The University of Leicester’s team lead for research computing, Jon Wakelin, used a proposal that had been written previously by Prof Mark Wilkinson, Dr Jonathan Tedds and colleagues to convince university management of the need for a research software engineering group.
“I could see there were people who couldn’t use our virtual servers or virtual web hosting just because of a lack of experience. They couldn’t do what they needed to do, “Wakelin said.
It was clear to him that a central pool of skilled people who could take on small chunks of work would help these users to do their work.
“Mark, Jonathan and a number of other academics had written a proposal calling for this a few years previously, but it had been overlooked. When I got a chance, around the time of the second round of funding for the EPSRC Tier 2 HPC machines, I used the opportunity to crowbar a mention of the paper in, and got it a second hearing,” he says.
The University of Leicester now funds a team of two RSEs, due to grow to three next year. Where possible the team will recover costs through grants, but otherwise the service is centrally funded although the positions are not yet permanent.
“People high up in the university are making positive noises about it,” says Mark Wilkinson. “It’s becoming easier when we ask for more resources, as they see the benefits to the research output of the university.”
The RSE group also avoids a “significant loss of expertise to ongoing work in the university”, says Jonathan Tedds.
“When you have a project with several rounds of funding and gaps, you lose people at each new round or you end up using them as outside contractors to avoid losing that expertise. It’s not just the technical knowledge but the knowledge of research areas in an institution which is invaluable,” Tedds says.