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My PI has just asked me what she should call me when introducing me to visiting researchers. I couldn't give her a definite answer.

I work in a research project where I supervise its research data in terms of versioning, formats, conversion, storage, etc. In this function I've, e.g., written a data management plan. I also (and this is the gros of my work) develop software which is used within the project but is also generic enough to target other researchers. And finally, I work on my PhD thesis, albeit not in a structured PhD programme (in my neck of the woods you can write a thesis as long as you have one or more supervisors with the right to supervise PhD theses.

As of now, I've usually been introduced as the "project's programmer", which my PI finds is somewhat dismissive of my actual work and responsibilities.

What would be a good title then, one that could also be printed on business cards?

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  • I've never done the job, or spoken to anyone that has, but the description you've given resembles the sorts of job descriptions I typically see for Lab Manager positions.
    – Ian_Fin
    Oct 5, 2016 at 13:40
  • Do you want to continue your career doing this type of work? Oct 5, 2016 at 13:42
  • @Ian_Fin: I'm in the humanities, where there are hardly any labs though.
    – s.d
    Oct 5, 2016 at 13:44
  • @RemcoGerlich: Yes, I do. At least the software development/engineering part. Once that's what I'm doing exclusively, I could start calling myself an RSE (Research Software Engineer) I guess.
    – s.d
    Oct 5, 2016 at 13:46
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    @Ian_Fin, depending on the organization, a "lab manager" may be either a very high-level or very low-level position. For example, when I was at IBM, the entire organization at a whole facility reported to the lab manager. But at the university where I work now, a lab manager is a technician who orders scope probes and parts kits for our student labs. Oct 5, 2016 at 15:55

5 Answers 5

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How about "research software engineer"? There's a growing movement to recognise this as a valid academic career track - see, for example, http://www.rse.ac.uk/who.html

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  • Yes, I'm aware of the RSE title (have in fact been at a related workshop recently). However, I thought that RSE wouldn't really reflect the data portion of my job.
    – s.d
    Oct 7, 2016 at 8:11
  • @remcogerlich fair. "RSE and Data Manager"? I think you either have to pick the one you feel is best, or adopt an unwieldy hybrid title ;-)
    – Flyto
    Oct 7, 2016 at 8:13
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This sounds essentially like my position: research programmer

It encompasses a lot, but perhaps 80% of it is helping researchers who know what they want to accomplish but have no idea how to get there. It can include things like web scraping or cleaning up very ugly code, or translating a project to a different codebase, or writing simulations, or running models. Version control often comes into play, along with data storage - I'm often teaching researchers about GitHub or S3, for example. It also tends to involve data vis and data presentation (like on the web).

It also has an element of data science, where a researcher gets access to some data that has what they want but is too big for them to know how to work with or manage. But I wouldn't call yourself a data scientist; it's a whole separate field with its own methods that often diverge from traditional research.

It sounds like "research programmer" encompasses everything you're doing, but sound a bit more grand and more accurate than what you're using now. It's also one that is in official use elsewhere (in my case, the policy and think tank world), so that's a bonus.

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  • He also manages all their data, so he could add "and data manager". Oct 5, 2016 at 14:34
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I am sitting with some people in a similar position, their official title is research engineers.

They actually follow a similar path to research scientists, including a PhD, postdocs, and permanent positions, but focused on producing high quality code and infrastructure rather than actual scientific results.

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  • Hm, interesting. What's your field if I may ask?
    – s.d
    Oct 6, 2016 at 9:20
  • @s.d I am in Bioinformatics. The developers work mostly on handling biological data from experiments and running simulations.
    – Davidmh
    Oct 6, 2016 at 9:27
  • In the UK I would interpret "research engineer" as somebody who does research in engineering (not software engineering).
    – Flyto
    Jun 20, 2018 at 19:34
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When I had this position, I was a research analyst. For what it's worth, the terms listed in all these answers are virtually identical from a resume standpoint.

Note that you should definitely consult with your HR department to find out what your official title is. Some places are sticklers about only using proper titles on business cards.

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You could be introduced as the project's

data analyst.

This sounds more high level than programmer.

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  • The data-related tasks the OP describes are data management, not data analysis. Unless there's something the OP is leaving out, this would be misleading.
    – ff524
    Oct 7, 2016 at 19:42
  • @ff524 - Perhaps I'm reading too much into OP's job duties. But then I reread "I develop software which is used within the project but is also generic enough to target other researchers." How do we know this does not include data analysis? Oct 8, 2016 at 1:38

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