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NWO-I opts for The Carpentries, a hands-on teaching method that contributes to more Open Science

NWO-I established the Digital Competence Center (DCC) in 2021 and appointed Reinder Radersma as Coordinator Data Stewardship at CWI.
The DCC provides easily accessible advice, expertise, and practical support to researchers at the NWO Institutes so that they can make their results, research data, and software suitable for reuse in the context of Open Science.
Recently, NWO-I became a member of The Carpentries, a non-profit organisation that helps set up foundational coding and data management workshops. Radersma is enthusiastic about what these workshops could offer NWO-I.

Set up by scientists

Radersma explains that The Carpentries is a global community-driven initiative to improve how scientific code and data are dealt with so that more Open Science can be realised. The Carpentries focuses on developing researchers’ basic coding and data science skills, such as foundational coding and data management. What makes The Carpentries so unique, is that it has been set up by scientists, data stewards and software engineers, supported by professional organisations, who continually contribute to improving the teaching material without receiving any remuneration for their work. The Carpentries makes use of open-source software.
Radersma: "The workshops and teaching material are cheap and relevant. Three curricula are available and NWO-I uses two of these, namely for data and software. The data curriculum provides workshops about subjects such as data cleaning, data management (SQL) and visualisation (data in figures). This takes place in the programming languages R or Python, and always with data from a specific scientific field. Software Carpentry focuses on the development of basic skills (Unix shell), reproducibility (Git and Make) and coding in R or Python".

Tailored to specific research fields

Based on The Carpentries teaching material, the DCC offers NWO Institutes data and software workshops aimed at researchers and support staff. Radersma explains that each of the institutes has its own needs when it comes to the development of skills and that the workshops are tailored to specific research fields: "For example, NSCR uses The Carpentries to teach its staff how to process social and spatial data. Such a course about data specifically for the social sciences will be less relevant for most other NWO Institutes, but spatial data is something that researchers from other institutes also work with. Software Carpentry is interesting for researchers who work in large consortia (such as at Nikhef and ASTRON). Because the consortia manage their data, the researchers do not have to clean, organise and archive the data themselves. Instead, they will benefit more from the coding workshops that will enable them to streamline their analyses and make these foundational. In the AMOLF labs, the researchers are responsible for their own data and carry out all processing steps themselves. Therefore, data cleaning and coding skills are particularly useful for them".

Broad spectrum of possibilities

SRON and NSCR had already started working with The Carpentries and subsequently organised their own internal trainings based on The Carpentries' method. These trainings were highly valued by their personnel. Radersma says that the standard workshop has a duration of either two days or four half days. The course materials are available online and can be used by everybody.
DCC will make it possible for researchers from NWO-I to follow individual The Carpentries modules because a two-day workshop is often too great an investment of time for researchers.
Radersma: "We will offer a broad spectrum of possibilities: two-day workshops, half-day workshops, and modules. An email will soon be sent to all NWO-I employees to enquire about which subjects they would like to follow in a workshop. We also plan to identify the interest among PhDs to develop tailored trainings for them. For the NWO Institutes at the Amsterdam Science Park, we will initially give a version control workshop based on Git; software that registers all file changes. You can use the software to go back to previous versions and it also offers various advantages when collaborating in teams".


Jelle de Plaa and Daniela Huppenkothen are instructors at SRON. Each month, they give a workshop about Open Science and foundational science. De Plaa is pleased that NWO-I will make wider use of The Carpentries: "It is a very practical teaching method that provides our colleagues with a step-by-step introduction to new software and also to data tools, which make it easier to carry out Open Science. You can acquire a reasonable basis in just half a day of training. Many participants say that they learned a lot from the workshop, so I think colleagues at other institutes will definitely come to value the workshops".

Wim Bernasco (NSCR) also sees the method from The Carpentries as an important aspect of his institute's training programme. Together with a small team, he last year organised well-attended weekly online workshops about working with the programming language.
R. Bernasco: "As the subjects and speakers changed each week, these workshops were less suitable for acquiring basic skills. Therefore to meet that need, the group will soon organise a two-day workshop, in consultation with Reinder Radersma, about working reproducibly with R in the social sciences".

Live coding

Radersma is enthusiastic about The Carpentries for more than one reason: "It's not just the fact that the scientific community continuously contributes to improvements via this organisation. I’m also a fan of their hands-on teaching method via live coding. During the workshop, the instructors carry out the programming or clean up the data, and the participants participate in that process. There are always two instructors for a maximum of 30 participants as well as a number of helpers who provide support in the case of technical problems. We also train instructors within the NWO Institutes. The big advantage of this approach is that we build up an internal group of people with knowledge that their colleagues can always fall back upon. That is a very different situation from a trainer who is simply flown in for two days. A distinctive feature of The Carpentries is that participants and instructors interact on an equal footing".

A request from Reinder

The DCC organises The Carpentries workshops on demand, so we need your help to determine the provision of courses. We would like to organise the workshops on location at the institutes, so it is important to know what they need. The workshops are free of charge and open to all employees.
Visit the NWO-I website for more information about The Carpentries, an overview of potential lessons, and to express your interest.

Text: Anita van Stel 
Newsletter Inside NWO-I, September 2022

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