Gemma Turon: Highlights of my participation at the BOSC-2021 conference thanks to an OBF Event Fellowship

The BOSC-OBF 2021 Event Support Fund enabled awardees to register for free for BOSC 2021, an annual conference hosted by the Open Bioinformatics Foundation (OBF), which promotes and facilitates the open source bioinformatics development and open science. Based on the OBF Event Fellowship program, the BOSC-OBF support fund aimed to facilitate participation of diverse researchers from historically underrepresented groups at BOSC, helping to spread wider awareness and adoption of open source bioinformatics practices in the biological research community. One of the BOSC-OBF awardees was Gemma Turon, a researcher from the Ersilia Open Source Initiative (EOSI), who writes here about her experience at BOSC 2021.

When we started our small non-profit, the Ersilia Open Source Initiative (EOSI), to strengthen the research capacity against neglected diseases using open-source AI/ML tools, we were not aware of the large number of resources and community back-up we would encounter. I first heard of the BOSC conference in February, and quickly realized it would be a great opportunity to present our newly founded initiative and the software we were trying to develop. What interested me mostly of the BOSC was the openness and inclusion of a broad range of topics of interest, many of which are aligned with EOSI’s mission, namely Open Science and Reproducible Research, Open Biomedical Data, Open Approaches to Translational Bioinformatics and Inclusion, Outreach and Training.

By then, we had all become used to virtual meetings, and despite there might be some  drawbacks, global reach is an advantage in these settings, enabling us to participate in international meetings from our home-made offices. Nevertheless, conference registration costs still need to be covered, and they can be unaffordable to limited-resource organizations such as ours. With delight, then, I found out about the BOSC-OBF 2021 Event Support Fund, which encouraged me to continue with my application for a short talk and apply to the Support Fund to cover my registration. 

Overview of the conference

The three keynote speakers delivered outstanding talks on the application of open and collaborative science to a broad range of topics, from ecology (Dr. Christie Balai) to the maker movement in Africa (Dr. Thomas Hervé Mboa Nkoudou), and including a great talk on new protocols in data collection, transparency and reproducibility for data-driven biomedical research (Dr. Lara Mangravite). The last two are particularly relevant to the mission of EOSI, which is focused on implementing data-driven technologies for drug discovery research in Low and Middle Income Countries, particularly in Africa, where most of our collaborators are based.

The short talks were organized in topic-based sessions that included short (5 min), medium (8 min) and long (16 min) talks. I would like to highlight the “Tools for Open Science” session (Day 1), which included talks about outstanding tools like the OpenCGA and the GenePattern Notebook, and the “Translational Bioinformatics” session (Day 2) where I introduced the Ersilia Model Hub, and learned about great initiatives such as the target identification in Parkinson disease presented by Dr. Jeremy Yang.

The keynote talks and different sessions were complemented by a large selection of poster presentations and community-engaging events in the form of “Birds of Feathers”.

Learnings and thank you

I first want to congratulate the BOSC organization for an incredible effort in managing such a large online event, I always received prompt answers to all my questions via email and on the conference day the set up of the meeting rooms and the availability of the staff made sure there were no technical issues and the sessions run smoothly and according to the schedule. In addition, the BOSC-OBF organisers set up the Slack channel that enabled the participants to continue on the discussions started live during the conference, a great strategy to further engage the audience and provide more feedback to the speakers and poster presenters.

Finally, as I am writing this short blog post, I have reviewed the aims and objectives of BOSC, as stated on their website:

  • Provide developers with a forum for displaying their work to the wider research community
  • Provide a focused environment for developers and users to interact and share ideas about software development, open science, and practical techniques in bioinformatic
  • Promote Open Science, with its focus on sharing data and tools, transparency, reproducibility, and data provenance
  • Inform the research community of important developments in Open Source Bioinformatics.

And I believe that they have all been accomplished in the BOSC-2021 edition. As a speaker and participant, I have had the opportunity to learn about open source tools for data sharing and research reproducibility, I have engaged in high-level discussions with other scientists and become part of the BOSC-OBF community and, moreover, I have had the opportunity to present the research we are developing at EOSI thanks to the support of the OBF Event Fellowship. I want to give my deepest thanks for the opportunity, and to encourage all readers to go to the youtube channel where you can find the recordings of the talks, and, if you are interested in reading more about EOSI’s mission, please check out our page and our Medium Blog.

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