The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 created an urgent need for epidemiological and infectious disease modelling. In the UK, a surge of local and national initiatives quickly emerged to support existing research groups with the increased demands of this crisis, and Research Software Engineers (RSEs) played a pivotal role in these responses. Many questions abound. For new collaborations, what were the difficulties and solutions in quickly setting up networks across varied institutions and between collaborators with disparate expertise? For existing institutions, how were established codes and frameworks adapted to tackle the dynamic situation? How did researchers perceive RSEs and the impact of their involvement? Which general, non domain-specific software skills and practices were required for success? In situations where research software is extended beyond its initial purpose for broader consumption, how do RSEs in conjunction with researchers help promote trust in the outputs? How will software created during this crisis be maintained to ensure sustainability and preparedness for future use?
This panel discussion will explore these questions and more by querying the journeys of a selection of RSEs and researchers involved in UK COVID-19 modelling efforts. The panellists will be drawn from three collaborations, each characterising a different approach: the Scottish COVID-19 Response Consortium (SCRC), the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis which houses Research Software for Infectious Disease Epidemiology (RESIDE), and MetaWards. Overall, the discussion will seek to harness the interest surrounding this topic to engage a large audience in the ongoing discourse about software's role in research, focussing on how software engineering and RSEs can foster political, academic, and societal trust in policy-relevant research.
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