Planning committee from the left to right: Ye Li, chemistry librarian; Marian Schmidt, EEB graduate student; Ginger Allington, postdoctoral research fellow, SNRE; Alix Keener, digital scholarship librarian; Michelle Berry, Denef lab technician, EEB; Akima George, Department of Computational Medicine and Bioinformatics graduate student.

“I feel unstoppable,” tweeted one participant from the Women in Science and Engineering Introductory Computing Workshop in early January 2016.

Connections. Camaraderie. Enthusiasm. These words also rang out from the two-day workshop for female University of Michigan researchers interested in developing or strengthening their programming and data analysis skills. Representatives from the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology helped organize the hugely successful event. Because who wouldn’t like to get more research done in less time?

The WISE workshop was hands-on, example-driven and taught by volunteer female instructors who are part of the U-M affiliate organization, the Software Carpentry Foundation. The open-source foundation’s materials are freely available on the Internet. Some 30 attendees hailed from interdisciplinary units across campus as diverse as the Museum of Anthropological Archaeology, the School of Education and the School of Information to libraries and the health system.

Marian Schmidt, a graduate student in ecology and evolutionary biology, hosted the event, was on the planning committee, and was the lead instructor. Schmidt said, “The event filled up in 37 minutes and there were more than 50 people on the waitlist!” She heard from campus groups and professors who were enthusiastic about the workshop. Other members of the planning committee included Ginger Allington, postdoctoral research fellow, School of Natural Resources and Environment; Michelle Berry, research technician, Denef lab, EEB; Akima George, graduate student, Computational Medicine and Bioinformatics; Alix Keener, digital scholarship librarian; and Ye Li, chemistry librarian.

Founded by Professors Patrick Schloss, microbiology, and Megan Duffy, EEB, the first U-M WISE Software Carpentry workshop was held in January 2015 with 56 participants who voiced strongly positive reviews.

The 2016 workshop was geared towards women with little to no background in programming, ranging from undergraduate students to faculty and staff. The workshop covered tools such as the Unix shell, version control with Git, and introductory programming in R. If you aren’t familiar with these terms, don’t worry, you can sign up for upcoming workshops. If you are familiar with these terms, you can join the U-M Software Carpentry Mcommunity group or contribute to the conversation at the U-M Software Carpentry github administration page.

In addition to programming, there was a session offered on imposter syndrome and stereotype threat. Imposter syndrome is having the feeling you haven’t earned what you’ve achieved, that you’ve got­­ten where you are for some other reason or you are faking it. Stereotype threat is when someone in a situation faces negative stereotypes about one or more of their identity groups.  For example, one may be judged in terms of that stereotype or might inadvertently do something that would confirm the stereotype. This often leads those who face stereotype threat to underperform.

There was also a discussion regarding the pros and cons of GitHub for scientific and paper collaborations, open source, reproducibility, and scientific transparency. With female researchers representing 22 departments, many women offered their expertise on licenses, the ethics of borrowing and sharing code/data, and collaborating with colleagues internationally.

“These workshops fill an incredibly important niche in the U-M research community,” said Berry. “Everyone was so engaged and motivated to learn. I think Software Carpentry provides an invaluable forum for researchers of all levels and disciplines to learn computing skills and engage with one another.”

“Software Carpentry workshops are designed to help participants feel comfortable and unthreatened, no matter their skill level coming in,” said Allington. “This creates a really empowering environment. The welcoming, supportive environment of software carpentry workshops breeds a sense of community among the participants. This is particularly important and impactful during workshops targeted to underrepresented groups.”

“The SWC pedagogy is amazing: the sticky system, the group notes on the etherpad, the helpers, the live-coding, and the hands-on learning via in-class exercises make this experience community-oriented, engaging and most of all empowering,” said Schmidt. “I wish more classes at U of M were designed like this. UMich SWC is creating a community of learners across campus. Participants, helpers and instructors build connections across the U-M community that may have otherwise never happened.”

The etherpad is one set of online workshop notes that everyone contributes to and allows participants to ask questions through group chat. The sticky system involves flagging one’s computer with different colored sticky notes to indicate to your instructors that you are either following along well or need help. 

“It’s so inspiring to watch people learn how to program for the first time,” said Berry. “We all spend so much time working on our computers, so when you learn how to make the computer work for you, it’s completely transformative. I love seeing participants light up when they realize the power of the tools they are learning.”

Others from EEB involved include the following: helpers: Sonal Singhal, postdoctoral fellow, Clara Shaw, graduate student, Michelle Berry, research lab technician. Professor Meg Duffy is an organizer and supporter of the workshop. Professor Robyn Burnham and Tilo Roy, postdoctoral fellow attended the workshop. Professor Gina Baucom is a member of the U-M SWC group.

Generous support from ADVANCE and the University Library covered the cost of the workshop for participants.


Search the Twitter hashtag #UMichSWC to see some buzz about the event. A few highlights are below:

"lindsay blackwell @linguangst Jan 5 HUGE thanks to #umichSWC organizers. so many @umichwomen (grad students! faculty! retired faculty!) learning together. i feel unstoppable."

"lindsay blackwell@linguangst Jan 5 day 2 of @swcarpentry: 1) i am a git wizard 2) i am the queen of debugging 3) I AM KING OF WORLD #umichSWC"

"TimMcKayUM 20 Dec 2015 @ProfADM This is an example of a @swcarpentry workshop at UM. Like the last, it filled almost immediately. New model for training #umichswc"

"Michelle Berry @mich_berr Jan 4 overheard at WISE #umichswc workshop, “This is so fun! Why didn’t I learn this 15 years ago?” @swcarpentry"

"Ginger Allington @gigi_rose Jan 5 Lots of laughter and working out problems together as Akima leads us thru 2nd R sesh. #umichswc @swcarpentry"

EEB graduate student Marian Schmidt teaches a lesson on Git at the workshop. Image credit: Twitter user @micro_marian