Nantucket DevelopR 2019

This past week, we (Drs. Liam Revell, Klaus Schliep, Josef Uyeda, Claudia Solis-Lemus, and myself) hosted the Nantucket DevelopR Phylogenetics workshop again.

This is a really interesting course because it’s aimed at intermediate learners. Intermediate is slippery to define. I often think of it as the point where questions stop having clear answers – i.e., when you google for an answer, you don’t just get back “How to initialize a list.” You have to start thinking about optimization, or making code clean to read for other contributors.

Basically, an intermediate learner is someone who might not have a clear path forward. And at many universities, they might not have someone more advanced to go to for help. For intermediates, we don’t just need skills/information transfer, we need network-building.

So our goal with this workshop was a few things:

  • Get everyone a base of some basic intermediate skills: functional programming, efficient use of Git and GitHub, packaging R code, and phylogenetics in R. Materials here
  • Get motivated folks who might be on different ends of the “intermediate” spectrum together to work together productively on R phylogenetics packages
  • Create a diverse network of people who now all know each other and are connected by work on packages. Build a community of R-phylo developers

What worked

Bear in mind, these are personal reflections; we’ve not yet done our surveys.

  • Diverse leadership. Diverse teams are known to produce better results. And it’s known that diverse faculty can assist in establishing and maintaining diverse communities. I think that is reflected in the make-up of our course, which is more gender-balanced than the previous offering. We also took other steps, like a more verbose course advert, since literature suggests minoritized students don’t apply for things unless they meet more of the criteria than white male students. Making it easier to see how you fit means you see how you fit.
  • More coordination on the front end. Last time we offered this, Klaus and I were really unsure what the students would already know and need to know. This time, we had a little more blueprint, so we decided a few topics we would cover in advance.
  • Larger leadership team. Last time we did this, it was Klaus and I doing everything (+ my husband doing the cooking). This time, there were four of us with a more distributed knowledge base. This meant better lectures, and a wider array of things to accomplish.
  • Balance of work & lecture time. We only had four real days on the island. Two were mostly spent lecturing, two mostly working. The students got a lot done on the various projects.

What we could improve

  • More organization on the lead end. We had some last-minute upsets to infrastructure, which meant we did some last minute scrambling. This probably won’t happen next time, but we could do a bit more polling on interests for lecture topics, and organize food purchases somewhat better.
  • Scalability. This workshop was great, and there was far more interest than we could accommodate. Many great applicants we just couldn’t make room for. And for sustaining something, funders often want to see through-put. It would be great to keep the feel of everyone in one lodging, coding in the shared spaces, eating in the shared spaces. But we have little room to grow in the current location.
  • Something else will come up in evals, I’m sure.

In conclusion

What a wonderful week. I hope we can do it again. On a personal note, as much as I adore being PUI faculty, we do have fewer research active faculty. It was really nice to go somewhere and be in the company of other researchers and new PIs for a week. I feel very much refreshed going into the last month of classes.

Our next steps are to put together a post-workshop survey + check-in schedule to keep people motivated to finish projects.

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