The Carpentries Community Champions Call - September 2019

The Community Champions discussed how they grow their local communities

Carpentry Champions - September 2019

After a bit of a hiatus, we held the first Carpentry Champions call of the year. This sub-community of The Carpentries works to support new and experienced community champions at research organisations around the world. Some champions are their membership’s coordinator, while others are community advocates and volunteers with no active Carpentries membership. They all share the goal of bringing more skills workshops to more people.

We started the call with a survey of people’s favourite children’s book to get the ball rolling. Books listed included some new ones to me like “Vegetables in Underwear”, with lots of old favourites like Little Red Riding Hood, The Little Engine That Could, and Harold and the Purple Crayon. The last one is about an incident with the author, a purple marker and his sister’s white shag carpet that did not go quite as he had planned.

Then we had a series of two prompts to get people sharing about their communities:

  1. What is something great about your local Carpentries Community?
  2. What is something you’d like to improve about your local Carpentries Community?

Attendees found that people draw from a friendly, inclusive and supportive community. They like the team work that The Carpentries mission inspires and how it can appeal to all: grad students, post docs, faculty and staff at differing participation levels.

As far as improvements, there were several challenges raised:

  • geographic spread,
  • onboarding new participants and helping them feel included,
  • siloing
  • difficulty including grad students at some institutions,
  • focus on admin over community,
  • desire for more social cohesion,
  • desire to bring more learners along as instructors,
  • wanting more trainers,
  • getting administrative buy-in, and
  • stability of available instructors

These prompts set the ground for a series of five senior community members sharing with us their experiences with building and supporting their local communities.

Mark Laufersweiler talked about the history of Carpentry workshops at The University of Oklahoma and how the administrative burden of organising workshops falls in the Library, but the Library manages administrative buy-in from various departments. He also mentioned some innovative ways that Carpentry workshops are being recommended as pre-requisites by geography instructors, and how this has helped to build a skilled pipeline of new instructors. Mark is proud of the scale-out to regional campuses and how the procedures and practices he has built allowed workshops to continue when he had some unexpected leave. Overall the story at Oklahoma continues to pair an innovative library environment with growing and active participation from all corners of the University system.

Joanna Kang told us about her work at The University of California San Francisco (UCSF) and how with funding from an outside institute and her role in the library they have been able to create a steady stream of workshops for students at UCSF. UCSF is unique in having only graduate and professional students, and that has made making the case for The Carpentries somewhat easier. Joanna has had some hiccups in terms of checkout and teaching rates of trained instructors and would like to find ways to close those gaps and ensure instructors trained are able to teach a few times before they inevitably move on to jobs or other postings.

Arindam Basu gave us great background on a lean and lightweight community at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand where they’re building strong relationships with Crown Research Institutes (CRIs) and other nearby institutions to build more value for short-form workshop teaching. He has had similar problems getting people trained, checked out and then actually teaching. He’s hopeful that he can build a stronger foundation for Carpentry activities at Canterbury as time goes on.

Ariel Rokem of the University of Washington (UW) eScience Institute shared the history of how Carpentry workshops were started at UW by Ben Marwick pre-2015, and how he inherited the workshop coordination and community growth. They’ve struggled to build a cohesive community of instructors gathering together at UW, but they have no problem getting commitments to teach. An attempt at an instructor meetup fizzled and was a bit discouraging to Ariel. They are becoming the regional center in the West, as part of the West Big Data Hub for getting instructor training, and the recent move of Kate Hertweck to join the Fred Hutch Cancer Center has made it easier to run workshops more often. Their community is very big now, and they’re starting to think about how to best sustain a community of such a size.

Murray Cadzow of The University of Otago shared how a trip to Melbourne in 2015 and subsequent building of a Mozilla Study Group at Otago has helped to grow the local community. He’s been working to schedule monthly workshops and has been keeping an active and engaged community of instructors and learners growing to new reaches of the university. He’s even spreading influence to regional campuses and building relationships with CRIs and other organisations around New Zealand. He talked about the Stuff You Should Know About (SYSKA) meetings held at Otago where community members share for 5-minutes a tip/trick for how they work more productively.

We then heard from Angela Li of the University of Chicago about her work to establish a Carpentry community at her institution. She learned that she can’t do all the teaching herself, and that she should work to build more instructor capacity around the university. She’s starting to think about how to make the case for stable funding and community members gave her some strategies for approaching several administrators who can each pay some part of a budget.

Joanna mentioned how inspired she had been by Sarah Stevens et al.’s paper in PLOS Biology and Sarah, who was on the call, gave us a bit of history of how the paper came together.

We also collected a list of Carpentry local community websites. Is yours missing? Add it to this GitHub Issue and we’ll add it to the Community Cookbook

Dialogue & Discussion