By Rachael Ainsworth, Software Sustainability Institute Community Manager.
The Software Sustainability Institute 2022 Fellows met together as a cohort for the first time during their Inaugural Meeting on Thursday 3 February. Pre-pandemic, the Fellows Inaugural Meeting was a full day event that provided the opportunity for incoming Fellows to meet the rest of their cohort and Institute staff in person, to network and learn more about the programme and Institute. In 2021, the Inaugural Meeting took place online for the first time due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This year, we once again brought the new cohort of Fellows together online due to the ongoing uncertainty in the pandemic, however we condensed the schedule from a full work day to 3 hours, as Zoom fatigue and the pressure on people’s schedules increasingly makes it difficult to set aside a full day. We wanted to dedicate most of the meeting to opportunities for the Fellows to introduce themselves, network with each other and staff, explore potential collaboration pathways, and ask any questions.
In order to make the most of the event, we required the Fellows to do some preparation work in advance. We asked them to watch some of the recordings from the 2021 Inaugural Meeting to learn more about the various SSI Teams (Community, Training, Software, Policy/Research, and Communications/Outreach), Fellowship Administration and the Expenses process (approximately 80 minutes in total), and bring any questions they had to the event.
Introducing the Institute
We began the meeting with an icebreaker session, followed by an introduction and brief history of the Institute by Director Neil Chue Hong. However, what the Fellows really wanted to know was how they could get one of the SSI T-shirts presented in Neil’s slides! The Institute also wants to particularly welcome the international Fellows, as this is the first time that we’re expanding the programme outside of the UK, and it’s great to have them with us.
This introduction was followed by quick updates from the SSI Team Leads, where they shared any updates since the recordings of the team introductions in 2021 and the Fellows could ask questions.
Community Team Lead Shoaib Sufi promoted some of the work that the Community Team has been advancing around starting up Communities of Practice, policy related matters through the international Workshop on Sustainable Software Sustainability (WoSSS) and working with Fellows on AHRC policy, and developing better processes such as how we organise events through the SSI Event Organisation Guide. He also highlighted the Fellows’ Community Building Study Group which meets monthly to Bring Your Own Community-related discussion points or readings.
Training Team Lead Aleksandra Nenadic shared that the Training Team’s more recent activities include writing new lesson material (themselves or with collaborators) to fill in the skills gaps (such as Intermediate research software skills, Managing academic software development, Building Websites with Jekyll and GitHub). They also help and support other communities in developing new lessons for their own tools and domains, including providing direct funding for targeted lesson development (e.g. statistical thinking for public health, machine learning for public health data), participating in projects that develop training as project partners (e.g. Ed-DaSH, Cloud-SPAN), and providing consultancy on training (e.g. working with DiRAC to revisit their Essentials HPC training course for new DiRAC users assembling training materials in subjects ranging from accessing and using HPC resources to software engineering and development fundamentals). The team is also developing and piloting the lesson development training programme together with the Carpentries to provide lesson development and pedagogy training for people wishing to develop lessons and trainer training to scale up the delivery of the programme.
Software Team Lead Steve Crouch shared how the Software Team has more recently begun shifting towards activities that scale better than direct consultancy, such as writing technical Institute guides to address common skills gaps (e.g. the Unit Testing for Scale and Profit series), exploring delivery of scaled-up online "research software surgeries" where researchers can come and discuss solutions to their software-related problems, and practical hands-on mini-workshops for Software Management Planning - extolling its virtues and how Software Management Plans can help, targeted at larger communities. The Team is looking for external guide writers and contributors, and if you know of any communities that may benefit from these activities, please get in touch!
Deputy Director Simon Hettrick and Policy/Research Team Lead highlighted that this year marks 10 years of Research Software Engineers (so there will be celebrations in March!) and that The Hidden REF was a great success with over 120 submissions from 60 different universities and organisations, and the competition will run again in 2023.
Communications Team Lead Selina Aragon invited Fellows who are interested in training to get involved in the third Research Software Camp (16 - 27 May 2022) which will focus on training, and Communications Officer Jacalyn Laird introduced that this year the SSI Communications Team will be creating a series of mini podcast episodes on 2022 Fellow Peter Schmidt’s Code for Thought podcast. As part of this we would like to hear from some of our new Fellows as a nice way to introduce themselves and their Fellowship plans to the wider community!
Each of our 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: community building and Communities of Practice (CoPs); infrastructure, tools and documentation; policy and research; software development and review; and workshops and training. We also added a few additional rooms in case people wanted to discuss something specific with each other.
Many connections were made and we look forward to supporting our Fellows work in the coming months! You can read more about the 2022 Fellows, the work they are doing and planning on doing in their profiles.
The day ended with a Q&A session with Community Manager Rachael Ainsworth on the logistics 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.
This was the second time that the Fellows Inaugural Meeting had to take place online. The condensed format seemed to work well to minimise Zoom fatigue, but the compromise is that it is difficult to not feel rushed or wish that you had another five minutes for a conversation. A huge thank you to the Staff and Fellows whose preparation helped the meeting to run smoothly, and we look forward to the day that we can bring our Fellows together again in person. In the meantime, you can meet our 2022 Fellows virtually at Collaborations Workshop 2022 (CW22) in April!
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