James Graham

Published 14th July 2019

James Graham loves to spend all day coding and now he doesn’t need to feel guilty about it, he says.

Graham began work as a research software engineer at the Software Sustainability Institute in September 2017. When he began studying chemistry at the University of Bath he would never have imagined what he is doing now.

“My undergrad degree was a very traditional chemistry one, in a lab, doing real chemistry, and always thought I’d end up working the same area. But then in the fourth year we did a programming component that made me realise quite how much I enjoyed that. I’d been programming as a hobby for probably ten years but I’d never made the link between science and programming, and doing that as a career,” Graham said.

When he finished his degree, Graham saw that the University of Southampton was offering a PhD under the title ‘complex systems simulation’.

“It allowed you to take whatever subject you were already doing and then do the programming side. So that was a nice transition to where I am now,” he says.

Graham saw the RSE role at the Institute advertised on a mailing list.

“I’d become aware of the Institute about half way through my PhD, and had joined one software carpentry event and then helped out at a couple more. So when I saw the job advertised I thought, ‘That does sound like something I’d like to do…’.”

Thankfully that’s turned out to be the case. Based at the University of Southampton, Graham’s work is now split between the research software group locally in Southampton and the Institute at a national level.

“And it’s nice to just be programming all day and not feel bad about it! I’d always been feeling guilty, thinking ‘is this really my research?’. I might want to spend all day programming, but that’s not what my supervisor wanted! But now my job is almost entirely programming. And I seem to have become a sort of web development specialist, which wasn’t a direction I saw myself going in, but that’s been nice as well,” he says.

Some of his work has been chemistry-related, and some entirely new to him.

“Working in chemistry is quite nice, and it’s good to understand the domain and apply that. But we’ve also been working with other people, for example with computer science; in that project I knew nothing about the domain whatsoever so there was a bit of a learning curve. It’s great because everyone’s research is interesting, and you don’t get to see that when you’re just getting on with your own research in your own department,” he says.

Graham is new to the RSE role and says he can see the value of the title in terms of recognising and  valuing the work he does.

“It follows what I was saying about feeling you shouldn’t be writing software – when you are an RSE, the software IS your research.”

Graham has also enjoyed the community building side of his work.

“A while ago we started a research software community here in Southampton, bringing together people who are not necessarily RSEs but who do a bit of coding in their research. It’s been really nice to bring together people who have that shared interest, and getting people from across different departments to talk to each other,” he says.