By Shoaib Sufi, Community Manager.
On 10 November, we met 26 researchers who had been shortlisted for the Institute’s Fellowships 2015.
Each candidate gave an introduction to their research area, where they saw the overlap with their work and that of the Institute and what they planned to do as an Institute Fellow 2015. The only had five minutes each to get across this key information. They felt the time limit helped focus their minds and were amazed at what could be said in such a small amount of time.
The afternoon consisted of discussions over two sessions. Candidates gelled quickly, helped by both the understanding of each other's backgrounds gained from the morning session and, no doubt, due to some natural affinity. There was none-stop chat during coffee and lunch. One of the reviewers described the discussions as being an extreme balance in participation!
The candidates derived from a variety of backgrounds: biomedical, earth sciences, humanities, Energy systems, health, physics, computational modeling and even computer science. Some of them tended to be the lone coder in their groups (or indeed the pet bioinformatition), without much contact with other like-minded people. In fact, many candidates said that they found it reassuring to meet people who were in similar positions to them and facing the similar problems. And everyone was surprised when they discovered that problems they thought had been solved in other domains were in fact still unsolved. Candidates felt that they could incorporate some of the novel approaches discussed in the presentations and apply them to their own work. I found it very rewarding to see people swapping details and making plans to follow-up with each other even if they didn't receive a Fellowship.
Discussion topics were varied. There was some discussion about long-term engineering for computational-based research and whether this was worth the effort (e.g. 20 years) or whether you "just needed to get past peer review". Others topics were focused on discussing concrete steps to make software part of the peer review process; harking to what one of the candidates had said earlier in the day "If I can’t run your code your paper is fantasy!". Discussions focused on how Fellows could be advocates of best practice to researchers from all career stages. One group courted with controversy and discussed Open access is seen as destroying the book. The groups had only three minutes to summarise their discussions. I was impressed by one group's novel approach to feedback using a mini survey. It may not have been rigorously scientific... but it involved the audience and made the point.
All in all, the selection day was a very enjoyable and useful day for the Institute, and we hope that the candidates felt that way too. A big thank you to all the candidates and especially to our reviewers on the day, which along with Institute staff included two existing Fellows: Professor Michael Fisher and Dr Mark Basham. We started at 10.15am and we were done by 4.45pm. I was amazed at what people managed to do in such a short amount of time - all it takes is the right people!
The Fellows 2015 will be officially announced on 5 December 2014.