Austen Rainer
  • Room 03.004 - Computer Science Building

    United Kingdom

Accepting PhD Students


Research activity per year

Personal profile

Research Statement

I have a broad range of research interests. These cluster around the following areas:

Story thinking and computional thinking

Amongst other ideas in this space, I am interested in:

  1. How software engineers and writers think as they work on and with their respective artefacts, and what software engineers and writers might learn from each other. For example, we’ve (a colleague and I) taken a technique from safety software engineering and applied that technique in two recent workshops, one with professional writers and one with emerging writers, as they "workshop" each others' stories, in groups.
  2. The mental models used by writers and software engineers, and how those relate and contrast, and how they affect and are affected by modes of thinking. For example, we’ve begun to explore how computational models “de-mean” stories, using a very simple and well-known six-word story ("For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.") and two "stories" from computer science to explore these issues. Looking ahead, we want to investigate whether and how stories might help software engineers develop software in a more responsible way, for example, using larger stories, such as memoirs.
  3. The language used by writers and software engineers, and how that affects, and is affected by, their thinking and their models.
  4. Software engineering makes considerable use of story-like representations, in particular the user story and the scenario. We are also investigating the extent to which the user story and the scenario "satisfy" the criteria for a story; and, together with this, are investigating the extent to which software engineering has grounded its concepts of story in the narrative disciplines.

Case study research in software engineering

I co-authored the first discipline-specific book on case study research in software engineering (in 2012). More recently, I've investigated, with a colleague, the extent to which researchers are accurately reporting their primary studies as case studies (in about 50% of studies they are misreporting studies as case studies) and the extent to which secondary studies are accurately reporting others' primary studies as case studies (these results are under review, nevertheless the results are very disappointing for the discipline...). We developed (yet another) checklist to help researchers assess whether their's and others' studies are in fact case studies; and have developed a trivial "indicator" to quickly detect whether an already-published paper that claims to be a case study is in fact a case study. The indicator has been implemented in code. The results of our analysis suggest the trivial indicator outperforms human "classifiers".

Research Software Engineering

I am very pleased to have recently started working with Research Software Engineers, looking at how to bring best practice from software engineering into the engineering of scientific software. For example, in one project we are investigating the ways in which an existing codebase can be redesigned (e.g., through refactoring, applying a facade-like interface) to improve the software's quality and "accessibility" to third-party researchers.

Research "citizenship"

In addition to my own research interests and aspirations, I also want to help others. This has been through line management, formal mentoring, coaching, supporting as a co-author or co-supervisor, and assisting researchers at risk.



Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 4 - Quality Education


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Collaborations and top research areas from the last five years

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