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Addressing Biological Informatics Workforce Needs

December 8, 2015
8:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.
Pew Conference Center
901 E St. NW, Washington DC

Event Cosponsors

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All science is now data science: Advances in instrumentation, sensors, and digitization are producing quantities of information unimaginable two decades ago. Furthermore, the questions now dominant in biological sciences increasingly require biologists to make research data accessible so that they can be integrated with existing environmental, ecological, systematic, -omic, or other knowledge. A renewed emphasis on reproducibility in science is pushing in the same direction. These trends demonstrate that future biologists must be able to efficiently manage and prepare data and metadata for publication, document complex analyses, and even include computer code in their publications.

Software to perform such operations is available, but using it effectively requires special skills in biological informatics. Moreover, researchers need to understand elements of intellectual property law and community data standards to meet all the requirements. Although some universities have made faculty appointments to address the growing need for training, such skills are not yet taught routinely to undergraduate or graduate biology students as part of core curriculum. The traditional practice of sending students to a computer science department for training is inadequate, because the data-related problems students face will often be specific to domains within biology and even to particular instruments. Online training courses and workshops are available, but these cannot fully meet the needs of the tens of thousands of students who could benefit.

The 2015 AIBS Council Meeting builds on recent workshops that AIBS has convened on changing practices in data publication and on the integration of complex biological data. The Council Meeting will consider the role of scientific societies and their journals in establishing training capacity and practice guidelines aimed at preparing the next generation of the scientific workforce to excel in the era of "big and open data."

Representatives of government agencies and other funders will discuss federal initiatives to develop data science training for biologists. Faculty specialists and others with broad experience in providing data training for biologists will share insights from their perspectives. Speakers will outline the types of training needed at different levels and discuss the need for career incentives for those who specialize in data management.

Council representatives of AIBS member societies will come together to strategize and coordinate their plans to ensure that their science thrives in the new data publication environment. One outcome could be a consensus statement clarifying the actions needed of federal research agencies and universities, and specifying a role for scientific societies in promoting best data practices. Such a document might strengthen the case for new investments in data training by universities and other bodies at both undergraduate and graduate levels. It could also catalyze the adoption of stronger career incentives for data specialists.

A summary report was released in May 2016. Read the report.

Event Agenda


8:30 - 9:30Welcome, Opening Remarks
Past Experiences, Future Needs: Findings from Prior AIBS Data Workshops
Data publication and integration - what needs have surfaced?

Session hosts: Robert Gropp, AIBS Interim Executive Co-Director and Timothy Beardsley, Editorial Director, AIBS Publications


Session 1: Training Needs from Federal, Foundation, and Academy Perspectives

Fostering innovative graduate training in data-enabled science
Richard Tankersley, National Science Foundation

Foundation support for data science tools and skills
Carly Strasser, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation

Training programs in the NIH Big Data to Knowledge initiative
Michelle Dunn, National Institutes of Health

Training the next generation of biologists: minding the biological informatics gaps
Robert Guralnick, University of Florida

10:30 - 10:45 Break

10:45 - 12:00

Session 2: What We Know About How to Train for Data Intensive Science

Teaching biological informatics in a university setting
Keith Crandall, Computational Biology Institute, George Washington University

Preparing for data intensive science across domains
Cynthia Parr, Agricultural Research Service's Knowledge Services Division

Data Carpentry: The power of intensive workshops
Tracy Teal, Data Carpentry

Lessons from Ecological Society of America's training approaches
Clifford Duke, Ecological Society of America


12:00 - 1:00 Lunch


Session 3: Panel: Lessons from National Data Initiatives on How to Drive Data Integration Forward

Data-intensive skills across the environmental sciences
Stephanie Hampton, Center for Environmental Research, Education, and Outreach, Washington State University

Biological informatics training needs for systematics and digitization
Anna Monfils, Biodiversity Collections Network

Enabling team science: Managing data and computations at scale with iPlant
Nirav Merchant, iPlant

DataONE's experience with training offerings
William Michener, DataONE

2:15 - 2:35 Break

2:35-3:45 Open discussion

What are biological societies doing now in this area, and what do we need to do to benefit the research ecosystem? How can we help address unmet biological workforce data training needs, understood broadly? What roles should research funders play, and can our journals catalyze and promulgate relevant information and practices?
3:45 - 4:15 Discussion: What immediate next steps might we take to address these challenges as a community?

4:15 - 4:30 Closing Comments and Summary of Proposed Next Steps
Robert Gropp, AIBS Interim Executive Co-Director and Timothy Beardsley, Editorial Director, AIBS Publications

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