by MARY SHELLEY
Associate Director of Synthesis
Last week, IT staff members from five of the National Science Foundation (NSF)’s BIO centers held our second annual meeting to discuss common challenges and solutions across our programs. SESYNC’s Associate Director of Cyberinfrastructure, Mike Smorul, leads the effort under a supplemental grant from NSF to facilitate collaboration on cyberinfrastructure-related issues across the BIO centers and center-like programs. This year we met in East Lansing, Michigan at BEACON to discuss new developments (technological and otherwise) at our centers and to continue work on projects started during last year’s meeting hosted at SESYNC in Annapolis, Maryland.
The biggest outcome of our collaboration thus far has been the development of a two-day “Data Carpentry” technical training workshop based on the Software Carpentry model. During the past year, Tracy Teal, a microbial ecologist and bioinformatician at BEACON, has led an effort to develop a common curriculum for teaching members of the NSF BIO research community when and how to transition out of Excel into new tools for data storage and analysis that are more robust, effective, sustainable, and reproducible. To date, four Data Carpentry workshops have been held, one each at NESCent, SESYNC, iDigBio, and BEACON. Over the next year, we’ll focus on training additional workshop instructors within the BIO center community and on developing more domain-specific lessons. For example, iPlant, BEACON, and NESCent expressed interest in modules that use a genomics-based data set to teach the core tools of SQL, shell, and R.
Another highlight of this year’s meeting were useful insights from Karen Cranston, a computational phylogeneticist at NESCent, on planning for sustainability and longevity of the myriad valuable products developed over a center’s lifetime. Unfortunately, NESCent is scheduled to close next summer, but thanks to the foresight and efforts of Karen and her colleagues, many of the datasets and tools developed during its existence will continue facilitating synthesis and discovery from other platforms and venues.