Fall Bootcamp Helps Researchers Get into Shape!

Say the word “bootcamp” and most people think of drills, sprints, and circuits. But at this year’s Research Computing Fall Bootcamp, the only circuits anyone was concerned about were the ones firing inside a high-performance research computer. Hosted by Information Services and Technology (IST) and the Libraries, Fall Bootcamp is helping UAlberta researchers get into academic shape.

In August 2018, Lydia Zvyagintseva, Head of Digital Scholarship Services with the Libraries, got a phone call from John Simpson, Digital Humanities Specialist with IST. John’s request was simple, even if the execution promised to be a little more complicated: would Libraries be interested in collaborating with IST on a fall research computing event? Lydia didn’t need any persuasion to say yes.

“I’m really interested in partnerships and collaborations,” says Lydia, “so I was really pleased to be approached by IST and learn more about campus infrastructures and networks of similar centres.”

With that, they launched Fall Bootcamp, an ambitious one-week training event that offered daily workshops on research computing topics. As IST and the Libraries both have similar goals in supporting research at UAlberta, the two groups pooled their resources and played off each other’s strengths. Together, IST and Libraries collaborated to plan, host, and promote all of the events at Fall Bootcamp, and employees from both groups delivered the actual workshops. According to Leah Vanderjagt, Head of Digital Repository and Research Data Management with the Libraries, it was exciting to observe the various skills and expertise her colleagues had to share.

“It’s incredibly important to bring together people on this campus who are involved with research computing and to share the support and advanced skills that help researchers to manage data in this day and age,” Leah says. “These events give us a chance to collaborate and get more information about what everyone is working on to serve this university. None of us can do it all on our own, and we work better when we work together.”

“One of our goals was to gather researchers together and show them that they’re all facing similar challenges, and maybe help them build relationships,” adds Lydia. “We had some faculty members who stayed at workshops all day, so for them to take that time shows how valuable an event like this is.”

Thanks to a dedicated project team pulling together on short notice, Fall Bootcamp was a huge success. It kicked off with a timely keynote address from Patrick Mann, Chief Technology Officer for WestGrid, regarding best practices on writing research computing resource proposals. Throughout the following week, registrants attended eleven different hands-on sessions that covered topics such as data management, programming basics, cloud computing, digital storytelling, and research computing tools like Tableau and OpenRefine.

This isn’t the first successful partnership between IST and Libraries. The two groups have been working together for the past three years to organize and host Research Data Management Week (RDMW) every spring. But John notes that while RDMW has been very successful, it’s not enough to meet UAlberta’s high research needs. Fall Bootcamp marks the first step towards a new goal, which is to hold smaller training sessions throughout the year rather than one big session once a year. Already, the numbers show a massive win for Fall Bootcamp: the one-week event saw 349 registrations from 130 unique registrants, which is 195 more registrations than the five-week-long RDMW that took place in the spring.

“We have people on campus who want to do research computing-related work, and events like Fall Bootcamp put them in a better position to get that work done,” John explains.

However, hosting more frequent training sessions is not the only goal behind these research computing events. IST and the Libraries also want to broaden what it means to do research computing and have more groups on campus collaborate to provide that training. Says John, “That’s the vision here. More people, more often, so that these training sessions are expected and they’re regular.”

“The biggest achievement for me is being able to show that various units on campus are collaborating and that we have skills that complement each other very well,” Lydia says. “Our strengths can support researchers in a variety of ways.”

Going forward, IST and the Libraries plan to host at least three research computing events each year, thereby creating a model that allows people to build on their knowledge and create a customized learning path that works for them. And with more people at UAlberta both participating in and teaching at these events, researchers across campus can push their work forward like never before.

“There’s something very powerful and rewarding about just sitting down with people and asking them for the story of their research, so that we can anticipate their needs and offer our skills collaboratively,” says Leah. “It’s important to think about how we as a university can support that entire research lifecycle, from idea inception and grant application to project execution and knowledge synthesis and sharing.”


If you missed Fall Bootcamp, then you can catch Winter Bootcamp from January 28 to February 1! Keep an eye on the IST news blog for upcoming details on registration, or fill out this Google form and we’ll send you the details once they’re available.

Posted by Sheena Moore