Community Engagement as a Means of Boosting Training Outcomes

Belinda Weaver1, Nicholas Hamilton2, Frankie Stevens3, Weisi Chen4, Aidan Wilson5

1Software and Data Carpentry, Australia,

2UQ Institute for Molecular Bioscience/QCIF, Australia,

3Intersect, Australia,

4Intersect, Australia,

5Intersect, Australia,


Training’s report card was marked ‘could do better’ in Tom Cochrane’s 2015 review of the NCRIS capability [1]. Needs specifically identified were a ‘more focused effort on outreach and awareness raising’, ‘more technical support skills’, and ‘relevant training for research groups’. ‘Continuing widespread concern about skills and expertise deficits’ remains despite the need for training and skills acquisition being flagged as a key issue right from the start of NCRIS investment in 2006.

As the review notes: ‘Data and software in research are useless without enthusiastic communities of people who are aware of it and possess skills to get results.’ Yet CSIRO feedback to the review stated: ‘Enhanced skills, training and career track is a systemic issue.’

Training needs to acknowledge the structural challenge caused by the ‘division of labour’ between the research workforce of academics and scientists on the one hand, and their research support staff on the other.  Research support encompasses both experts in technical infrastructure provision as well as experts with softer skills focused on cultural change, such as imparting the benefits of research data sharing approaches. The research support skill sets provide both the “How”, and the “Why”.  Given that, training that engages all sides and builds community will have greater benefits, because lack of support to integrate new skills into practice is one of the main reasons people do not deploy them.

In this BoF, we present a number of community engagement models that have helped improve training uptake and outcomes.

Hacky Hours are held at several universities now, including UQ, Curtin, Griffith, UTS, La Trobe and JCU, with a new HackR Hour starting at QUT (for R users).

Belinda Weaver from Software and Data Carpentry will discuss how the building of community around training workshops can help people assimilate new skills into their research practice.

Dr Nicholas Hamilton will discuss two initiatives – his weekly drop-in bio-imaging clinic at the UQ IMB, which has helped more than 300 researchers, and his co-ordination of the week-long UQ Winter School in Computational and Mathematical Biology for the last 6 years. Winter Schools are now accompanied by a tie-in Software Carpentry workshop specifically for attendees, so they can develop the skills they need to try to put into practice whatever innovative ideas they have picked up during the week.

Dr Weisi Chen will discuss the use of Hacky Hour at UTS in Sydney to build communities around tools and skills. Dr Frankie Stevens will cover other initiatives at Intersect.  Aidan Wilson will discuss Intersect’s contribution to training, with more than 6,500 researchers in over 650 courses at 14 universities and four state and federal government agencies, across four states and territories.


  1. Cochrane, Tom ‘Status Report on the NCRIS eResearch Capability – Summary: A Report to the Australian Government Department of Education and Training.’


Belinda Weaver is the Community Development Lead for Software and Data Carpentry, global organisations that aim to make researchers more productive and their research more reliable by teaching them computational and data skills. She was formerly the eResearch Analyst Team Leader for the Queensland Cyber Infrastructure Foundation, where she helped deliver cloud solutions to Australian researchers. She was a key organiser of the Brisbane Research Bazaar events in 2016 and 2017 – cross-institutional, community-building events that taught a range of digital skills to researchers. She helped inaugurate the weekly Hacky Hour research IT advice sessions at UQ.  She is a certified Software Carpentry instructor and instructor trainer and has taught at many Software Carpentry workshops. She organised the two very successful Library Carpentry global sprints (aka hackathons) in 2016 and 2017 which updated and extended the basic lessons. Belinda has worked as a librarian, repository manager, project manager, newspaper columnist, Internet trainer and in research data management. She tweets as @cloudaus (

Dr Nick Hamilton is the Institute Bio-Mathematician at the Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB), The University of Queensland, and holds a co-appointment with the Research Computing Centre at UQ. He gained a PhD in Pure Mathematics from the University of Western Australia in 1996 and was subsequently awarded Fellowships in Australia and Belgium. In 2002, Nick made the decision to change fields into the exciting new areas of computational biology and bioinformatics, returned to Australia, and subsequently took up a position within the ARC Centre of Excellence in Bioinformatics at The University of Queensland. In 2008 he was appointed as a Laboratory Head at IMB, and Institute Bio-Mathematician in 2014, where he continues to lead a group in bio-image informatics, mathematical modelling and data visualisation,  developing methodologies to deal with the current deluge of data that new microscopy imaging technologies have enabled. He also has interests and has participated in many training and engagement models such as Hacky Hour, HealthHack, ResBaz and Software Carpentry, and has Chaired the Winter School in Mathematics and Computational Biology for the last 6 years.

Dr. Frankie Stevens is currently Intersect’s eResearch Analyst for Southern Cross University. Dr. Frankie Stevens has previously held roles with the national Research Data Storage Infrastructure (RDSI) Project and as eResearch Programme Manager at the University of Sydney. Frankie has 20 years experience working in the higher education sector in Australia and overseas. Frankie’s expertise involves developing strong relationships between research communities, local, state and national eResearch infrastructure initiatives and has involved broad awareness raising and promotion of expert capabilities for the Australian research sector. Frankie holds a Bachelor of Science (Honours), majoring in biology with European studies (French) from the University of Sussex, and a PhD in cell biochemistry (Cancer Research) from the University of Manchester. Frankie is a published academic, and also holds a number of project and programme management qualifications.

Dr. Weisi Chen is currently Intersect’s eResearch Analyst for University of Technology Sydney and coordinator of Intersect’s training platform. With more than 4 years of eResearch training experience, Weisi has expertise in a broad range of eResearch techniques and how eResearch training and the establishment of Hacky Hour can enhance research efficiency by improving researchers’ capability of using technologies. Weisi has a Bachelor of Engineering in Computer Science and Technology from the Zhejiang University and a PhD in Computer Science and a PhD in Computer Science and Engineering from the University of New South Wales (UNSW). Weisi has previously worked as an academic and software engineer at UNSW where software architecture for eResearch data analysis was his main research focus, and has also been involved in a number of research projects in various domains.

Aidan Wilson is Intersect’s eResearch Analyst for the Australian Catholic University, and coordinator of Intersect’s training platform. Aidan’s research background is in documentary linguistics, concentrating on the syntax and morphology of Australia’s Aboriginal languages. He has also been actively involved in research support, and worked as a data manager for PARADISEC, an archive of Pacific and regional digital enthographical data, including linguistic and ethnomusicological recordings. In his time at Intersect, Aidan has been involved in a number of engineering and data science projects, including secure data movement for health and medical, and imaging datasets, and genome sequencing as-a-service.