What’s next for Mozilla Science Lab

Cross-posted on the Mozilla Science blog. Image courtesy of Mozilla Festival, under CC-BY 2.0

We’ve had a hell of a great year at the Mozilla Science Lab. Thank you. And now, I’m excited to announce some new job titles and what’s next for our team. But first, a quick look back.

In the past year, the Science Lab has kind of been in startup mode – we brought on three new staff members and welcomed four Mozilla Fellows, ran a number of in-person workshops and meetings to refine our learning strategy, shipped two new sets of curriculum, and brought hundreds of people together around the world through sprints and the Mozilla Festival. In that time, we’ve learned a lot about what it means to meaningfully and thoughtfully work alongside members of the research community to further open practice, and how to build and sustain momentum. We’ve also sharpened our focus as an organization, building on what Mozilla does best: connecting communities through open curricula, global campaigns, training, policy, and events around issues like access to information, privacy, and digital inclusion.

The Science Lab is one of a number of programs at Mozilla that work to enable, empower and activate communities consisting of developers, educators, advocates and more. We do this primarily through fellowships, mentorship and project-based learning (through sprints and open source projects, specifically). Other programs include ones focusing on learning and education, advocacy, the internet of things, and women and web literacy. They make up what we’re referring to as the Mozilla Leadership Network, and represent a new way of working at Mozilla: in thinking of our communities as part of something more – a network rather than individual groups on their own. Across those programs, there are a number of shared challenges, from closed paradigms and lack of access to knowledge to privacy and lack of training. These are not solely science specific, but work we all carry in various ways to meet the needs of our communities. There are also shared sources of inspiration for our work, from civic tech and open government models to the open source movement and OER.

Here’s how we’re making our commitment to the Mozilla Network and our work with communities even stronger.

First, we’ll continue to invest in the network of open science leaders through the fellowships, study groups, Working Open workshops and mentorship. We’re also working on a mini-grant scheme (more this fall!) to further invest in our mission, and help catalyze prototyping efforts and support local organizers and mentors.

Second, the program leads for the Science Lab, Learning programs, Open Internet of Things, Women and Web Literacy and Advocacy Network will operate as one unified team, rather than operate in isolation.

Thirdly, we’re restructuring programs: for the Science Lab, Stephanie Wright, Zannah Marsh and Aurelia Moser, will be leading our work to make research open and accessible through fellowships, mentorship, and learning through open source projects and prototyping. Stephanie Wright, our Open Data Training Lead, is taking over leadership of the Science Lab, and our Fellows (current and alumni), Study Group leads, and mentors will take a more active role in supporting the community, helping us run workshops and provide expertise on what it means to work openly.

Abby Cabunoc Mayes, the Science Lab’s lead developer, is graduating into a new role leading developer engagement and contributorship (much like she’s done for sprints, Collaborate and “working open” in science) for the Mozilla Leadership Network. Arliss Collins is now serving as the Data and Metrics Analyst for the network, building off her data-driven approach to understanding community engagement across learning and project-based initiatives for the Science Lab for other programs, as well. Both Abby and Arliss’ roles still involve supporting the Science Lab’s work, while modelling that work for the broader organization – a huge step forward.

My role is also evolving. I will now oversee the four programs of the Mozilla Leadership Network (science, learning, women and web literacy and internet of things) while working closely with the advocacy network to ensure that we can work together to make transformative change globally. It’s been an honor to be the first director of the Science Lab. Now, we will take what we’ve learned this year in science and apply that knowledge across programs, as each program lead has an even bigger year next year.

We want to thank you for carrying this work forward and helping us grow the community of open science leaders (over 60 trainers and mentors worldwide this past year alone!). We can’t wait to continue supporting the open research community and working alongside you all to continue to further openness on the web. We hope you’ll join us.

Advancing open data practice within institutions

(The following is cross posted on our main Mozilla Science Lab blog.)

I’m excited to announce that as of today, applications for our first ever Mozilla Fellowship for Science are open. The Fellowships offer a unique (and paid) opportunity for early-career researchers from the life and natural sciences to serve as catalysts in their communities for open science and open data practices. Fellows will work within their home institutions and communities as well as with us at Mozilla to create code, curriculum, and help build momentum around open science and the web among their peers.

There’s a whole host of benefits and additional information listed here on the Fellows page. Applications are only open until August 14, 2015, so apply today.

These Fellowships have been made possible by the Helmsley Charitable Trust. They also represent part of a larger move within the Science Lab (as we round our second birthday), as well as within Mozilla itself, to focus our efforts around empowering leaders and fostering open practice.

For the research community, we’ve learned that “open practice” is not always an easy sell. For all of the work that the open access and open data movement have done to increase our collective awareness about the nobler benefit for open knowledge, that’s still not transforming research practice at a root level. Part is due to a system that has moved forward for hundreds of years fueled by competition and a culture of inclusivity. Another part, in my opinion, is that we’re not framing the issue properly to really drive adoption and culture change.

“Open” is not just about availability, it’s about utility. And we believe we can best help move this ball forward by engaging the community around open source and more broadly, data, which we see as the bedrock of modern research.

And our work to dig into that is just beginning. Over the next few months, working along with the community, we’ll start digging into development of an Open Data training program. (There’s still time to apply.) I think we can make the biggest impact by pressure testing Open Data training in science, and, who knows – possibly heightening data literacy globally in a few years time.

Open data is the fabric of the web. Let’s not forget Sir Tim Berners-Lee was looking for a way to share research among colleagues at CERN. Together we can bring the power of the web and the open ecosystems that have grown around it into the lab and use it to accelerate our search for new knowledge.

Incentivizing Open Science Leaders

The second big component of our work going forward is our Fellowship program, of which our call for applicants opens today. This year, we’ll be bringing on three fellows, who are currently working as researchers, with a focus on life and natural sciences. The Fellows will work with us and within their home institutions to help build resources and more importantly community around open data, open source and knowledge sharing. They will also serve as mentors to their peers so that today’s learners can be tomorrow’s community leaders.

Fellowships are paid positions (a $60,000 USD stipend for 10 months, plus health insurance, childcare supplements and more), and will include Mozilla training and support.

Note: For the first year of this pilot, we’ve narrowed our scope both geographically and by discipline. The aim is to model this work to open it more broadly in future years. If you’d like to get involved, there are a host of ways, and we’d love to help out. Drop us a line at sciencelab@mozillafoundation.org and we can get the ball rolling.

In the meantime, visit our Fellows page to learn more and apply here.

There’s more to come, and we’ll be sharing more of our plans and thinking in the coming weeks, so do stay tuned, and many thanks to all of the community members, learners, mentors and colleagues who’ve helped us shape the program over the last two years. Here’s to year three!

On “being kind”

A must read, not just for engineers, but across the board (in my experience), and useful for managers. Tone, passive aggression, and dismissiveness are big ones I see within teams on my end, as well as within the academic community, partly engrained in the culture. Often gendered and often unintentional, these behaviors are  not an acceptable way of operating, especially when it causes discomfort or disengagement across a team.

On “being kind”:

“I thought my job was to be right. I thought that was how I proved my worth to the company. But that was all wrong. My job was to get things done and doing anything meaningful past a certain point requires more than one person. If you are right but nobody wants to work with you, then how valuable are you really? How much can you realistically expect to accomplish on your own? I was “winning” my way out of a job one argument at a time.

I headed home early that day to think about what I had heard. My future wife April was gentle but she offered me little reprieve from the feedback: “If you want people to work with you, you need to be kind.”


Being kind is fundamentally about taking responsibility for your impact on the people around you. It requires you be mindful of their feelings and considerate of the way your presence affects them.”

Assessing open practice in science – an idea

There’s an interesting Twitter chat going on, stemming from Titus Brown’s recent blog post asking how to find a postdoctoral appointment where a student can do open science.

What could a student ask a potential employer (and mentor) to help shed light on the culture of the lab?

The post brought to mind a discussion had in the summer of 2013 at a meeting convened at SESYNC in Annapolis, MD about what to teach biologists about computing. We were discussing how to best assess the skill set of the graduate students applying to join a lab, with a tilt towards looking for the best practices associated with open science (good data and software management skills, proclivity to post their work so as to be shared and communicated, etc).

In the breakout, Titus, myself, Nirav Merchant (University of Arizona), and Marian Petre (Open University), brainstormed an activity-based assessment so we could level set better. Here’s the rough sketch of what we came up with:

0. Here’s a data sample. What would you need to fix in order to make it so you and others could use it?
1. Name and organize 3 data files (i.e., .csv, .dat, .txt)
2. Run this program on one of these files?
3. How would you capture that process for someone else to use?
4a) Suppose you change the program. How do you convey that information?
4b) Suppose someone sends you a changed version of the file/program. how do you interact with it?
5. How would you know that your program is doing what you want it to do?
6. How would you make your files available to others?
7. What additional data would you want to include (re: Ethan White paper)?

Does this suit our needs? How do these tasks map to various disciplines? What are we missing?

Thoughts, comments and suggestions welcome. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

(Also, for more on that meeting – which feels like forever ago – read Titus’ summary post. Lots of good stuff in there.)

Being open about “open science”

Last week, with the help of two colleagues – Titus Brown (UC Davis) and Brian Nosek (Center for Open Science), we gathered a small group of stakeholders in the open science community for a meeting in Charlottesville. In the last few days, we put out a post following last week’s discussion as a collaborative post which you can read here. I highly encourage you to give it a look. It summarizes some of the topics from a 30,000 feet vantage point, and exposes some of the threads following the meeting.

Titus, who kicked off the first version of this post, also encouraged it to be a collective effort, signed by all who contributed and cross-posted as the participants saw fit. This was in the spirit of the meeting, which was about furthering open dialog and open science, after all.

But there’s some contradiction that’s been raised to me by some other community members who were not at the meeting about the fact that despite the name of the meeting – “Growing Open Source, Open Science” – the meeting itself was … closed. It wasn’t advertised or open for public registration, and some felt left out. The way the summary post talks about this, it was a meeting of influencers to discuss Open Science more generally, and that’s all true – but I wanted to expand on some of the mechanics of the meeting and explain the perceived contradiction. And lastly, invite the communities thoughts on how we can do more and/or better next time.

This wasn’t your average community meeting, featuring talks, networking, hackathons, and public registration. When Brian first approached Titus and I with an idea for a small gathering of thinkers and organizations in this space, it was originally pitched as something more of that ilk. But after a few iterations, we chose to take a different path, and pull together a small (as in, fits-in-one-conference-room) meeting, making rather deliberate decisions about attendees to ensure there was enough representation of voices to hit a cross-section of the community, but also ensure there was some familiarity in the group already.

And we put most of the meeting under Chatham’s House rule, or “FrieNDA” as Tim O’Reilly calls it. The aim: to create a safe space to put affiliations and funding pitches aside and be really honest about what *wasn’t* working. This was designed to be the Damascus moment (or first in a series, time will tell on that) for the community to be brutally honest about the state of “open” in science, identify rifts and challenges, and by surfacing that in a trusted, off-the-Twitters fashion, really hunker down and craft a strategy for doing better.

From our day-to-day positions, or the likes of coverage online, a rosy picture of progress is painted – of shifts at the funder level towards mandates furthering open research, training programs that are growing like wildfire, or researchers getting funded in part because of their track record being an open practitioner.

The reality, though, is that we’re not nearly there yet. Or, to quote Gibson, “the future is already here … it’s just not evenly distributed yet.”

What happened at the Charlottesville meeting that wasn’t directly reported was that a number of really frank, necessary, and in some cases, overdue conversations were had. We surfaced times when “collaboration” was what we preached, but not practiced, and we discussed how that presents less of a united front, but a walled garden approach. We talked about where both technology as well as technical awareness and appreciation broke down, and the repercussions, both for those around the table looking to keep the lights on at their business, and for the users. Users we’re not reaching as effectively as we should be. And we flagged the fact that for the first time, for me, since perhaps 2007-2008, it feels like elbows are sharp and pointed outward, part personality clash and part rooted in funding challenges, but feeling more fractured than united. We even had an honest discussion of unfair portrayals of organizations, groups pegged as being more the kid that shoved the others on the playground to get first in line.

I think this sort of discussion was necessary, as uncomfortable as it feels to admit when things *aren’t* working, and even more, where you may have made a mistake or failed. As colleague in the online education space once said, “accelerate the surfacing of vulnerabilities … it’s where the learning happens.”

I got to witness that first hand last week, and I thank the fellow participants and organizers for dipping their toe in the water and having a very frank, “open” – but not public, conversation. Our hope is not only to build on that work with concrete actions to (re)build, learn and move forward together, but really model the ethos we espouse. And beyond that, to explore with the community what the right place is for more of these discussions with a different cast of characters to ensure we’re properly assessing and being honest about where additional work is needed – and where we need to work better, together.

Shifting practice, understanding and the reward structures in science to be more open is not something any one of our organizations can do on our own, let alone as individuals. I hope that we can continue this work, and find ways of doing so together, and be as open about what’s not working as we are about the success stories.

We know that there were limitations to the size and makeup for the first meeting, and are actively working on ways to not only continue this work but also make this conversation ongoing and more inclusive. I’d invite suggestions on whether this style of conversation is useful in a broader context, and how we might convene more opportunities for the community to come together and brainstorm ways of furthering open together.

Many thanks to those who offered comments and suggestions for this post, especially Brian Nosek, Shauna Gordon-McKeon, Titus Brown and David Riordan.