Thursday, 10 October 2013

Leaving projects behind

One of the things that holds true for the vast majority of Early Career Researchers (Postdocs, Fellows etc.) is that life is transitory.  You have a short time working on a project and then you move on to the next contract, maybe another institution, maybe another topic, maybe another field entirely.

This is a problem that has quite a lot of repercussions in Bioinformatics.  I suspect it does in other fields too, but Bioinformatics is what I know.

The problem is this -
You're going along happily using a piece of software in your research, it's great software, it does exactly what you want and it saved you a lot of time and effort.  But then, one day, it breaks.  Maybe a server that it takes information from has changed it's file formats? Or it's just not updating properly any more.  What ever the problem was, you find you can't fix it yourself, so you email the person who wrote it, seeing if they can help.  Only to find that they were a Phd student who no longer works on the project.  If you're lucky, they still work in research and they still care enough about their old software that they'll help you out.  If you're not lucky, they probably work for a bank now and are completely un-contactable!

This is a problem that's endemic in Bioinformatics and it definitely feeds into the reinventing the wheel culture that we have.  How can you trust that someone else's software will still be around in 5 years time?

Unfortunately, this isn't a problem that just exists in software development.  Over the last year, I've been running an event called Ignite Sheffield.  It's been pretty popular, particularly with undergrads / postgrads and postdocs.  We've had lots of Phd students use it to help them gain confidence in speaking about their work, and I believe it's a fantastic tool for this.  However, due to the transitory nature of ECRs, I'm off to New Jersey in 2 weeks time.

I tried my best to get someone to take over, but people have their own projects and don't really have time to take on someone else's - much like with software upkeep.  So sadly Ignite Sheffield will be having to have some down time.

Maybe I'll be able to start it up again if I come back.

1 comment:

  1. That's such a shame about Ignite Sheffield, because projects like that are invaluable and the people who will lose out the most are those who haven't tried to keep the program going. Hopefully you can find someone at the last minute who will take over in your absence.
    Good luck with NJ!