On 20th June 75 participants came together to take part in a workshop titled "The effective use of programming in scientific research". Organised by a team of researchers from Newcastle and Northumbria Universities, and funded by a Vitae Yorkshire and North East Hub event grant, the one-off workshop aimed to introduce a wide variety of programming tools, techniques and information resources to participants. Attendees came from universities around the Yorkshire and North East hub including Newcastle, Durham, Leeds, and also some attendees from Liverpool. The event proved to be very popular and was oversubscribed within 3 days of the booking opening. The research areas participants came from varied widely from environmental science to theoretical physics and it was a great opportunity to make cross-discipline contacts.
As networking was an underlying theme of the workshop, prior to the event participants were sent some tips to help them make the most of the networking opportunities on the day. A delegate list was made available and social networking platforms such as Linked In and Facebook were set up to encourage discussions before the workshop took place.
The day started with an introduction from team leader Liz Petrie, followed by a talk on developing and maintaining networks to break the ice and encourage networking between participants. The technical talks then ensued with a wide range of topics covered including an introduction to programming languages, version control, libraries, and copyright. We were lucky to have presenters from RedHat, the Software Sustainability Institute, OSS Watch, and Newcastle University. After the lunch break three parallel sessions were run, in which participants could choose to take part in a discussion or hands-on practical session. The outcomes of the discussions were summarised once the group was back together, and the handouts for practical sessions were made available via the website so that nobody missed out. There followed some more excellent talks on SQL, distributed computing and GPUs before wrapping up and a small reception.
The presentations and handouts from the workshop are now available at http://conferences.ncl.ac.uk/sciprog/resources.php. A scientific programming JISCmail list has also been set up: https://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/cgi-bin/webadmin?A0=SCI-PROG
Benefits and successes
The workshop helped to strengthen not only links between universities in the north but also links between different departments at the same university - for example, many of the delegates from Durham had not previously met. Delegates appeared to be very happy with the networking opportunities available on the day, with the majority of attendees fully engaged in discussion throughout lunch and the breaks. Many delegates also remained for the post-conference reception. A suggestion for future events might be to circulate a delegates list including a paragraph describing the programming interests and experience of each individual.
Additionally, members of the organising team have reported personal and group benefits of being involved in organising the workshop. Strengthened links between organisers at Newcastle and Northumbria University have been particularly beneficial. Some of the personal skills developed include planning and organisation, networking, public speaking and technical skills. As a direct result of the workshop a stronger network of people interested in scientific programming is developing at Newcastle University and a monthly seminar series is being set up.