Edinburgh Carpentries: spreading good practice in software

Author: Guest blogger
Posted: 14 May 2019 | 10:24

Lucia Michielin, currently working for the Software Sustainability Institute, tells us about the Edinburgh Carpentries effort and a networking event to be held on the 24th of May.

Edinburgh Carpentries, a new training initiative, was launched on September 2018 at the University of Edinburgh in collaboration with the Software Sustainability Institute. Since then the initiative has started to propagate to other institutes in the Edinburgh area, eg Heriot Watt University. Edinburgh Carpentries uses and leverages teaching materials and infrastructure from The Carpentries (carpentries.org.

The Carpentries is a global training initiative that teaches basic coding, data wrangling and good practice to novices. The workshops currently focus on one of three main areas – software, data or library carpentry – that are tailored to researchers with no or limited knowledge of computing in their field.

Software Carpentry workshops focus on teaching how to use the shell, revision control system (git) and how to program and write clear, clean code to automate repetitive tasks using Python. See software-carpentry.org.

Data Carpentry workshops teach good practice in creating and handling data sets, and wrangling and manipulation using R to produce more robust and reproducible research. See datacarpentry.org

Library Carpentry workshops present an overview of tools that can make the lives of people working in libraries and other information-related roles more productive. See librarycarpentry.org 

New types of carpentry are also being developed, eg HPC Carpentry. See hpc-carpentry.github.io.

Between September 2018 and April 2019, the Edinburgh Carpentries were very active in coordinating these types of training, organising or facilitating the organisation of 11 workshops (twice as many as the rest of UK universities over the same period). These training workshops were attended by more than 220 students and staff from the University of Edinburgh and by researchers from other centres across the Edinburgh area. Of these training workshops six were based on the Software Carpentry model, with both taking the form of the regular 2-day workshops or with workshops split over several days but covering the same topics with more time spent on the individual topics: Git, Python and Shell. The remaining five workshops were of the Data Carpentry type, covering a series of different curricula from Social Sciences, Genomics and Ecology. Four more Data Carpentry workshops are scheduled to take place before the end of the 2019 academic year, including one tailored for Digital Humanists that has only been run once before at Oxford, and a Data Carpentry workshop at Heriot-Watt University.

All the workshops that have taken place so far have been very well received, with nearly all oversubscribed. This highlights the need and popularity for this type of training across research institutions at all levels, from students to staff. The attendees have mainly been students and alumni, but 23% of them were staff. The disciplines most represented by student numbers have been, first by far, Biological Sciences (23%), followed by the Medical Sciences (8%), and the School of Physics and Astronomy (7.5%). More generally, 50% of the attendees came from Science and Engineering, 23% from Medicine and Veterinary Medicine and 16% of attendees comes from the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, showing the universal increasing need for this type of training across all University disciplines.

Edinburgh Carpentries networking event

Finally, to further consolidate this initiative and to celebrate the results achieved so far, a networking event is scheduled to take place on May 24th 2019. This meeting aims to build a self-sustaining community in Edinburgh to scale up the provision of training to a much larger cohort of researchers in response to increasing demand. It will consist of a series of lightning talks (examples of good practice in the use of software and techniques resulting from attendance at an Edinburgh Carpentry workshop) and an ice-breaking session, followed by a catered networking reception. You can sign up for this event at http://bit.ly/EdCarp-event.

If you want to register for the Edinburgh Carpentry mailing list to be kept informed of what is happening with the Edinburgh Carpentries and/or you want to be involved as a helper or an instructor in a future Edinburgh Carpentry Workshop, please register your interest at http://eepurl.com/gl4MsX.


Lucia Michielin, Software Sustainability Institute