This year’s OHBM conference is quickly approaching, including two consistent conference highlights: the OHBM Brainhack and Open Science Room (OSR). To learn more about what we can expect from this year’s events, I spoke to some of the current leadership of the OHBM Open Science Special Interest Group (OSSIG).
Current chair Aki Nikolaidis and secretary-elect Johanna Bayer joined us to talk about ongoing initiatives within the OSSIG, while hackathon co-chairs Matteo Mancini and Tibor Auer and OSR co-chairs Gabriel Gonzalez-Escamilla and Eva Alonzo-Ortiz told us about the upcoming events.
We had a long and thoroughly enjoyable discussion, which I encourage you to check out in its entirety. Below are some highlights from our conversation, condensed and edited for clarity.
I'm a longtime fan of the Open Science Room and the Brainhack, so I'm very excited to hear about everything you’ve been up to. The OSSIG events are some of my absolute favorite parts of the conference.
To start us off: I try to keep up with the OSSIG on twitter (htps://twitter.com/OHBMOpen), and I've seen that you launched new Open Science fellowships. Can you tell me a little bit about these fellowships?
The fellowships were envisioned to recognize early career researchers who were committed to and contributing to open science. The idea was to give monetary awards to work that is traditionally unrewarded; for example, community building or tool development. We also see it as a way to diversify who can engage in these events. Historically, the open science community has been predominantly white, predominantly North American and European.
We’ve closed our first round of applications, and we were encouraged and inspired by all of the applicants. Our first class of fellows are really impressive.
One thing we’re excited about, too, is to engage the fellows more directly in OSSIG events. There's a lot of volunteer work that happens during OHBM and at OSSIG events. We’re asking fellows to help as teaching assistants during the Brainhack. So we’re lucky to have fellows who are knowledgeable about the different topics that we're going to be teaching in the train track [educational sessions] of the hackathon.
Speaking of Brainhack, it's coming up soon! Could you talk about what this year's hackathon will look like?
Last year’s event was already an incredible success, and we’ve really tried to build on that work. Something we want to focus on more this year is to try to engage people who may not be interested in coding. We also want to have a conversation about the fact that historically—and unfortunately—the audience of Brainhack tends to be predominately white, straight men. We want to create a more diverse community, and we’ve planned a session to discuss what we can do to move towards that goal.
For those who are interested in coding, QMENTA has agreed to provide access to their platform during the event for any project that wants to run on their resources. Or, if people want to organize a multi-group challenge that can continue after the hackathon. We hope these additional resources give people the chance to not only dream big but to actually go for it.
That sounds really exciting. How can folks access these sessions and resources? I know that this year the OHBM conference is going to be on the Sparkle platform. How will the train track and hack track be adapted to these virtual spaces?
We are working with Sparkle to try and have the hackathon there, though this isn’t yet finalized.
But more generally on access: In thinking about how to make sure that this event is accessible, we’ve been inspired by cakes. A good cake needs to have multiple layers, and we want to have multiple layers in which people can engage with the Brainhack event.
For the TrainTrack [educational sessions], the first layer is pre-recorded videos that can be accessed during or even before the event. These will cover topics like version control, data visualization and machine learning, and reproducible workflows—these will leverage recorded sessions from some of the many wonderful events that have gone virtual over the last year. We’ll also have pre-recorded content on community building, as part of the non-coding focus I mentioned.
Another layer of engagement will be live Q&A sessions where we will have moderators to take questions from the audience and guide an overall discussion on a given topic. We hope that this will encourage anyone who wants to ask or answer a question to have an opportunity to engage with the Brainhack community.
The last layer connects the hackathon with the OSSIG fellows. OSSIG fellows will lead small group sessions that will be repeated through the days of the hackathon. And people will actually be able to solve problems with the tools that they want to learn about, explicitly inspired from the Neuromatch Academy experience.
In the hack track, participants will be working together on individual projects. How are you envisioning that participants will work together from different sides of the globe on the same project?
We learned from last year’s event to structure around different time zones. We came up with two time zone slots: “Atlantis” for Europe, Africa, and the Americas, and “The Rising Sun” for Australia and Asia-Pacific. That said, we don’t expect projects to stick to just one time zone; for example, someone from Australia can work on one particular project and when they go to sleep, someone else in Europe can start on it.
I'm a huge fan of collaborative working, and I think the virtualization of the event allows more people to get involved. We really do hope that this can happen on the Sparkle platform, but we’re exploring other options as necessary. And of course, the actual work is probably happening through GitHub or other collaborative platforms.
The HackTrack is one of the most creative parts of the conference and a great show for all the geekiness from our community. I’m looking forward to seeing the new things folks come up with.
In the past, it’s been unclear how to recognize the work that happens at the hackathon. Now that OHBM has its own publishing platform Aperture, do you have any plans for hackathon proceedings—maybe in partnership with Aperture?
We are in talks with Aperture about hosting the hackathon proceedings, which would highlight all of the different hackathon projects. That said, we haven’t yet finalized submission requirements or clarified the eventual format. But we hope that hackathon participants will eventually be able to submit their projects for publication. We’re not envisioning full length manuscripts, but short summaries for each of the projects: what they did, what they tried to do, what they found, etc.
I'm so looking forward to this year's Brainhack! But of course, open science doesn't stop at the Brainhack, right? It goes right into the main conference with the Open Science Room (OSR). Can you tell us how you’re adapting the OSR in 2021?
Stepping in as OSR co-chairs is a hard challenge, because the programming has consistently been very good so far. This year, I’m excited to announce that the OSR will be a real part of the OHBM program. Traditionally we’ve been an auxiliary event, so joining the main program on the Sparkle platform is an exciting evolution.
As for the OSR program itself, we’ll have four main kinds of events: panel discussions, educational sessions, emergent sessions, and a BIDS town hall.
The panel discussions are organized around some core topics. We solicited contributions from the community for ideas within those themes, and we actually just closed those calls. We’re now working to finalize which panelists will be presenting. We also have 10 educational sessions, ranging from introducing the basic tools and motivation for doing open science to dealing with failures in the current system.
Our emergent sessions have the most open format, as our goal there is to provide the space for folks to launch their own conversations rather than to specify a general topic. We will generally be looking for topics related to open science and related ideas like diversity and accessibility. But attendees are free to propose topics, and they can do so directly by email or on our website during the main conference.
A few years ago, Dan Lurie organized an emergent session which was kind of an MC’ed group discussion. Our goal is to bring people together like that and discuss things, like, for example, problems in transitioning from academia to industry. But the important thing is that participants decide the topics, and we leave the floor open.
For the panels, on the other hand, we had specific topics we wanted to cover. We chose those topics based on community surveys, so those are some of the topics that people were really interested in. And also, we felt like we wanted to move the Open Science Room a little bit away from just being about coding to being more about community building, inclusivity, diversity and related ideas. So we wanted to address those topics as well.
One other session type you mentioned is the BIDS town hall. BIDS is the Brain Imaging Data Structure, a community-driven standard for organizing neuroimaging data. It’s still in active development, with many ongoing extension proposals. Will the town hall be a space to learn more about this work?
It will be an opportunity to have an overview of the current status of BIDS from the point-of-view of the BIDS steering committee. We’re happy to provide the OSR as a platform for this town hall, and attendees will be able to hear more about ongoing developments in this space.
For both the hackathon and the OSR, how can we get involved? It sounds like the goal is to cast as wide a net as possible, so I imagine there's lots of work to do. And if people want to volunteer and join in, what can they do at this point?
First, just to join the events themselves: you don't have to be attending the OHBM conference or be an OHBM member. So if you're online, you're interested and you want to learn or contribute, you can just come. All of our activities are as open and inclusive as possible. We have a $25 fee for the hackathon, but if you come from a low or middle income country, or you can't pay for any reason, we can give you a reduction or waive the fee completely.
To volunteer: you can reach out to us in a lot of different ways. You can go to our website. You can email us at ohbmopenscience AT gmail.com. You can reach out to us on Twitter or on the Brainhack mattermost.
We're looking for volunteers to help run both the hackathon as well as the open science room. We don’t need people to commit to long days since the events themselves are on a distributed schedule. We do need people in different countries to be joining us to help run these different events. If the events don’t work with your schedule: We always need help with our websites, too. We're going to be doing our best to dynamically update our websites and our content on the Sparkle platform as these events roll out.
If anyone who is located in the Asia-Pacific or “Rising Sun” slot is inspired to join, we’re specifically looking for people from those time zones to help run these events!
On the hackathon website, we link out to our volunteer form which points to the actual descriptions of the volunteer roles. So we’re trying to be completely transparent here in the sense that we put the actual description of what you will be doing.
And for the OSR, we’re looking for volunteers to attend and monitor the emergent sessions, monitor the event chats. This is a great way for people who are not attending the main conference to interact with the speakers. On the OSR website, we have a ‘Volunteer’ section with descriptions of the roles and a chance to sign up. We also ask if people are interested in volunteering directly in the OSR registration form, and we’re happy to have people join in at any point!
If you are new to open science, volunteering with the Open Science SIG is one of the best ways to start getting a feel for open science and to start feeling like you're part of the community. We don’t have any skill-based barriers to participation: you already know what you need to know to get involved. So come and join.
I should also mention that we have some positions on the OSSIG open for next year as well. So if any of the available positions sound exciting to you, and you want to get involved, please come. And if those sound like too much of a commitment, there's always other ways to get involved, from open science fellows to volunteering and coordinating things onsite.
If anyone is not yet familiar with Brainhack and wants a quick primer before jumping in, we’ve just published a short piece about the ideas guiding the community that highlights the culture and structure of Brainhack events.
One thing that’s worth saying, too, about vision is that the vision of the OSSIG continues to grow every year. We’ve been really fortunate to have strong support throughout the OHBM leadership this year, and I hope that’s only going to continue to grow.
I hope so too, and I’m so excited to see the success of this year’s events and all of the OSSIG community initiatives. Thank you all for taking the time to speak to me about it today!