Teaching basic lab skills
for research computing

Feedback from WiSE in Krakow

A week ago Krakow in Poland hosted the Software Carpentry workshop for Women in Science and Engineering. The registration filled up within 72 hours which clearly shows the need for such events.

The workshop was open to women working or interested in science and engineering. The participants had background in a variety of different domains from physics to life sciences. There were also several computer science students.

WiSE PL group photo

The skills within the group varied: there were students who had never programmed and some who regularly write source code to support their research work. It is always a challenge when the skills in the group are polarised. There seems to be no perfect solution to this. Running larger workshops with more than one group seems to work very well but it is not always feasible as it requires more instructors, helpers and a larger venue.

Most participants brought machines running Windows. Whilst the installation issues occurred in 4 or 5 cases (which in my experience is actually a pretty low number), I am not quite sure if we managed to show the advantages of using command line. In particular, the fact that msysGit (aka GitBash), despite being easy to install, comes with rather limited bash functionality and for example, the man pages are very brief and don't include all relevant information. What also doesn't help is Vi or Vim as the only editor available by default in msysGit. Using other editors such as Notepad++ makes it easier for the participants but they lose the experience of using the editor inside the terminal (which they may need to do if they ever find themselves to non-GUI environment).

Despite all these challenges, the workshop received q lot of positive feedback. Many participants asked about the future workshops. And hopefully Krakow will see another Software Carpentry event within the coming months.

Teaching at Software Carpentry workshops is always a learning experience for me. I learn how to improve my teaching methods (or at least I know what clearly does not work) and how to make the training materials better (and then often I see a pull request with fixes). I always learn new interesting things from the participants who talk about their research. This time I learnt that rats can be autistic and I became familiar (well, sort of) with the term "protein knockout". I also heard about a fascinating idea of using smart watches to help with diagnosis of patients suffering from Parkinson disease.

WiSE in Krakow would not have happened without the hard work of Paulina Lach who was the second instructor and four helpers: Iwona Grelowska, Anna Ślimak, Barbara Szczygieł i Patrycja Radaczyńska. Anna also wrote a very good summary of the workshop.

The workshop was sponsored by the Department of Computer Science at the University of Science and Technology AGH, Google, and Webmuses, a women empowered IT-oriented community, and was also supported by the Polish Computing Association.

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WORKSHOPS · WOMEN IN SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING

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