29 July 2022  /  Last updated: 14 September 2022 09:54
Bits and Bytes

Distinction matters: the status of Research Software Engineers

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Written by
4 min read
Prof. dr. Joris van Eijnatten

General Director

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From the keyboard of CEO JORIS VAN EIJNATTEN, Bits & Bytes is a thought leadership series which explores relevant or intriguing topics in the world of digital research. From software and digital humanities to current trends in academia and more, join us as Joris explores — and explains. Feedback or something you’d like to see addressed? Start a conversation by emailing us.

These are not requirements data stewards or software stewards need to meet. Research support is simply not the same as research. The current enthusiasm about working together in research teams isn’t going to change that. Society needs independent and creative minds who innovate on a high theoretical level. They are called researchers. Governments spend billions and billions of taxpayer euros to keep them occupied.

Saying that distinction matters is not meant as a sign of disrespect. Nor does it imply that equality, diversity, inclusion and all the other current buzzwords don’t matter. But ensuring fair treatment and equal opportunities for all does not and cannot amount to abolishing distinctions. There’s honour and value in all kinds of work. There’s honour and value in bricklaying. There’s honour and value in designing houses. There’s honour and value in supporting research and there’s honour and value in doing research.

Yes, research environments are fluid, but they are so only up to a point. At some point, research software engineering becomes a high-level academic specialism reserved for those independent and creative minds required by society (and on whom governments ought to spend more taxpayer euros). That is why I argued that ‘RSEs are university-level specialists who do research into digital technologies and methodologies. They are the immediate equivalents of postdocs, assistant and associate professors, and sometimes top-level technicians who populate most universities.’

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From the keyboard of CEO JORIS VAN EIJNATTEN, Bits & Bytes is a thought leadership series which explores relevant or intriguing topics in the world of digital research. From software and digital humanities to current trends in academia and more, join us as Joris explores — and explains. Feedback or something you’d like to see addressed? Start a conversation by emailing us.

These are not requirements data stewards or software stewards need to meet. Research support is simply not the same as research. The current enthusiasm about working together in research teams isn’t going to change that. Society needs independent and creative minds who innovate on a high theoretical level. They are called researchers. Governments spend billions and billions of taxpayer euros to keep them occupied.

Saying that distinction matters is not meant as a sign of disrespect. Nor does it imply that equality, diversity, inclusion and all the other current buzzwords don’t matter. But ensuring fair treatment and equal opportunities for all does not and cannot amount to abolishing distinctions. There’s honour and value in all kinds of work. There’s honour and value in bricklaying. There’s honour and value in designing houses. There’s honour and value in supporting research and there’s honour and value in doing research.

Yes, research environments are fluid, but they are so only up to a point. At some point, research software engineering becomes a high-level academic specialism reserved for those independent and creative minds required by society (and on whom governments ought to spend more taxpayer euros). That is why I argued that ‘RSEs are university-level specialists who do research into digital technologies and methodologies. They are the immediate equivalents of postdocs, assistant and associate professors, and sometimes top-level technicians who populate most universities.’