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Jobs that make a difference: Research Software Engineer

Dr Conn O’Rourke is working as a Research Software Engineer. More on how his job is making a difference.

Dr Conn O'Rourke, Research Software Engineer.
“A drive to do things better led me into the world of research software engineering.”

Helping researchers accelerate their scientific discovery

In a world where most research is powered by software; high-performance computing and research software engineering plays an integral part in supporting the scientific community.

Dr Conn O’Rourke works as a Research Software Engineer in the Research Computing Group at the University of Bath, a unique role that combines his expertise in programming with an intricate understanding of research.

A drive to do things better led me into the world of research software engineering.

As a career path, research software engineering only really became an employment option around ten years ago, but they are essential roles, particularly in academia - aiding researchers working at the cutting edge of science.

Part of Conn’s role is working in collaboration with academic staff and doctoral researchers to make a significant impact on the quality of their research output by improving the quality of software being produced and writing properly developed and well-tested sustainable software.

As a research-intensive global university, we really must place more value on research software development.

As well as conducting postgraduate and researcher training, Conn provides essential funding advice to colleagues around the importance of adding software research development and research software engineer time into funding proposals.

It’s alarming that in a recent survey over half (58%) of researchers responsible for applying for research grants do not include research software training as part of their bid. It really is a fundamental part of the infrastructure – as indispensable as a laboratory.

Conn spends a lot of time advocating for a good software development culture and is pushing for the continued development of further Research Software Engineer roles within the University.

The most recent UK Research Software Survey shows that of the 1,000 randomly selected researchers at each of the 15 Russell Group universities surveyed, 92% use research software, 56% develop their own research software – and 29% had limited training.

Currently, Conn is heavily involved in giving high-performance computing support to the University of Bath's HPC refresh project, which will see the University move its supercomputer to the cloud.

Being part of Bath’s supercomputer software development project is incredibly exciting!

Much of my time has been spent helping to develop the infrastructure to manage the supercomputer. It’s a lot of work but will give researchers more choice and a huge amount of flexibility - enabling them to tackle large-scale problems that would not be possible on other machines.

With an undergraduate MPhys in Theoretical Physics from the University of York and a PhD in Computational Physics from University College London, Conn joined the University’s Department of Chemistry to work on the simulation of battery materials.

I’ve gone from being heavily involved in my own research to now being part of a much wider landscape.

Optimising code ticks my boxes. I feel like I am learning a lot more from being part of a group made up of highly experienced people from a range of different backgrounds.

More on how we support research culture at Bath

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