Google Summer of Code: Call for Bio* Volunteers

Google is committed to run the Summer of Code program again this year. It will be for the 5th time.

In broad strokes, the program funds what you might call remote summer internships for students to contribute to an open-source software project. Projects (or umbrella organizations) wishing to participate in the program apply during the organization application period (March 9-13 in 2009). Those accepted into the program provide project ideas and supply mentors that guide the work on those. Students apply to a project within the program with specific project ideas, based on those suggested or based on their own idea, get ranked by the mentors of the project, and those accepted into the program get paired up with mentors. Projects are chiefly about programming, the coding period is 3 months (Jun-Aug), and there is no travel required by either student or mentor. The program is global; other than the US trade restrictions that Google is under, there are no restrictions as to where student or mentor reside. The main motivations behind the program are to recruit new contributors to open-source projects, and to produce more open-source code. See the program FAQs for more information.

I’ve had the honor of being part of the program for the last two years, administering NESCent’s participation as an organization in 2007 and 2008 and in 2007 mentoring a student. I have to say I find it the most awesome open-source program since sliced bread (or the invention of BLAST if that means more to you). Despite that and sadly enough, there has been a dearth of participating bioinformatics projects (though some notable ones, such as CytoScape have participated).

There have been two Bio* Summer of Code projects under the NESCent umbrella, one in 2007 and one in 2008. I would be willing to volunteer to take the lead on and administer a full-blown participation of O|B|F as a Bio* umbrella organization, provided 1) at least one Bio* person volunteers to serve as backup administrator, and 2) enough Bio* contributors volunteer to serve as prospective mentors. (Note that if we apply as an organization, there is no guarantee that we would be accepted. In fact, in the past up to 2/3 of applying organizations have been rejected.)

Mentoring involves participating in creating the page of project ideas (I’d provide template and guidance), corresponding with applicants who have questions, participating in student application ranking, and for primary mentors (those directly assigned to a student) based on empirical evidence at least 5hrs/week of time spent with the student to help him/her get over obstacles or avoid wrong paths.

I think almost all mentors would concur that the experience was very gratifying, but as a mentor you will be spending a non-negligible amount of time with the student. I think it is the student-mentor pairing and interaction, not the stipend, that in the end makes the participation for students uniquely productive in terms of learning, and different from simply contributing to the project of choice (which they could always do).

For a personal impression for how the program is from a mentor perspective, I’ll let Chris Fields speak who was the mentor for the 2008 phyloXML in BioPerl project. From a student’s perspective, I’ll leave it to the 2007 Biojava student Bohyun Lee ( and the 2008 BioPerl student Mira Han ( to comment (if they are still on the list).

So if you think this is a good idea for Bio* to be part of, if you would like to help in some way, if you can see yourself as a mentor, or if you are a lurking would-be student, please let yourself be heard. Email either to the developer list of your Bio* project or to me.