Bringing Open Science Training to San Francisco


It’s been great visiting the States this week – and California, of all places. For starters, it made for a significant jump in the mercury on leaving the UK on Monday. What to Californians is a bit of an off week weatherwise is way, way better than what I could expect from the British summer!

Funny what travelling abroad does to you though. My friends know I’m a coffee drinker. I’ll take coffee over tea almost any day. Yet, set me down in a coffee house in SF and I find myself saying, “could I have an English Breakfast tea, please?” in what must sound like the most stereotypically English accent. Whether or not this is some subconscious response on my part to those wonderfully relaxed Californian requests for “caw-fee“, I’m not entirely certain. Seen objectively though, it feels a bit fraudulent on my part. Perhaps it’s indicative of some ingrained loyalty to the motherland.

From coffee to (scientific) culture…

National cultural differences and beverage selection aside, it’s time I mentioned what I’m actually doing in California. I’m talking now about scientific culture. Or, more to the point, how we can go about changing the prevailing culture for the better. Following on from the OSTI pilot, we’re now trying to establish the scheme at other institutions in the UK and beyond. Hence my visit to San Francisco this week – I’ve been visiting Puneet Kishor at Creative Commons, and together we’ve been on a promotional drive involving several institutions in the area. And as you know, SF isn’t short of world-class universities. One look at the parking lot in Berkeley campus tells you that much:

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Proof of concept for the OSTI approach to training may be complete, but adapting the initiative to diverse course structures in particular institutions is the next challenge. Discussions this week have really helped shape plans for how we can achieve this…Monday to Friday has seen a fair few open science conversations. Jet lag well and truly kicking in, I made it to dinner on the night of my arrival, meeting with Greg Wilson and several others involved with either Software Carpentry, Wikimedia Foundation or open data projects. A great start to my US visit – I can only hope that I wasn’t too incoherent from the 19 hours of travel that preceded it! :S

Tuesday was spent at Creative Commons HQ in Mountain View (plus a trip to a Big Data event at LinkedIn in the evening). The guys and gals at CC are a fantastic group of people and I enjoyed some great discussions with various members of the team over the course of the day. I had the opportunity to present their “Lunch & Learn” seminar to promote my OSTI and gain some feedback from them on how it might be applied elsewhere. If you’d like to read more about that, you might want to take a look at the Creative Commons blog post covering the event. And their generosity even extended to gifting me a Creative Commons T-shirt, which should be making some appearances at Open events in the future 🙂

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Since Wednesday, I have become vastly more acquainted with the SF public transport system, as Puneet and I made our way around various institutions, talking to a number of academics who may be able to suggest potential openings for my open science training regime. These have included: Jonathan Eisen of UC-Davis; Roberta Katz, VP for Strategic Planning at Stanford; Sameer Verma of SF State U; Rich Schneider of UCSF; and Michael Eisen at Berkeley. Hopefully this will pave the way for a variety of OSTI applications in the US and indeed other countries too! There’s now massive incentive for me to get to work on curating the slide decks and other course materials into a ready-for-release version.

This week has felt really productive and incredibly exciting. I think we’re on the verge of a whole new era of science education (and in a way, professional development training for academics). The coming months and years will hopefully see this realised across the disciplines, delivering to its full potential the multitude of benefits it can provide. It only remains for me to thank the OKFN and Panton Fellowship funders, without whose financial support this trip would not have come about; and of course a huge debt of gratitude to Puneet for hosting me this week and arranging such a fantastic schedule. Thanks all 🙂

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