Open Source, Open Door: increasing diversity in the bioinformatics open source community

The Bioinformatics Open Source Conference (BOSC) has always been about community. Launched in 2000, BOSC aims to provide a forum for both bioinformatics developers and users to share ideas and code and learn about the latest developments in open source bioinformatics and open science.

Our goal this year is to welcome even greater participation, opening the door even wider to participants who have historically been underrepresented in the world of open source bioinformatics and, therefore, at BOSC. This includes (but is by no means limited to) women, people who aren’t white, older people, people from outside North America and Europe, and non-programmers.

During a Birds of a Feather (BoF) session held at BOSC 2014, we discussed ways to increase the diversity of BOSC attendees, and gathered many useful suggestions from the participants, some of which we have already acted upon.

One of the suggestions from the 2014 BoF was to add someone to the organizing committee to focus on outreach and community-building. In January 2015, we welcomed Dr. Sarah Hird as our new Outreach Coordinator. Sarah is currently a UC Davis Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellow with Jonathan Eisen in the UC Davis Genome Center, where her research interests lie at the intersection of phylogeography, bioinformatics and microbial diversity. Sarah is also known for her focus on promoting diversity in STEM.  “I am personally and professionally interested in how we can make “the Academy” a more representative sample of the world around us,” she says.

During the 2014 BoF, we were asked whether BOSC planned to adopt a Code of Conduct. We felt that this should be an ISCB-wide effort, not one that is limited to a single SIG. Our advocacy efforts with the ISCB were successful with a code of conduct published on the ISMB/ECCB 2015 website. We are very pleased that ISCB joins us in wanting to foster a collegial and productive environment for everyone who attends the conferences. The code of conduct will also be announced in the ISCB April Newsletter.

The high price of travel and registration can make it hard for some people to attend BOSC. We are trying to lower this barrier by offering free or half-price registration to a limited number of accepted speakers – please indicate in the Comments section of your abstract submission if you would like to apply for this. We also award Student Travel Fellowships to the authors of the three best student abstracts each year; these provide $250 to offset travel costs, as well as granting free registration to BOSC.

Every year, the agenda at BOSC includes a panel that gives all participants the opportunity to engage each other in discussion. This year, our panel discussion will focus on increasing diversity in our community and at our conferences. The panel will be chaired by Monica Munoz-Torres and will include panellists Holly Bik and Jason Williams (see bios below).

  • Dr. Monica Munoz-Torres (Twitter: @monimunozto) is the lead biocurator at Berkeley Bioinformatics Open-Source Projects (BBOP). She is part of the development teams for Web Apollo (a web-based annotation editor designed to support community-based curation of genomes) and the tools of the Gene Ontology (GO) Consortium. She co-leads the Community Curation group within the global initiative to sequence and annotate the genomes of 5,000 arthropods (i5K Initiative), and is a member of the Executive Committee of the International Society for Biocuration (ISB).
  • Dr Holly Bik (Twitter: @hollybik) is a Birmingham Fellow (assistant professor) in the School of Biosciences at the University of Birmingham, UK. Her research uses high-throughput environmental sequencing approaches (rRNA surveys, metagenomics) to explore biodiversity and biogeographic patterns in microbial eukaryote assemblages, with an emphasis on nematodes in marine sediments. Through active collaborations with computer scientists and participation in software development projects, her long-term research aims to address existing bottlenecks encountered in –Omic analyses focused on microbial eukaryotes.
  • Jason Williams (Twitter: @JasonWilliamsNY) is the Lead of the iPlant Collaborative’s Education, Outreach, Training (EOT) group, based at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, where he has worked for over 10 years. He is also a Lead Instructor of “The Science Institute” at Yeshiva University High School for Girls, and the Treasurer of the Software Carpentry Foundation. His background is in molecular biology and bioinformatics.

We are looking for two more panellists, and have some ideas – but your suggestions are welcome! Please email the BOSC committee or just tweet panellist ideas at @OBF_BOSC.

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Finally, please spread the word about BOSC! The deadline for submitting abstracts for regular-length talks is tomorrow (Friday, April 3 – update: extended to Tuesday, April 7 due to Easter/Passover weekend), but there will also be opportunities for last-minute lightning talks and posters.


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