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US-RSE Works to Bring Research Software Engineers into the Spotlight

SciData Software Engineer joins US-RSE Leadership; Berkeley Lab Offshoot Planned 

March 11, 2024

By Patrick Riley

On the path to modern scientific discovery, successful research now requires a partnership between domain scientists and computational experts who harness computing power, build a digital roadmap, and troubleshoot technical issues to move the mission forward.

But Keith Beattie, a computer systems engineer at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), knows that software developers don’t always get the recognition they deserve. He wants to change that – and make sure they have the support and resources they need to thrive in their careers.

“It’s better if those two roles, which are both essential, have a more equal footing and are both seen as fully supported careers to have and grow,” said Beattie, referring to software engineers and their scientist counterparts who propose the research, lead the projects and publish scientific results.

To help support software engineers in academia and science, a national advocacy organization – known as the United States Research Software Engineer Association (US-RSE) – has made it its mission to mount a “community-driven effort focused on the increasingly important role” of research software engineers. 

The first US-RSE member meeting was held in Chicago in 2023. (Credit: Keith Beattie)

The membership-based organization – an offshoot of a similar association first started in the United Kingdom about a decade ago – aims to foster community, promote research software engineers’ impact in science, provide useful resources, and encourage and improve diversity throughout the profession.  

Beattie, who leads the Sustainable Software Engineering Group in the Scientific Data Division at Berkeley Lab, was recently elected to US-RSE’s steering committee, where he’ll serve a two-year term as an election co-chair and international RSE council representative. In addition to taking on a leadership role with the group, Beattie also plans to establish an informal RSE chapter at Berkeley Lab to help retain talent, build community, and support the Lab’s software engineers.

“I want to see the community grow,” Beattie said. “I think it's important we nurture more junior RSEs.”

Having spent more than two decades as a computer systems engineer at Berkeley Lab and five years in the private sector as a software and release engineer, Beattie knows firsthand how vital software developers are to research and science.

At the Lab, they usually split their time across projects and work closely with domain experts – physicists, chemists, biologists and others – to solve a particular problem, find answers to a vexing question, or develop a novel approach.

“Within that context, I’ve been advocating we should take this role more seriously, we should take the development of software more seriously,” Beattie said. “It was about 10 years ago that I first heard the term ‘RSE’ for this role and I thought that this was a good move, because once you've named something it gives the role definition and legitimacy so it can be more easily advocated for. I was inspired that I wasn’t  the only one who is saying this role needs to be better emphasized.”

Community and Inclusiveness 

The roots of the term RSE – and by extension the wider RSE community – can be traced back to a workshop at Queen’s College Oxford in 2012. There “a small group met to discuss the lack of careers for software developers in academia,” according to the website for the Society of Research Software Engineers, the UK version of US-RSE that birthed the now international movement. 

The group discussion not only coined the term, it led to a first workshop for RSEs a year later where they discussed the role and challenges they faced. A watershed moment for the growing community came in 2016 when the first RSE conference was held, drawing more than 200 RSEs from 14 different countries.

Not long after, the seeds for the American version, the US-RSE, were planted with the creation of its first website and Slack channel. “Progress was slow to start, but in the ensuing months and years a formal organization emerged,” the US-RSE website states.

Since then, membership with the organization – which is free – has been growing “very rapidly,” Beattie said, as more and more professionals realize they fit into the realm of research software engineers. Last year, the organization had its first conference in Chicago, and the plan is to hold those annually going forward.

For Greg Lemieux, a software developer with Berkeley Lab’s Climate & Ecosystems Sciences Division, learning about the nascent RSE movement felt like a revelation and provided him with a sense of community and inclusiveness.

“Finding those people definitely gave me a sense of ‘Oh, I'm not alone,’” said Lemieux, who joined US-RSE a few years ago and now is a co-chair – along with Beattie – of the organization’s RSE Empowerment in National Labs Working Group

Among other things, the working group aims to understand the specific challenges faced by RSEs in that setting, increase RSE awareness, and create a community and sense of belonging among RSEs at national labs. 

“It is very nice to get to interface more regularly with other RSEs in other domains, let alone other national labs and hear about their experiences and learn from them,” Lemieux said.

A Homegrown RSE Chapter

Once Beattie learned about US-RSE, he realized there should be a similar kind of organization within Berkeley Lab – in large part to help keep its own talent home. 

“This is not just a way of promoting people, it's also a retention issue,” Beattie said. “We lose a lot of RSEs to industry, and I think if we don't do a better job of identifying the different kinds of roles and the different career paths and nurturing those career paths, we're just going to continue to lose people to industry.”

Upper management at the Lab is recognizing this as well, he added.

To Ana Kupresanin, division director for Berkeley Lab's Scientific Data Division, the launch of US-RSE is “a significant step forward for the scientific community.”

“Research software engineers are crucial in our organization, blending their deep knowledge of software development with scientific insight to drive our research projects forward,” she said. “Their work ensures that our research is supported by reliable and advanced software.”

The association provides RSEs with a platform for professional growth, knowledge sharing and collaboration, Kupresanin added. “It's a positive move for the profession, helping to highlight the importance of their role and making our field more attractive to potential talent, which is essential for our ongoing research efforts.”

Lemieux joined Berkeley Lab in 2019. In some ways, the Lab still feels somewhat federated or siloed, he said. Both he and Beattie hope that the local RSE chapter can help provide connections across disciplines and divisions.

“In the hopes of advocating for more team science and to really leverage the existing skills that we have, it would be great if we could have some sort of venue in which people could get together on a regular basis to share those things,” Lemieux said.

Resurrecting lightning talks – short presentations that RSEs can put together to discuss technological issues and share their knowledge with others – or holding annual hackathons to generate enthusiasm are some of the potential activities Beattie, Lemieux, and others are considering to help build a stronger community.

There is plenty of potential to have a flourishing RSE chapter at the Lab. A survey Beattie and others conducted a few years ago to gauge the potential pool for membership among the Berkeley Lab community came back with promising results. 

“When we sent that survey out we found that, actually, there's quite a few people out there – at the Lab – who should be a member of this community,” Beattie recalled. 

To grow the chapter in earnest, the idea is to find a core group of Berkeley Lab RSEs interested in being involved in the effort. Beattie has already set up a mailing list and Slack workspace – 50 members strong – for people to join. In addition, last November another Berkeley Lab project – STRUDEL, which is focused on making user experience (UX) a more recognized part of software development – helped form a working group dedicated to UX in the US-RSE community. 

One of the main goals of these efforts is to find underrepresented communities and let them know the role of RSE exists. A diversity of people brings a diversity of ideas and approaches, which strengthens the overall scientific mission, Beattie noted: “This basic idea that heterogeneous systems are stronger than homogeneous ones.”

Raising awareness among the next generation of software developers is critical as well. Someone going to school for software engineering may not necessarily know that the role of RSE exists and instead decide to go work for Google or Microsoft, Beattie said. “They don't realize there are really legitimate, fulfilling career opportunities at the national labs and universities for somebody who has a computer science background.”

To become a member of US-RSE, go to; to join the RSE Google group at Berkeley Lab, go to

About Berkeley Lab

Founded in 1931 on the belief that the biggest scientific challenges are best addressed by teams, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and its scientists have been recognized with 16 Nobel Prizes. Today, Berkeley Lab researchers develop sustainable energy and environmental solutions, create useful new materials, advance the frontiers of computing, and probe the mysteries of life, matter, and the universe. Scientists from around the world rely on the Lab’s facilities for their own discovery science. Berkeley Lab is a multiprogram national laboratory, managed by the University of California for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

DOE’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit