Getting introduced to Bioinformatics and Open Science through BCC 2020

The Open Bioinformatics Foundation (OBF) Event Fellowship program aims to promote diverse participation at events promoting open source bioinformatics software development and open science practices in the biological research community. Gigi Kenneth, a biochemistry undergrad and a bioinformatics enthusiast from Nigeria, was supported to participate in Bioinformatics Community Conference 2020 by this fellowship granted to her in the application round-1 of 2020. Find more information here.

I’m a biochemistry undergraduate, in my final year from the University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria. I started learning about artificial intelligence and machine learning last year (2019), which I found really interesting and was really amazed by its applications in various fields. I found myself wondering about how these related to my graduate program, so I did some digging and was awed by the incredible work being done in this field.

A couple of months into my tech journey, I realized there are several buzz words in the computational field that I am not completely aware of. One of them that stood out the most was Open Source. I did some googling and barely understood what I read and hoped that I would learn about it along the way. Bioinformatics was another new word I came across a couple of times. I must admit that it intrigued me as I went through the list of organizations in Google Summer of Code (GSoC 2020), several of which had listed interesting bioinformatics projects.

Bioinformatics Community Conference (BCC) 2020 opened my eyes to the amazing ongoing work in both Bioinformatics and Open Source, and I’m really grateful that I got to be a part of this conference through the OBF Event Fellowship.

When I found out my application got accepted and that my registration fee for BCC 2020’s virtual conference had been waived, I happily signed up for a lot of sessions. I attended the pre-conference sessions about Nextflow, Intermine, Open Life Science and Galaxy. I missed out on the sessions on introduction to machine learning but it was interesting going through the shared notes that were shared with everyone. The session I enjoyed the most was about handling biological data using Python, Jupyter and Intermine that Yo Yehudi hosted. I’ve since taken a deeper look into Intermine, explored HumanMine a bit more, and shared what I was able to grasp with some friends. It was a lot of fun trying to get the hang of the online platforms like Shed (for schedule), Discord (for chat) and Remo (for virtual participation) as the conference progressed.

There were several interesting talks during the conference about research and a variety of open source tools. It was also fun switching between the Galaxy and BOSC sessions (the two parallel community tracks) when topics got a little complicated in one of the sessions.

Abigail Cabunoc Mayes’ keynote was really amazing where she talked about understanding bias and discrimination in research data and code, and how to combat them in our work. Lincoln Stein’s keynote about how open source has changed the world was also really insightful and I got to understand a bit about the processes involved in the research. The keynote about how open minds bring open collaborations by Prashanth Suravajhala was also very interesting.

In between sessions, I enjoyed joining different virtual tables and going to different virtual floors on Remo where I got to interact with really cool people during the conference.

I learned a lot, and also realized that there’s a lot more out there that I don’t know. I’m encouraged to continue pursuing my goals in bioinformatics and soon enough, be able to contribute to open source as well.