Overview of the Fellows Inaugural Meeting 2021

Posted by j.laird on 23 June 2021 - 10:00am

Screenshot of the Fellows' zoom callBy Rachael Ainsworth, Software Sustainability Institute.

The Software Sustainability Institute 2021 Fellows met together as a cohort for the first time during their Inaugural Meeting on Thursday 20 May. We brought this year’s cohort of Fellows together online to meet Institute staff, hear about the wide-ranging Institute activities, network with each other and discuss their Fellowship plans. 

Introducing the Institute

We began the day with an icebreaker session, followed by an introduction and brief history of the Institute by Director Neil Chue Hong. He highlighted that our funders love the Fellowship Programme because it successfully facilitates engagement and input from across the broad diversity of disciplines and organisations they support, and that we love the programme because we believe our Fellows will change the world! 

Community Team Lead Shoaib Sufi next introduced the Community Team, key activities and events taking place over the course of the Fellowship (such as the Community Calls and Collaborations Workshop), and ways to collaborate and network within the Fellowship programme. 

Training Team Lead Aleksandra Nenadic presented how the Institute is creating a more capable research force at scale through various training activities - notably through The Carpentries and Instructor Training - and how Fellows can get involved. She also shared examples of the training activities that past Fellows have led, including the establishment of Library Carpentry, Coding Club, and ReproHacks

Software Team Lead Steve Crouch then shared how the Software Team helps guide researchers to improve their research software, and also the practices they use to develop it. He invited Fellows to share where any gaps in software expertise and guidance exist in their areas, and to get involved with the Institute’s Online Guidance Service and Research Software Healthcheck

Next, Deputy Director Simon Hettrick introduced the Policy/Research Team, and how the Institute conducts studies, runs campaigns and lobbies policymakers with the results to effect change. He highlighted the successful initiatives around the Society of Research Software Engineering which works to support the creation of an academic career path for Research Software Engineers, and the hidden REF to recognise all research outputs and every role that makes research possible. 

Finally, Communications Team Lead Selina Aragon shared how the team can help amplify Fellows’ activities through the website and social media, and how Fellows can contribute content such as blog posts and guides. She also invited Fellows to get involved in the next Research Software Camp, taking place from 1 to 12 November 2021.

Collaboration Exploration

Each of our 19 Fellows gave a one-minute rapid fire summary of their plans, including the activities and communities they plan to work with and if they’re seeking help or collaboration from others. We wanted to avoid a long day of presentations on Zoom and give our Fellows time to talk in smaller groups, and this was a fun way to showcase each Fellow and hear about their plans for their Fellowship.

We then opened a number of breakout rooms for Fellows and staff to move around in to discuss themes relating to the Fellows’ plans, such as: accessibility, equity, diversity and inclusion; community building and Communities of Practice (CoPs); tools and documentation; and workshops and training. We also added a few additional rooms in case people wanted to discuss something specific with each other.

Key Questions Session

In the afternoon we randomly generated a number breakout rooms to give Fellows more time to network with each other over a number of prompts, such as:

  • What are important up and coming themes in research software and its community?
  • What professional development opportunities are missing for alternative career paths in academia/research (such as for RSEs, Community Managers, Data Stewards)?
  • What piece of digital infrastructure do you wish would “just work”?

The groups then shared summaries of their discussions back to the main room. Fellows shared their insights around problems running data science workflows on HPC, barriers to effective research, career paths and progression within academia.

Fellowship Administration

The day ended with presentations from Community Manager Rachael Ainsworth and Project Officer Giacomo Peru on the practicalities around administration of the Fellowship, including how to access and use their £3k budget, as well as additional support provided for online activities in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, and answering Fellows’ questions.

This was the first time that the Fellows Inaugural Meeting had to take place online, and we look forward to the day that we can bring our 2021 Fellows together in person - perhaps at Collaborations Workshop 2022!

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