Ariel Mundo Ortiz: My participation at BOSC 2021 sponsored by the BOSC-OBF Event Support

The BOSC-OBF 2021 Event Support Fund was awarded to Ariel Mundo Ortiz, a researcher from the University of Arkansas, to participate in BOSC 2021, an annual conference hosted by the Open Bioinformatics Foundation (OBF). Based on the OBF Event Fellowship program, this fund aimed to facilitate the participation of diverse researchers from historically underrepresented groups at BOSC to help wider awareness and adoption of open source bioinformatics practices in the biological research community. Find more information here.

A while ago I came across a Twitter post that mentioned the Bioinformatics Open Source Conference (BOSC). A quick Google search took me to the BOSC website, and I was thrilled to see that one of the core concepts of the conference was to promote open science. Personally, I have been working over the last year to make my work reproducible and accessible, and the fact that BOSC provided talks and workshops focused on open science sparked my interest; I decided that although I did not have material for a presentation, I still wanted to attend the conference. 

Fortunately enough, BOSC offered this year the BOSC-OBF 2021 Event Support Fund, with the aim of increasing the participation of members from groups otherwise underrepresented in BOSC. I suspected the number of applications for the Support Fund was going to be high, but nonetheless, I decided to submit my own application. 

On July 10th, I received an email notifying me about my successful application! That was excellent news, and now I was sure I would be able to attend the event. One personal challenge with the Conference this year was the time zone; all the sessions started at 5:30 am! (In my time zone). 

Day 1

The challenge of time zones quickly became a minor thing after attending the first keynote session by Dr. Christie Bahlai (from Kent State University) on July 29th. Her keynote was titled “Significant heterogeneities: Ecology’s emergence as open and synthetic science” and it covered the historical background of Ecology, and how significant changes over the last two decades have moved the focus of the field, enabled Dr. Bahlai and other researchers to conduct research that is grounded in collaboration and openness. 

Her keynote resonated deeply with me; I could see how her path was similar to my own academic path. For instance, trying to analyze noisy data gathered through my research (that never looks like the “example data” from statistical books) was challenging. I was inspired by her talk, and it reinforced in me the desire to make my future work open and to continue to refine my statistical armamentarium.

Day 2

The keynote for the second day of BOSC 2021 was delivered by Dr. Thomas Hervé Mboa Nkoudou (from the African Institute of Open Science and Hardware) titled “Contribution of the maker movement to biotechnology in Africa: An open science perspective”. This keynote covered the democratization of biotechnology in Africa, and how the maker movement (a community-based movement that democratizes access to tools and technologies) has proven successful by promoting Biomakerspaces where African researchers can replicate existing protocols and locally produce enzymes, for example. This keynote was very interesting to me because it allowed me to appreciate a different perspective of the open science movement and the impact that reproducible research has in other parts of the world. 

That day I was also able to attend the Sessions on Visualization and Translational Bioinformatics. The talk “Robust variant interpretation in precision oncology using a graph knowledge base” by Caralyn Reisle (UBC) was a talk I enjoyed very much, as it emphasized the use of graph-based knowledge to enable the discovery of molecular pathways in cancer; this talk made me better understand the importance of the use of big data to treat and diagnose cancer, which I think will become extremely important in the future.

Despite the challenges of 2021, and not being able to travel much, I feel BOSC 2021 was a wonderful experience. It allowed me to interact with people from around the world that believe that openness is a central theme in science, and I was able to learn about new tools, statistical analyses, and to get a better understanding of where the open science movement currently stands. I look forward to a (hopefully in person) rewarding and motivating experience for BOSC 2022!

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