IT Services Division. Rob has lead the RSE team from its inception, growing it from 4 to 20 people in a little over

3 years. The team provides Research Application Support, Training, Research Software Engineering and Data Science to researchers across campus, working on projects of any size from a couple of hours to over 5 years.

How is the Group funded?

Mostly cost recovery from short-, medium-, and long-term research projects. Some baseline funding is provided to cover Research Applications support and training. The team is underwritten by IT Services on the understanding that costs are recovered. RSEs and Data Scientists are employed on permanent contracts.

Significant challenges in establishing the group?

It took years. Eventually, after multiple “white papers” written by senior academics (outlining the holes in IT support for research projects and what was needed) and a change in IT Director, Research IT was created within IT Services. Once this happened it was fairly easy to make the case for an RSE team, given the fact that there was one at UCL and all the publicity driven by SSI and UKRSE people.


Panel Member: Ciaran McCormick

Group Name: Open University (OU) RSE

Group Website: N/A

About the Group:

OU RSE came together earlier this year (2018), Danny Barthaud and Ciaran McCormick set it up as a workplace support group within the university. We work as part of a Software Engineering and Design team at the OU but other RSEs work in other parts of university in different teams. We have plans to expand the team within our research group and then offer services to the wider STEM faculty in the future.

How is the Group funded?

The group is funded by grants and RSEs are embedded within projects.

Significant challenges in establishing the group?

Expanding the size of the team, this includes getting buy in from academics and recruiting the right people.

Getting recognition for the role. We don’t fit into the roles that are currently defined by administrators, this creates issues when approaching and meeting with administrative staff.



Panel Member: Owain Huw, Programme Manager

Group Name: Supercomputing Wales RSE Group
Group Website:

About the Group:

The Supercomputing Wales RSE Group was established as part of a new programme of investment in Wales. The 14 RSEs are based in universities across the consortium – Cardiff, Swansea, Bangor and Aberystwyth universities. The group was established to maximise the impact of the investment in two new supercomputing hubs, and ensure that the RSE roles are viewed as pivotal within the university research environment in Wales. The group is based on a hybrid model – for example, at Swansea the RSEs are centrally based at the Swansea Academy of Advanced Computing, whilst at Cardiff the Supercomputing Wales RSEs are embedded within specific research groups. The Supercomputing Wales RSE Group works closely with other RSEs across Wales, in particular the RSE group at Cardiff University’s Data Innovation Research Institute, to ensure alignment between the groups, and provide opportunities to share best-practice and maximise the impact of research outcomes.

How is the Group funded?

The group is currently fully funded through the Supercomputing Wales ERDF programme – a £15m programme of investment, part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) through the Welsh Government, supported by multi-million pound investment by the consortium universities. The programme is currently funded until 2020.

Significant challenges in establishing the group?

With a large community of RSEs located in universities across Wales, a significant challenge has been providing the group with opportunities to network and establish collaboration opportunities. We have aimed to address this by organising and participating at a number of events and activities that promote communication between the RSEs, including:

  • The Supercomputing Wales RSE Symposium held in November 2017 that included sessions on the HPC research environment; research grant funding; best practice for Pan Wales research software development; and a technical workshop on code optimisation
  • The Cardiff University RSE Conference held in April 2018, organised by the RSE group at Cardiff University’s Data Innovation Research Institute which is closely aligned with the Supercomputing Wales RSE group
  • Establishment of a specific Slack channel and informal meet-ups between the Supercomputing Wales and Data Innovation Research Institute RSE groups

Panel Member: John Owen

Group Name: Advanced Research Computing (BEAR) Research Software Group
Group Website:

About the Group:

The Group evolved from applications support for our HPC environment and was formally constituted as a Research Software Group in November 2017. The long standing single man operation doubled to a team of 2 at the end of 2016 and had developed into the RSG with the addition of 2 RSEs by the beginning of 2018. A further 5 appointments have been made this year (with 1 retirement that gives a total of 8 in the Group).  We had some initial discussions with Mike Croucher and took on board his advice of initially aiming at lots of short interactions to get the team known and reputation established. We also had helpful discussions on the RSE support with Chris Woods.

We have successfully employed Computer Science students, initially on summer placements and then retained to do a few hours each week. We have succeeded in identifying excellent students and they have contributed significantly (and cost effectively) to the work of the Group.

The group sits within Advanced Research Computing (ARC), part of IT Services, alongside systems and storage specialists and an engagement team. There are 20 members of ARC.

How is the Group funded?

Seven of the staff are on permanent contracts funded centrally (IT Services), or through a College (Arts and Law) or by a research institute (Centre for Computational Biology). One is a fixed-term, 3 year contract. One post is shared 50/50 with Aston as a Tier-2 RSE.

It’s not all about coding. We have a big and expanding applications base to maintain and a big commitment to providing Advice and to Training.

We have not yet sought to bring in funding from research grants, although this is on our ‘phase 2’ plan.

Significant challenges in establishing the group?

  • Finding the right people with the right mix of technical ability or potential and user-engagement skills
  • Resisting the pressure to make it a fully charged for service
  • Being ambitious and advertising versus opening the flood gates

Panel Member: Steven Manos

Group Name: ‘On Ramp’ at the University of Melbourne
Group Website: N/A

About the Group:

The ‘On Ramp’ is an activity at Melbourne University which is aims to build the workforce of expert enablers (informaticians, RSE’s, etc) who straddle research and digital methods.

How is the Group funded?

To be determined, but it is expected that for the first couple of years it will be a mix of establishment funding, chancellery-level seed funding, and faculty-level funding. A feature of the On Ramp that needs to be built in is to be able to accept grant funding and scale up as needed, which will be a key component of the sustainability plan going forward.

Significant challenges in establishing the group?

There is a lot of extant On Ramp activity at Melbourne University already, within individual labs and research divisions, both as disparate individuals and organised teams. Understanding how this extant activity relates for a more ‘central’ function, and how such a function could support the spread of activity on campus, are challenges that need to be addressed.


Panel Member: Carina Haupt

Group Name: Software Engineering Group @ DLR
Group Website:  (not really a group website, we are working on that)

About the Group:

The Software Engineering group researches the fields of software engineering, open source, and knowledge management. Of the eight members, three focus on RSE work, whereby the focus is to support and train scientists to perform sustainable software development themselves. While trainings are already given since 2010, the focus to preform and research RSE work started in 2013. The Software Engineering group is part of the department of Intelligent and Distributed Systems at  the German Aerospace Center’s (DLR) Simulation and Software Technology facility.

How is the Group funded?

Central funding to offer trainings and workshops, introduce new tools, and develop strategies on a DLR wide level. Project partnerships or direct financing by other institutes for consulting and individual support.

Significant challenges in establishing the group?

Not being perceived as a service provider but a research group. Software development being underestimated and undervalued, therewith not getting enough funding and resources.