10+ years of Brainhack: an open, inclusive culture for neuro tool developers at all levels

Brainhacks and similar formats are increasingly recognized as a new way of providing academic training and conducting research that extends traditional settings. There is a new paper out in Neuron, by 200+ authors, describing the format and what makes it valuable to the community. This post aims to highlight some of the core themes of the paper.

Brainhacks have been held since 2012, organized by local communities, sometimes in sync with other hackathons taking place elsewhere. In 2016 the format developed into the Brainhack Global – a synchronous swarm of hybrid meetings arranged by local communities with local and virtual participants. In 2020, during the pandemic, the BG went fully virtual.

Figure 1D from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2021.04.001

A similar growth of hackathons has occurred in communities adjacent to Brainhack. INCF started funding hackathons early because our community asked for it; and when we saw the value and inspiration hackathons brought to the community, it became a regular line item in the INCF budget. Since funding our first hackathon in 2012, we have funded or partially funded at least one hackathon each year (see our entry in Acknowledgements).

The Brainhack format is inspired by the hackathon model and centers on ad-hoc, informal collaborations for building, updating and extending community software tools developed by the participants’ peers, with the goal to have functioning software by the end of the event. Unlike many hackathons, Brainhacks welcome participants from all disciplines and with any level of experience—from those who have never written a line of code to software developers and expert neuroscientists, and also feature informal dissemination of ongoing research through unconferences. Also unlike some traditional hackathons, Brainhacks do not have competitions. Brainhacks value education; recent major Brainhack events even have a TrainTrack, a set of entirely education-focused sessions that run in parallel with regular hacking on projects.

The five defining Brainhack features: 

1) a project-oriented approach that fosters active participation and community-driven problem-solving

2) learning by doing, which enables participants to gain more intensive training, particularly in computational methods

3) training in open science and collaborative coding, which helps participants become more effective collaborators

4) focus on reproducibility, which leads to more robust scientific research; and

5) accelerated building and bridging of communities, which encourages inclusivity and seamless collaboration between researchers at different career stages

Brainhacks have increased insight in the value of tool usability and reusability and the need for long-term maintenance; shifting community culture from individuals creating tools for their own needs to a community actively contributing to an existing resource. They also help to disseminate good practices for writing code and documentation, ensuring code readability, using version control and licensing. 

Brainhacks promote awareness of reproducible practices that integrate easily into research workflows, and show the value of data sharing and open data. They introduce participants to data standards, such as BIDS, allowing them to experience the benefits of a unified data organization and provides them with the skillset to use these formats in their own research. 


Brainhacks create a scientific culture around open and standardized data, metadata, and methods, as well as detailed documentation and reporting.

The Brainhack community are currently also working to collate Brainhack-related insights and expertise into a Jupyter Book  that will serve as a centralized set of resources for the community.

LINKS

Brainhack: Developing a culture of open, inclusive, community-driven neuroscience

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2021.04.001

Det här inlägget skrevs för och publicerades först (12/5 2021) på INCF’s blogg

Lansering av nya Horisont Europa (10/2)

En hel dag, med några korta pauser, tog det att presentera grundpelare och huvudteman för det nya ramprogrammet för EU-forskning, Horisont Europa (#HorizonEurope). Presentationen arrangerades gemensamt av 6 stora svenska finansiärer; Energimyndigheten, FORMAS, Forte, Rymdstryrelsen, Vetenskapsrådet, och Vinnova. Många bra presentationer och panelsamtal! Jag har summerat det hela i tweets här, men det finns en del att lyfta upp som inte ryms i kortfattade meningar.

Öppen vetenskap nämndes EN gång (av John Tumpane, från FORMAS). Data-delning nämndes inte alls. Samverkan däremot nämndes upprepade gånger, framför allt med fokus på industrin. Standarder nämndes i förbifarten, framför allt som något viktigt för industrin att bevaka och delta i utvecklandet av.

Mycket av fokus låg på “partnerships”, arrangerade och finansierade strategiska multi-partssamarbeten som är menade att ge garanterad förutsägbar nytta. Hela 50% av budgeten går dit. Partnerships är inte nya för EU, men det utökade fokuset på nytta är en lite ändrad inriktning.

En nyhet för det här ramprogrammet är “missions“, övergripande målbilder som ska vara förankrade i samhällsbehov och ge samhällsnytta, och göra det lättare att nå målen för the European Green Deal och Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan såväl som hållbarhetsmålen.

Forskningsinfrastrukturer nämndes en hel del i början av samtalet (det är en av pelarna), och får en hyfsad andel av budgeten, men var inte särskilt närvarande när det kom till samverkans-diskussionen (där jag tycker de absolut passar in).

Regioner nämndes som möjliga innovationshubbar och koordinatorer, vilket var en trevlig ny vinkel – tidigare har jag mest hört regioner nämnas som trösklar och fragmentering, och ett problem för det svenska Life Science-ekosystemet.

Universitet nämndes i början – när vikten av rätt utbildning och mobilitet i utbildning diskuterades – men inte explicit i senare diskussioner om samverkan; där låg fokus mest på individuella forskare och på industrin. Universitet borde rimligen också vara nyckelmedlemmar i samverkansprojekt.

Två viktiga gap (”valleys of death”) i kunskapsöverföring och nyttogörande nämndes: den slingrande vägen som krävs för att ta forskning från labbet till industrin, och svårigheten att skala upp innovativa start-ups på ett hållbart sätt.

Regeringen håller på och arbetar ut en nationell strategi för Sveriges deltagande i Horisont Europa, det är dock ännu oklart exakt när den kommer vara klar. Det ska bli intressant att se vad den innehåller; EU-ansökningar anses allmänt vara tunga, arbetskrävande och komplicerade. Stödbidrag för att frigöra tid att sätta ihop en ansökan vore kanske användbart. Utökat stöd från universitetens administratörer och Grant Offices också. (När jag jobbade med mitt första EU-projekt hade vi en EU-kunnig administratör till hjälp, och vilken skillnad det gjorde).

Tydligen hade Norge sin motsvarande presentation redan i höstas.

Project update: GSoC

We (INCF) have, as of this morning, officially applied to Google as a mentoring organization in 2021. This is our 11th time. We have a Project Ideas list of 55 projects from 27 mentor teams, a new record!

The next step is interacting with prospective students, and waiting for Google’s announcement of this year’s accepted mentor organizations (March 9). Since a few years back, we post all project ideas on our forum to make it easier for students and mentors to discuss.

2021 projects, #10: GSoC

Screenshot of https://summerofcode.withgoogle.com

This is not a new project, by any means, rather one of my long-running favorite projects – the Google Summer of Code. INCF has partcipated each year since 2011, and I have been the main org admin on ONCF’s behalf for all but the two first years.

I described GSoC in some detail in Swedish back in 2014 when I guest-blogged at Tidningen Curie (“En snart passerad sommar av kod”). Many of the things I named as positive then are still true today;  it is in many ways a fantastically fun project to work with. The students are smart, motivated and enthusiastic over having the possibility to contribute to projects and tools that are needed and useful. The mentors get a lot of development done for the price of regular mentoring, and the projects get new contributors – many continue to involve their students one way or another after the paid period, and some of them come back as mentors for the same project they started on. One former student, from 2018, is even my co-org-admin! (Hi, Arnab!) As mentoring organization, we get the joyous task of helping our community members help each other; many of the participating software tool projects are developed an maintained on small or no funds by the researchers themselves. We know how many small gaps there are that need to be bridged to make community tools better, faster, and smarter. And all the developed and inproved resources are openly accessible for everyone to pick up and continue working on or extend.

January, now, is the run up period – we have a call out for project suggestions and mentors, and responses have just started trickling in. Usually the mentors/project owners come to us with specific, well-thought-out and well described ideas, and sitting at the other end reading them all is a great experience – it is a veritable fountain of scientific and technical creativity, and one of the high points of my year. Projects that are well scoped and described – nearly all the submissions – end up on our official Project Ideas List and form the most important part of our application (I think, nobody knows exactly what Google looks for). As soon as that list goes public, around the end of January/start of February, mentors start interacting with potential students, working out the students’ project proposals. But slowly. The real explosion in activity comes when Google announces the year’s accepted organizations, this year that announcement goes out on March 9 (usually pretty late in the day, since it is on US-compatible time). It is always a very nervous day.

This year, Google has reshaped the program a bit, shortening the time spent coding and lowering the (high) threshold for participation. Which means we will get more students who are not hard core coders (yet) and need some support – which we as mentoring organization will be partly responsible for providing – and also the mentors and their community – all student projects start with an official community bonding period (genius idea). I distinctly remember being new to coding as a student, and hope that experience will help me be helpful.

2021 projects, #9: RRIDs on everything

This project is work-focused, but will surely frame my thinking and actions also beyond work. My latest work strategy meeting can pretty much be summed up in one sentence: RRIDs on everything (and if it doesn’t have an RRID yet, get one for it).

RRID is short for Research Resource ID, and is a type of identifier to inambiguously identify, mention and cite a research resource, taken broadly. Web portals, software tools, antibodies, cell/animal lines or bacterial strains. RRIDs grew out of the Research Resource Identification Initiative, whose key members also are part of the INCF community in the US, ands was launched as a recommendation in 2014, re-emphasized by successful trial results published in 2016.

If you have ever experienced an everyday name or identity collision – a similarly named classmate, a repeatedly mis-dialed phone number, getting emails meant for another person, having a neighbour or office colleague who gets your mail and you get theirs – you should already have a hunch about why identifiers are important, and what not having them means.

Simply put, identifiers give us a way to be more specific and precise than mere words can offer. There are existing identifiers for research papers (DOI:s, since old, ~2000s), people (ORCID:s, even older, Oct 2012), and research institutions (ROR in 2019, GRID in 2015). And since even longer, books have identifiers. ISBN, the International Standard Book Number, was published in 1970 as international standard ISO 2108. And identifiers typically are compact strings of characters, put together after a pattern, because you want them to be easy to use AND computer-readable .

But the existing set of identifiers did not cover all of research nearly enough: there were (and are still) problems with, for example: exactly and unambigously stating which antibod(ies) from which producer(s) you actually used. Or which breed of lab rat. Citing tools and specifying transparently which tools you use. Hence, RRIDs were conceived, and there is an ongoing campaign to get them broadly used.

Identifiers are useful on their own, but there are broader aspects – if you want to make science FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Internoperable, Reusable), identifiers will be a part of your toolset. They also need to be machine readable, because computers deal with thousands of data points a lot better than most humans do, and it would be nice to be able to automate identification and information gathering. They need to be persistent, i.e stay the same and not start meaning something different regardless of how tech develops. They also need to be resolveable – there needs to be a service at the other end, likely a database – storing the associated info.

The idea is, if everything has an RRID, it doesn’t matter if information is spread out like a box of dropped tooth picks all over the formal and informal scientific digital landscape in preprints, papers, posters, websites, blog posts, social media – it is still findable, as long as it is digital, attached to a PID, and available for indexing. So my mission is, simply, to find out which important-to-neuroinformatics research objects are not yet findable, and change that.

Read more:
RRIDs: A Simple Step toward Improving Reproducibility through Rigor and Transparency of Experimental Methods
Using ORCID, DOI, and Other Open Identifiers in Research Evaluation
Unique, Persistent, Resolvable: Identifiers as the
Foundation of FAIR

2021 projects, #5: community managers & resilience

The CMX holiday letter states: “ I just reviewed the data with the research team and one thing is crystal clear: community has become an irreplaceable part of business. In a year where a lot of businesses struggled, and there were many layoffs, community teams actually grew. And companies of all sizes, in all industries, are going to be investing in community in a big way next year.”

I have a standing alert for community-related position ads on LinkedIn, and see clearly a parallell increase in community positions offered in science & academia. Where ads earlier have been implicit about the community aspects, hiding it under terms such as ‘field knowledge’, nearly everyone knows and admits to some degree that in academia, it is impossible to succeed without community support. It is built into the system that your peers will (hopefully) acknowledge you and lift your work up – this mechanism is seen in such academic pillars as peer review, recommendation letters, and hiring committees, to name some examples.

Since I did my AAAS Community Fellowship in 2017, a training program that ran twice and which has now transformed into an independent organisation called CSCCE, Center for Scientific Collaboration and Community Engagement , I have been an active member in the community that surrounds CSCCE. We have a lot of interesting activites and projects around community management – interest groups (I’m in the Open Science SIG and lurking in the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion SIG), projects (I’m in one we started in 2017, aiming to describe and pin down community manager skillsets), and Working Groups (I’m in the Community Champions WG).

The theme for the 2021 Community Manager Advancement Day, which takes place on January 25, is resilience. A very fitting theme, after this Covid year. Resilience of self, when the world stops around you; resilience of communities to chaos and changes; resilience of organizations and society – where community has a huge part.

How do I become a “community-whatsit”?

This post was written when I was in the then AAAS CEFP training program, now CSCCE. It first appeared on the CSCCE blog on August 3, 2017. I am grateful to Lou Woodley (CSCCE) for edits and comments. The post was written in relation to my role as Community Engagement Officer at INCF (International Neuroinformatics Coordinating Facility).

“Don’t worry about understanding everything at once, NOBODY has the right background for this” said my MSc thesis supervisor, a dozen or so years ago. Then, the advice applied to mathematical modeling of the biochemical networks involved in learning and memory, an area that came with heaps of dense academic papers peppered with acronyms and incomprehensibly condensed descriptions of experimental protocols. Now, that advice applies equally well to community management, an area of expertise I did not even know existed in science until a few years ago.

With the ongoing funding crunch and uncertain academic job market, interest seems to be growing in alternative careers. As a person who went from a regular PhD to an atypical job at a science non-profit, I’m increasingly often asked for career advice that boils down to ‘What should I do to get to where you are now?’.

Recently I participated as mentor in a career workshop for postdocs and other students, and I was getting the same type of questions. Since I had no idea one could become a community manager, I ended up in my position mostly by a series of chance choices and events. But there are some things I am in retrospect glad I happened to do or learn, because they turned out to be very useful.

Should I get a PhD?

It depends. My PhD has been immensely useful, since I am still in a related community. If your intended community does research, or is close to science in some other way, having similar experience will help you understand them better, and will make it easier to talk their language. Joining a field shows you how it is to come into a community as a new member, and is a useful experience to have later when you are helping others become part of the community you manage.

Learning confidence in dealing with hard, perhaps unsolvable problems — like your own research project — is the very definition of a useful transferable skill. With that said, a PhD is also several years of niche work that will be hard to bear if you don’t love it (at least part of the time). And there is an inordinate amount of time spent formatting reference lists.

Should I learn something else?

Besides the content of your PhD? Definitely. I began my random walk towards community management with communication, and that is probably a good starting point if you have a background in research. If you are coming directly from academia, chances are you’ve become an expert at communicating clearly with your scholarly peers but are getting increasingly blank stares from anyone else. Or you might be a communication genius, but unless you have some way to prove that, many people will assume the incomprehensible scholar stereotype applies to you, too.

Science just published a great article on whether you should add another degree after your PhD and as they say, adding verified experience can help. But it doesn’t have to be formal courses. Writing a blog or running a podcast/YouTube channel/improv theater troupe will not only give you experience in communicating with a varied range of audiences. It will also serve as a handy track record of communicative ability. A general familiarity with social media will also be useful; if you are not working with it yourself, you will likely collaborate with those who do. And any task involved in generating or framing content — such as editing, layout, print, photography, user experience design and website management — is a valuable potential community manager skill.

Is it less stressful?

This question tends to come from people having done at least one post-doc and looking with bleak disillusionment at a future that seems to mostly consist of writing rejected grant applications. The answer is: Nope. At best it is differently stressful. Instead of organizing your life around one big risky project with a well-thought-out plan, you’ll be juggling an untidy heap of lesser but more severely conflicting projects — the inaugural CEFP fellows motto of “We multi-task while multi-tasking” is only partly a joke — and will most likely see your plans evaporate into thin air on a weekly basis. And instead of not knowing what you are doing after your three years of funding run out, you’ll be subject to the vagaries of yearly or even quarterly budgets.

But I can’t find a job like that out there.

To which I say: Grow your job into the role you want! A lot of jobs border on potential community management roles. Mine was a traditional one-way communications job at the start. I did not plan to spend the rest of my life writing newsletters and layouting print materials, and I also felt that we as an organization could probably serve our community better if we were a bit more communicative.

So I asked my boss to let me start a few social media efforts in our organization’s name, beginning with Twitter. I went to conferences and talked, talked, talked to everyone who was introduced to me as a community member, trying to find out what they wanted and needed. I got involved with a few community initiatives, some that worked and some that didn’t, and spent hours trying to pinpoint what made some take off while the others simply puttered along. I organized boring workshops and interesting workshops, and tried to do the latter more and more often. Gradually, I began thinking more like a community manager, and less like a regular communications person.

All the major deciding points in putting me where I am today looked like random events at the time. There happened to be funding for a PhD position. On a whim, I started a blog. I was lucky to find a job where I could stretch my old role into a new one. Ask most other community managers, and I suspect they will look back at an equally random career trajectory.

So don’t worry. Nobody has the right background for this at the start 🙂

You can learn more about scientific community manager roles (including Malin’s!) in the CSCCE Meet a Scientific Community Manager series. Find all of the CEFP Fellows’ posts here.

This post was originally posted on the CSCCE blog on August 3, 2017.

How a blog snowballed into my current career

I started blogging science after a couple of months into my PhD, because I needed an outlet for all the fantastic papers I found that were ”not relevant” (to my studies and project). I had been reading author blogs (LiveJournal!) mostly, seen the odd blogging scientist now and then for a few years and figured ’Hey, I can probably do that!’. As it was early days, I hadn’t quite yet succumbed to the academia == English norm, so I wrote in Swedish. Unbeknownst to me at the time, that was like 3rd or 4th blog *in total* in Swedish focused on science. After a few years, I had built up enough of a presence to be invited to talk and write in other venues, including a summer stint as a ’real science journalist’ over the summer at one of Sweden’s biggest newspapers, Dagens Nyheter. I picked up some interesting friends during bloggin, including a food writer, and we two decided to apply for a book grant (I thought it was risk-free, we would not get it, because the one thing I knew about grants is that you don’t get them). But we did, and I had to go to my professor and say, ’Hey, I got a grant and will need to work part time on my PhD thesis’. He accepted. At that time my blogging dvindled to almost nothing, and I turned to Twitter instead (’it is a very short format, it won’t take much time’. Hah.).

So I wrote a book in parallell with my thesis work for about a year, spent some much needed time on Twitter whenever I got up for air, and at the same time my second mentor started working in something big and global I vaguely knew was about neuroscience, so I didn’t se her that often (that was INCF). I skimmed their web page occasionally to see what she was doing, and one time I came across an old job ad of theirs for a scientific communications officer, degree preferred, and with knowledge of neuroscience. I had learned from my journalist friends and acquaintances that hired positions in scicomm did basically not exist, and always had hundreds applying. So I asked offhand when we met next time, ‘How on earth did you not get anyone, and do you need help with anything urgent’? Long story short, the next week I had a talk with the project PI and got offered the job. So I went to my poor professor, AGAIN, and said ‘I want another 20% off my thesis work, because I accidentally got this other job…. And he accepted AGAIN, so then I did 20% book/20% INCF comms/60% thesis for another year, during which the book got finished and printed, INCF newsletters came out regularly, and the thesis got written. Then I took the weekend off, and started full-time at INCF next Monday (while still doing the occasional talk, interview or blog post on the book).

I still have a sort of parallel ‘career’ as a scicomm person, though mainly I’ve written for free for causes I like (the blog that became the book, for instance), and I mainly do my scicomm via Twitter. I’ve been on the Advisory Board for Poulär Astronomi (Popular Astronomy) since my blogging days. Right now, I am one of the Swedish members of an EU project called RETHINK, about improving scicomm (its Swedish Node is run by Vetenskap& Allmänhet). I also run a network, founded with some friends and friends-of-friends, for research communication professionals called FORSKOM (it lives on LinkedIn, and is officially bilingual Swe/Eng).

Community engagement working notes: monthly peer meeting

In 2017, I entered a AAAS Fellows program on Scientific Community Engagement, called “Community Engagement Fellowship Program” or in short, CEFP. The program has now moved to the Center for Scientific Collaboration and Community Engagement.

Group photo of 20 smiling people in blue tshirts, all 2017 community engagement program fellows.
The CEFP 2017 Fellows, photo by permission of Lou Woodley. I’m in the middle row at the left.

This program was a turning point for me, personally and professionally. Many of us still keep in contact, and one of the things I regularly do is meeting virtually with another CEFP fellow, Stefanie Butland. She’s in Canada and I am in Sweden, so we meet virtually over audio (for the bandwidth to keep up with us). I really recommend you to do something similar, if you are lucky enough to find a compatible person.

We meet the same day each month, and usually check in the day before to confirm the time or adjust it if necessary, and we always end the talk by confirming the next meeting time.

We use these talks mainly to ask for advice on challenging issues – for a while Stef talked about the same hard issue for months and it worked out! – and for celebrating achievements and successes. Several of the issues work themselves out while we are discussing them.

It works because we are strict about keeping to 15 minutes each. Usually, we self-regulate around our own 13-minute marks. Despite the short time, we can get a lot done, because we trust each other and are honest. And we both have similar and different experiences, good and bad, from our community manager work, so there is almost never the need to explain a lot of detail.

Andra länkar / other links

Min doktorsavhandling går att ladda ner från DIVA (länk)
Min licavhandling går också att ladda ner från DIVA (länk)

Jag gick ett träningsprogram (Fellow’s Program) via AAAS under 2017, för att utvecklas som community manager. Programmet har nu omformat sig till en fristående organisation, CSCCE (Center for Scientific Collaboration and Community Engagement) och man kan fortfarande bli en fellow. Och här är mina fellow members!

My PhD thesis can be downloaded from the DIVA portal (link)
My licentiate thesis can also be downloaded from the DIVA portal (link)

I was accepted to a training program for scientific community managers (Fellow’s Program) via AAAS in 2017, to develop further as community manager. The program is now reformed as CSCCE (Center for Scientific Collaboration and Community Engagement) and you can still become a fellow. And these are my fellow members!