Dr Christopher Woods


christopher woods

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Job title: Research Software Engineer
Division: Advanced Computing Research Centre
Organisation: University of Bristol
Tags: Fellowship: RSE Fellowship, Researcher, University of Bristol
Related theme: ICT Physical Sciences


I am a software developer and provider of Research Software Engineers (RSEs) support at the University of Bristol, developing applications to support communities including Chemistry, Physics and Synthetic Biology. I studied Chemistry at the University of Southampton, obtaining my PhD in 2003 for developing new methods and software for Computational Chemistry.

My Fellowship

Advances in High Performance Computing (HPC) and scientific software development will have increasingly significant societal impact through the computational design of new products, medicines, materials and industrial processes. However, the complexity of modern HPC hardware means that scientific software development now requires teams of scientists and programmers to work together, with different and non-overlapping skill-sets required from each member of the group. This complexity can lead to software development projects stalling. Investments in software development are in danger of being lost, either because key members of a team move on, or because a lack of planning or engagement means that a sustainable user and developer community has failed to gel around a particular code.

RSE can solve this problem. RSEs have the skills and training necessary to support software development projects as they move through different stages of the academic software lifecycle. This project aims to develop sustainable RSE career pathways and funding. Software development projects that will be supported include; the building of code to interface real biological cells with virtual simulated cells; the development of code to more quickly model the behaviour of electrons in novel materials; code to improve our understanding of glass-like matter; software to support modelling of the quantum interaction between laser light and microscopic nanoparticles; and code to design new medicinal drugs and to understand why existing treatments are no longer working.

Motivation to Apply

This is a new type of Fellowship, that is targetted at developing sustainable careers for RSEs. As a practicing RSE, this provided an ideal opportunity for me to help establish and develop a sustainable RSE career pathway, both at Bristol and across the UK. I applied so that I could obtain the time, position and freedom to help develop the tools, work practices, training and career structure that would support up and coming academic software developers and RSEs as they develop the next generation of UK research software.

Career benefits of Fellowship

My career has been transformed by this Fellowship. Previously, I was either a Post Doctoral researcher, or a technician, and any "research software engineering" was a hidden and secondary aspect of my job. Now, I am now 100% focussed as a Research Software Engineer, and have the time and opportunity to develop a complete RSE career pathway at the University. In addition, this award provides a platform that allows me to contribute at a national level, e.g. via organisations such as UK-RSE. I now have a permanent RSE positon at Bristol, and am able to grow an RSE group.

Advice for future applicants

Really think about how your work could integrate with that already undertaken within the UK, and how you could have impact both nationally and internationally. Throughout my research career I dedicated a lot of time and effort to developing networks, e.g. contributing training workshops to organisations such as CCP-BioSim, working with the Software Sustainability Insititute and providing training via Software Carpentry. In addition, I made sure that my software was documented and could be built-upon by other researchers. By doing this, and by helping users of my software develop their own code, and by answering their questions, I built a large network of academic and industrial users. It was the evidence of these networks, and my demonstration of how I could contribute to, grow, and ultimately lead software development and research that, I believe, was crucial in gaining the support needed to make a strong Fellowship application.