Teaching basic lab skills
for research computing

Feedback of Champions

Jonah Duckles and I hosted our first Community Champions call on 22 August (23 August for us southern hemisphereans). Twenty-five people signed up for the call. We had attendees from the US (several locations), the UK, Canada, the Netherlands, plus me in Australia and Jonah in New Zealand. We also had a range of expertise - some old hands, and some keen to kickstart a brand new community.

People shared experiences about what had worked locally - these involved regular drop-in sessions like Hacky Hours, as well as more formal arrangements like local study groups or big events like the three-day Research Bazaars, which combine workshops with more informal sessions such as lightning talks, knowledge bazaars, meet ups, stalls, and fun and games. There were 14 Research Bazaar events held in 2017 in locations ranging from Oslo to Tucson and five cities in New Zealand. The first was held in Melbourne in 2015. This spawned 10 in 2016 in countries such as Ecuador, Canada, and Australia.

Local activities

Mateusz Kuzak from the Netherlands talked about the Study Group that runs at Science Park Amsterdam. The group mostly comprises plant physiology and neurobiology researchers, with biodiversity researchers now joining in as well. More informal meetings are also held bi-weekly in a local cafe, where people can come for help with tools like R, Python, Snakemake, and git. Mateusz is keen to expand the instructor base in the Netherlands too with instructor training happening in November.

In Brisbane, Hacky Hours are run weekly at both The University of Queensland and at Griffith University, with a new HackR Hour at the other Brisbane university, QUT. Software Carpentry instructors and helpers tend to be the key drivers of these events. Queensland universities also collaborate to run Research Bazaar, with successful events in both 2016 and 2017 where 11 workshops were run, including two Software Carpentry workshops and an advanced R class. Meetups are another great networking tool to build community - Brisbane has monthly data science, Python and Hackers/Hack meetups. Australia also has a bioinformatics student group called COMBINE, many of whom train as Software Carpentry instructors. Forging links with groups like these help with cross-promoting events and community building.

At UC San Diego, work to expand the instructor community is underway. Two Software Carpentry workshops per year are offered through the library. The University of Oklahoma runs three workshops per semester for fall/spring, with summers set aside for special requests. Open office hours are also run for four hours a week in two campus locations. Carpentry instructors meet monthly to network and share ideas.

The University of Arizona/CyVerse now run an annual Research Bazaar, as well as regular Hacky Hour and PhTea drop-in advice sessions. Work is underway to build a Data Science/Literacy initiative at the university. Three large (50-100 people) Software Carpentry workshops are run annually, with ten smaller, more focused workshops run as well. There is a strong instructor/helper community, with the aim of building a strong community of practice, and linking up with local initiatives such as Python or Big Data meetups.

At the University of Michigan, “flagship” workshops are run 3-4 times a year, along with workshops sponsored by specific departments/groups. They are interested in creating a pipeline of learners –> helpers –> instructors to ensure the sustainability of the community.

There are R user groups at the University of Florida (UF) and at York University in Canada (which also has a PyData group). UF also has a Carpentries Club for instructors, while the UF Libraries are hoping to fund a community organizer position through an internship or fellowship.

UW Madison has ComBEE, a Hacky Hour-style group. Among other activities, they also host both R and Python study groups, which complement the Carpentries workshops they run on campus.

People used a range of methods to stay in touch with local groups, with Twitter, slack channels, email/email lists and regular meetups being the most common.

Getting started

Newcomers to community building were keen for tips on creating a community out of nothing. One way to fund workshops is to try to source funding via grants proposals. At the University of Oxford, ideas are wanted on how to turn enthusiasm into actual workshops, since the legwork involved in making workshops happen is challenging.

As an outcome of these discussions, we aim to create a playbook for community building. This growing document will outline the successful strategies people have already used. It would include checklists, some best practice guidelines, and some success stories. This playbook would be made available as an open source tool, but also could be worked up as a paper to publish. This idea got the thumbs up from attendees.

To sum up, these are the mechanisms most in use. We welcome more ideas. Stay tuned for our next Champions call in November.

  • Open Help Sessions (Hacky Hour, PhTea, Digital Scholarship Office Hours …)
  • User Groups (R Users, Python Users, discipline-specific meetups)
  • Study Groups
  • Research Bazaar (also known as ResBaz) events
  • ThatCamp

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