Introducing Our New Director of Instructor Training

Karen Word will serve as our new Director of Instructor Training and oversee the expansion of this program

Hi! My name is Karen Word and I am your new Director of Instructor Training with The Carpentries! Over the next three years, I will be overseeing a major expansion to this program, thanks to funding from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. I am thrilled to be here! I am writing to share my excitement with you, along with some thoughts on where we have been and where we are heading with this program.

I have been working with The Carpentries since 2017 as Deputy Director of Instructor Training, so you may be wondering what’s changed. That role was a part time, in-kind time donation through a postdoctoral appointment at UC Davis with the Lab for Data Intensive Biology. The CZI grant allows me to work directly for The Carpentries and focus on my favourite ‘passion projects’ with the blessing of full-time attention.

Why do I love this job? If you are reading this post, you may already be sold on The Carpentries. Here are a few of my favourite things:

  • We raise awareness about educational best practices across disciplinary, institutional, and global boundaries through our highly rated Instructor Training program
  • We connect and support people across those same boundaries, disrupting tendencies towards siloing and isolation in research, through our healthy community of volunteers
  • We ‘walk the walk’, striving to apply the same principles we teach in Instructor Training to the many ways we teach and learn from each other, continually optimising health and performance as a staff team
  • We support researchers in adopting tools and practices that can make their work more effective, open, and reproducible through our astonishingly impactful workshop program.

For someone looking to have a positive impact on the global research community, you simply cannot ask for a better place to invest effort. The Carpentries has accomplished so much so far. Think, for a moment, about what “more” can mean.

So, a key goal over the next three years will be scaling up our Instructor Training program. But what will expansion look like? Crucially, this is not for me to decide. The Carpentries is a community-driven organisation, and increased staff time means we have more ways to serve our community. At this moment, we are working to establish governance within the sub-community of Instructor Trainers. We have a temporary Trainers Leadership panel working to propose a governance structure and hold elections within the next 3-6 months. The counsel of this group as well as the broader community of Instructor Trainers will be vital in guiding a healthy and sustainable growth process.

In addition to feedback from our Trainer community on the expansion process, The Carpentries will also need more and better data on the functionality and impact of the Instructor Training program itself, particularly as it continues to grow and change. We are in the process of hiring a new Deputy Director of Instructor Training who will work with me to support and evaluate the program. I am excited to see the program through their eyes and to learn from their ideas and efforts. Together we will also be working to overhaul and improve behind-the-scenes workflows that support this program to sustain it beyond the three-year funding term.

As we work to expand and improve our existing Instructor Training program, we will also now be able to support some of the many ideas for branching out in new directions that have been bandied about the community for a number of years. These might include refresher training and other professional development opportunities for existing instructors, modularised workshops to teach instructional best practices for non-Carpentries settings, and longer-format Instructor Training workshops. No promises on any of these yet, but these and other ideas will be on the table as staff and community come together to choose our path ahead.

I am lucky to have had a varied and adventure-filled career in science and teaching. Once upon a time my cow eye dissection demonstration was a model of science museum prowess. I brought high schoolers from zero to hero in remedial math and conquered fears of dirty shoes to discover wonder in a local wetland. I cheered hundreds of community college students and thousands of university students on their way through biology course work. I braved sun and rain and snow to collect data on fish and birds and frogs and bears; I learned bench skills I never dreamed of, from measuring and pipetting to soldering and melting glass. I surmounted programming challenges without training. I gained the respect of people I admired. Nonetheless, I hope that at the end of the next three years I will look back with the greatest pride on the things I – and we – have yet to accomplish here.

Through my career I have also become familiar with struggle, through my own experiences and those of others I have met along the road. Struggle is everywhere, but the research world has its own unique landscape of pitfalls, threats, and thorny labyrinths. By empowering researchers with training, expanding awareness of educational best practices, and connecting people to a healthy and inclusive community, The Carpentries is not just doing things right; we are righting wrongs. This is why it is possible to operate a community of volunteers in the time-poor landscape of academic and professional research. This is why I find such tremendous satisfaction in my work, and why the next three years are going to be the best yet.

Come and talk to me! I look forward to seeing you around!

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