Introductions, peer-review of plans, a giant squid and speed blogging - Fellows 2016 inaugural meeting

Posted by s.sufi on 9 February 2016 - 2:27pm

13 of this year's Fellows 2016 met in the Neil Chalmers Lecture theatre at the rather grand Natural History Museum in London. The Inaugural meeting for the Fellows allow them to get an introduction to the Institute, to receive feedback on their plans and discuss something topical in research software.

(best of the tweets)

Neil Chue Hong, the Institute Director lead the charge giving a brief overview of the main teams of the SSI, to some it up, the Institute supports the culture change needed to allow better research through better software. This was followed by an update from the Community team from Shoaib Sufi which was more oriented around matters of great importance to the Fellows themselves, like getting reimbursed for their travel expenses and the quid pro quo of writing blog posts about their experiences and events to better inform the wider research software community. There were updates around the Policy and Communications work from Deputy Director, Simon Hettrick; Fellows received a whistle stop tour of how a Laser Scientist had to adjust to his new life as a Social Scientist as Simon was charged with finding out the ‘Size of the Research Software Community in the UK’ and also how the Research Software Engineer campaign was making progress in changing the culture around software and career paths in research. The Institute Training Lead Aleksandra Pawlik was promoting the work of the Institute and Software/Data Carpentry in New Zealand and Australia so was presented by a recorded screencast covering Software/Data Carpentry logistics and the much sought after ‘train the trainers’ pedagogy training to that would enable Fellows and other to teach researchers better software skills more effectively. Slides were presented from Research Software Group Leader, Steve Crouch showing the excellent work his team are doing to support software improvement and the sought after Open Call was advertised which offers free effort to researchers to take their software to the next level. 

This level of introduction to the various aspects and aims of the Institute is important, as Fellows represent the Institute and are often expected to talk about our work and let people know about activities and events we organise and facilitate as well as our set of helpful resources. Fellows had many questions but most of them were focused at this stage on what range of activities we would support; we are flexible and said we would support the Fellows and be open to their ideas; however in a jovial tone it was stated that new laptops were not on the cards!

Conversations occurred almost none-stop over lunch, Fellows were gelling and there was much common ground being discovered in terms of research interest and activities that were planned. Anecdotally, It was settling to hear that UK researchers who do cognitive experiments with babies allow them to sit on their parent's knee, as opposed to the US where they ‘strap them in’!! 

The post lunch session was all about the Fellows plan for their Fellowship, what were they going to do with the £3000 funding they had won access to. Some of the Fellows had kept their original plan, some had updated their plans and some presented us with new plans and direction. In any case it was really encouraging to see the clarity in thinking that the Fellows had undergone and the feedback from the other Fellows will no doubt allow them to improve the impact and reach of what they were planning, a return on investment for both the Fellows, the Institute and the Fellows research areas, what we call the triple win!

The plans the Fellows presented covered a wide variety of subjects and activities, just like the domains that the fellows represented. Some of the main highlights included advice with better promotion of activities, tips such as co-locating planned workshops within larger conferences so that the people you want to attend are coming anyway and thus reducing costs and increasing the potential audience and impact. The importance of trialing things internally and then taking them out was also highlighted by a couple of the Fellows although we were keen for them to be bold and invite some outside people to their events as their is a tendency to underestimate how effective and useful your activities can actually be. Then it moved onto disruptiveness in the domain, how do you make your domain more reproducible without being thrown out for ‘exposing people’ rather than being seen to be improving your research area. We even had a novel launched at the meeting - we kid you not - Fellow Manuel Corpas has written a story about the implications raised by genomic science. Collaborative working was also on the agenda and this lead to the interesting potential collaboration between an Research Software Engineer and a Social Scientist; as the Institute is very focused on helping nurture collaboration we were very pleased about this. Workshops and training were another big theme at the inaugural so you will be seeing future software, data and other training being run or supported by the Fellows 2016.

At afternoon Coffee the team were taken by our host at the Natural History Museum, Farah Ahmed (Fellow 2014) to see the non-public collection containing the giant squid; a rather dystopian sci-fi picture ensued, with a Fellow in the middle!:

In the last session we were trialing a new way of doing discussions, using topics from recent workshop we asked the Fellows to not only discuss but to come up with a blog post in small groups, we called this discussion with blogs, Fellow Melodee Beals coined a much better phrase for this activity - ‘speed blogging’; it was a successful activity with two blogs done (these will be published later in the week) and two others which are still being worked on. We are learning from this process and should be feeding back tweaks to the CW16, discussion sessions.

All in all an eventful, useful and enjoyable day. In feedback from the Fellows the workshop got a 4.8 out of 5 approval rating for being worthwhile attending. So we will carry on running this event in the future.

Check out the best of the tweets 

To meet the Fellows and network with others in research software, register for the Collaborations Workshop 2016 (CW16).

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