KBS LTER scientist teaches computational skills for “Open Science”

Network News Spring 2015, Vol. 28 No. 1
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Michigan State University (MSU) Department of Entomology Research Associate Christie Bahlai taught a two-day workshop in data management and analysis to support open science at the University of Michigan, Jan. 5-6, 2015. The workshop organized by Software-Carpentry.org was targeted at Women in Science and Engineering.

Says Bahlai, “Science is increasingly collaborative and the data we generate are getting larger and more complex. It’s critical that young scientists develop the skills to rapidly share their data and analyses with others, allowing science to advance more efficiently.”

Bahlai is a researcher with the Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) project funded by the National Science Foundation at MSU’s Kellogg Biological Station (KBS). She studies how communities of insects interact with the environment and each other over long periods of time. 

At the workshop, Bahlai taught groups of novice and intermediate learners how to write scripts and document their analysis using the statistical language R. “When you’re working in a national-scale collaborative experimental network like the LTER, it’s important to be efficient and to be able to document everything you’ve done, because your work is all part of a larger experiment. Writing readable, reproducible analysis code makes you a better collaborator. ”

Demand for this training is high: within 8 hours of its initial advertisement, all 70 spaces at the University of Michigan WiSE workshop had been taken, and a waitlist formed.  Attendees included graduate students, technicians, postdocs and faculty from the biological sciences, medical sciences, physics and engineering. Other instructors at the workshop included Kara Woo, a data manager at the University of Washington; Sarah Supp, a research associate at University of Wisconsin-Madison; and Dana Bauer, a software developer at Rackspace.

Software Carpentry is a volunteer-based, non-profit organization devoted to teaching scientific computing skills to scientists, and is a project of the Mozilla Science Labs. Its volunteers run similar workshops all over the world, maintain an extensive repository of open teaching materials, and advocate for reproducible practice and open science. 

Bahlai is also involved in developing teaching materials for Data Carpentry a newly-formed spinoff group, specifically focusing on data management and analysis skills led by MSU BEACON scientist Tracy Teal.

Bahlai maintains a blog about data management and open science at Practical Data Management for Bug Counters.