A month in the life of a Panton Fellow: June 2012

Well, June has been another productive month of fellowship work! To start on a positive note, Ross Mounce and I received the good news that our proposal for OKFest has been accepted, so we’ll be in Helsinki this September to tell you about the work we’re doing for our Panton Fellowships, as part of the “Open Research and Education” topic stream on Wednesday 19th September. Looking forward to it! June has also seen several different online meetings with various working groups, in addition to my first official quarterly report for the Fellowship, so there’s been plenty to keep me occupied.

Many of you reading this will already be aware of my focus on developing graduate training schemes for open science, data management and reproducible computation. I’m really conscious of how much our early research years are influenced by the ethos of the first group we join: this emphasises a pressing need to adequately train our graduates while they’re still at a pre-doctoral stage. So you can imagine how interested I was to read the newly released JISC-funded report, entitled,“Researchers of Tomorrow: the research behaviour of Generation Y doctoral students.” The report outlines the findings of a three-year study on our youngest research generation, the children of the so-called “baby boomers”. Amongst other things, the findings identify the need for enhanced training in digital technologies, data management and collaborative working – so encouraging to hear this while I’m in the process of developing my graduate training initiative. You can download a PDF of the report here – definitely worth a look!

June has also seen further discussion with Greg Wilson and the rest of the team involved in the development of the Software Carpentry initiative. I first mentioned SWC back in my April blog posting – they provide fantastic courses in coding and software development for scientists with a limited experience of programming, combining intense in-person workshops with online learning materials. I initially heard of them as a result of my contact with the Software Sustainability Insititute, and was keen to hear more about their work and how they’ve scaled the initiative up to work in many different countries and locations. After a great Skype call with Greg earlier this month, I remotely joined their conference on 20th June, which gave me the chance to meet (from across the Atlantic, at least!) many other people involved in the project (including OKFN’s own Cameron Neylon). I’m keen on the idea of integrating some of their courses – all available under a Creative Commons Attribution license – into my own training scheme later this year, so I really appreciated getting a chance to hear about how their work is progressing. One further note: the guys at SWC are really keen to get more female scientists into programming too (something which I completely support!), so if your department/organisation might be interested in holding a female-targeted session, then please do get in touch with them ASAP.

On 28th June, Jenny Molloy and I met up with various representatives from Oxford’s Bodleian Library. Alena Ptak-Danchak, Sally Rumsey, Juliet Ralph and Oliver Bridle all took time out of their busy schedules to talk to us, providing a picture of the existing state of data training provision across Oxford and discussing where my course might fit into that framework. Our librarians (and I mean this in a country-wide sense) represent a massive source of expertise in information management that we’re lucky to have. All the Bodleian representatives provided us with valuable insights into what kinds of training the students are most receptive to, and how I might adjust my own approach to course delivery in order to account for this. And I now have plenty of resources to explore and contacts to pursue. All in all, a successful meeting – and many thanks to Jenny for helping to bring this about!

I’ve also started to organise the Oxford Open Science meeting for August 22nd, provisionally entitled, “How best can we train graduates for research in the age of ‘Big Data’?” I’m hoping to:

  • generate debate on the evolution of training schemes for open science, data management and/or digital technologies;
  • discuss how we as a community can maximise the uptake of training initiatives in these areas;
  • think about how we might begin to use such training as a platform to engage those outside the open science community.

The group wiki can be found here and includes details of other upcoming meetings too: we’re a friendly bunch of people, so please do come and join, whether you want to listen to the discussion or to actively add to the debate. I’m in the process of recruiting speakers at the moment – if you, or someone you know, might be interested in speaking at our meeting, then I would love to hear from you. I’d better hold back on full details until names are fully confirmed, so watch this space…

July looks to be an exciting month, with several big meetings planned already. On 5th July I’m heading over to Cambridge for the day to meet with Anna Collins of DSpace, the digital repository for the University of Cambridge, to chat about our shared interests in data management and graduate training. The trip will also provide me with a chance to meet up with OKFN’s Laura Newman, Peter Murray-Rust and Tom Oinn over lunch – we should have plenty to talk about, and I’m really looking forward to hearing about the progress of the newly-launched School of Data. I’ll also be meeting with David Gavaghan and James Osborne of the Oxford DTC this Friday in order to develop plans for the open science training initiative I’ll be piloting this Michaelmas. Despite juggling work with a house move in a couple of days’ time, I’m hoping to join the OKFN hackday over Skype for a couple of hours this Saturday (unpacking chaos permitting!). Furthermore, I should also be meeting with David De Roure, Jenny Molloy and Peter Murray-Rust to discuss the potential for an open science workshop at Digital Research 2012, due to take place in Oxford this September. This month’s going to be a busy one…so if you wait a couple of weeks for my next Panton blog entry, I’ll let you know how it all turns out!