Software and research: the Institute's Blog

Collaborations Workshop 2016 (CW16) Report

By Shoaib Sufi, Community Lead, Software Sustainability Institute.

The Institute’s Collaborations Workshop 2016 (CW16) took place from 21-23 March 2016 at the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh. The opening slide set the scene displaying a weighted representation of which software the people attending used in their daily work. Shoaib Sufi’s welcome to attendees was followed by an introduction from the Institute Director, Neil Chue Hong. Neil spoke about the work of the Institute and how to get the most out of a Collaborations Workshop (CW). The clue was very much in the name, the main idea was to meet people, people you may not have met before, thus widening your network of potential collaborators. With over 80 attending it made for a real opportunity to learn and share. We cover how the workshop unfolded below.

Supporting Research Software in South Africa and Africa

By Aleksandra Pawlik, Training Leader

Last week the Institute in collaboration with the North West UniversityCape Town University and Talarify helped run the first face-to-face Software and Data Carpentry Instructor Training. 23 new instructors from South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Kenya attended the event. After the workshop the Institute's work was also presented at the Association of South African University Directors of Information Technology (ASAUDIT) Autumn General Institutional Meeting. 

Open source tomography training: Swansea & Leicester 2016

Tomography machine. Image by Martin Abegglen. Russell Garwood, Lecturer at the University of Manchester.

2015 Software Sustainability Institute fellow Russell Garwood has completed his fellowship by giving two institute-sponsored training courses in using open source software, showing how to analyse and visualise tomographic datasets. By learning the basics of Drishti, SPIERS and Blender, attendees have many of the tools needed to conduct research using tomography data, avoiding expensive proprietary software.

From zero to a responsible software developer in a week

University of Oslo by Alexander Ottesen (under CC-BY).By Iza Romanowska, Institute Fellow and PhD Student at University of Southampton.

Learning a new computational technique, be it simulation, specific type of data analysis or even lab-based methods, can be a daunting task. You could start by reading up on all the previous applications and methodological papers but it can leave you frustrated with the technical nitty-gritty which is virtually impenetrable without a good knowledge of the tools that were used. So perhaps, it is better to start from the other end and learn how to use the software first? Sounds like a reasonable plan until we are reminded of the legions of early career researchers trawling through literature looking for a nail they could hit with their shiny new hammer.

Steps To Start Liberating Your Science

Handcuff. Image by Naiane Mello. Robert Davey, The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC), Ross Mounce, University of Cambridge, Larisa Blazic, University of Westminster, Anelda van der Walt, Talarify, and Raniere Silva, Software Sustainability Institute.

A speed blog from the Collaborations Workshop 2016 (CW16).

The Open Science movement is facing a challenge - how do we convince our peers to liberate their science? During the Collaborations Workshop 2016, we developed these 9 steps to help anyone that is unsure what Open Science is, or who are looking to make their science more open.

Evolutions in the Discussion of RSE Career Paths

Path. Image by Miguel Carvalho. Mark Stillwell, Cisco Meraki, Caroline Jay, University of Manchester,  Robert Haines, University of Manchester, Louise Brown, University of Nottingham, Jeremy Cohen, Imperial College London, Alys Brett, Culham Centre for Fusion Energy, Shih-Chen Chao, University of Manchester, Raquel Alegre, UCL, James Davenport, University of Bath, and James Hetherington,UCL,.

speed blog from the Collaborations Workshop 2016 (CW16).

Huge progress has been made in recognising research software engineering as a profession since initial discussions about this role began at the Collaborations Workshop in 2012. The topic still gets a lot of coverage at Software Sustainability Institute and UK Research Software Engineer (RSE) events, and with good reason. Many of the basic problems that led to the initial discussions continue to exist: in particular, a lack of academic credit for software contributions, and lower pay in relation to similar industry roles. While these problems remain unsolved and important, the fact of the matter is that people are now carving out career paths as RSEs or managers of RSEs, and new issues and concerns are starting to arise.

NULL, not void

'Girls carrying hay bundles' by Inhabitat (CC-BY-NC-ND)By M.H. Beals, Loughborough University, J. H, Nielsen, UCL, B. A. Laken, UCL and M. Antonioletti, University of Edinburgh.

A speed blog from the Collaborations Workshop 2016 (CW16).

The importance and credit associated with publishing negative results.

As researchers, the majority our experiments and explorations do not always pan out. When this occurs, pressure prompts us to move on to the next idea, looking for that big result that will make our name and build our reputation. What are the knock-on effects of doing this? By not reporting our failures, are we cursing others to repeat them? Does our tendency to curate our results slow our progress and, if so, can we change this?

Collaborate and don't die trying

Image by CASTLE ROCK INNOVATIONS.By David Perez-Suarez, University College London, Phil Bradbury, University of Manchester, Aleksandra Nenadic, University of Manchester, Laurent Gatto, Cambridge University, and Niall Beard, University of Manchester.

A speed blog from the Collaborations Workshop 2016 (CW16).

Remote collaboration: challenges in Human-Computer-Human interactions.

Tools that were mentioned during the discussion: GitHub, BitBucket, GitHub issue tracker, Skype, Google Hangouts (but max participants in Skype/Google Hangouts), Google Docs, spreadsheets, Jira, todo lists, time sheets, DropBox, … but are tools really the problem?

How do you teach Sustainable Software Practices 101?

By Oliva Guest, University of Oxford, Robin Wilson, University of Southampton, Martin Jones, Python for biologists and Craig MacLachlan, Met Office Hadley Centre.

A speed blog from the Collaborations Workshop 2016 (CW16).

Why are sustainable software practices difficult to teach?

Programming is a difficult thing to learn for students who have not been exposed to it before. However, for general programming there are at least some factors that help to make it easier. Feedback is generally very rapid; after writing and running a piece of code, students can see the result straight away. This isn't true for e.g. automated testing; the payoff for writing a test suite comes long after the fact, when it helps to catch a bug. The same goes for version control — until students have encountered one of the problems that version control is designed to solve, it seems like an unnecessary extra step in development.