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January 31, 2015 / Damien Irving

Plugging into the computational best practice discussion

From the time we write our first literature review as a graduate or honours year student, we are taught the importance of plugging into the conversation around our research topic of interest. We subscribe to journal email alerts, set up automated searches on databases like Web of Science, join the departmental journal reading club and attend relevant sessions at conferences. If we want to get a job one day, we also figure out pretty quickly which email lists and job boards to keep an eye on (see this post for an overview). A discussion that people tend not to be so engaged with, however, is that around computational best practices. Modern weather and climate scientists spend a lot of time writing and debugging code, but discussions around the best tools and tricks for doing this are a little harder to find. As such, here’s my attempt at a consolidated list of the best places to tune in.

Online:

  • Twitter is an absolute gold mine when it comes to quality discussions about computational best practice. Start by following accounts like @swcarpentry, @datacarpentry, @mozillascience, @victoriastodden and @openscience and you’ll soon identify the other key people to follow.
  • Nature has recently started a Toolbox section on its website, which features regular articles about scientific software, apps and online tools. (I recently featured in a question and answer piece about the software used in the weather and climate sciences.)
  • The Mozilla Science Lab Forum hosts all sorts of discussions about open science and computational research.
  • This blog! (and also the PyAOS blog if you’re into Python)

Offline (i.e. in person!):

  • Two-day workshops hosted by Software Carpentry or its new sister organisation Data Carpentry are the perfect place to get up-to-date with the latest tips and tricks. Check their websites for upcoming workshops and if there isn’t one in your region, email them to tee one up for your home department, institution or conference. If you enjoy the experience, stay involved as a volunteer helper and/or instructor and you’ll always be a part of the computational conversation.
  • Don’t tell my colleagues, but I’ve always found scientific computing conferences like SciPy, PyCon or the Research Bazaar conference to be way more useful than the regular academic conferences I usually go to. (Check out my reflections on PyCon Australia here)
  • Local open science and/or data science meetups are really starting to grow in popularity. For instance, the Research Bazaar project hosts a weekly “Hacky Hour” at a bar on campus at the University of Melbourne, while a bunch of scientists have got together to form Data Science Hobart in Tasmania. If such a meetup doesn’t exist in your area, get a bunch of colleagues together and start one up!
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