Winter Bootcamp Working to Meet Researchers’ Digital Needs

Winter Bootcamp is working to meet unmet demand by helping UAlberta researchers fulfill their digital needs.

Another bootcamp has come to an end, but rather than feeling out of breath, and out of shape, participants left more knowledgeable, fulfilled, and finally had some of their brain-scratching questions answered. This year’s Research Computing Winter Bootcamp saw nearly 500 registrants during its two-week run which included 12 sessions and workshops dedicated to a variety of research computing topics.

Hosted by Information Services & Technology (IST) and the Library, Research Computing Bootcamp allows anyone from a first-year graduate student to a tenured professor to build on their knowledge and create a customized learning path suited just for them. Run thrice annually, with winter, spring, and fall sessions, together, IST and the Library plan, host, promote, and even deliver the workshops. Topics include introductory and intermediate sessions on Python, using digital research tools like computational clusters, data storage, and software such as OpenRefine and R. And best yet, all of it is free!

The goal of these bootcamps are simple: provide researchers the tools that help them do digital research. But what they capture is far from simple, and rather much more multi-faceted. In fact, they’ll leave with a lot of new tools, insights, and intelligence. “They learn ways to improve their data science skills, how to speed up analysis, and how to produce more reproducible research,” says Chris Want, Research Support Analyst and bootcamp instructor. But even more importantly, they also learn that it’s not magic. “Anybody can acquire digital research skills, regardless of computer proficiency,” he says.

Prior to these bootcamps, only annual training and lunch-hour sessions were offered for those hoping to learn more about research computing, high performance computing (HPC) and the like. “For inexperienced users, it was like trying to drink from a firehose,” says Scott Delinger, Director, Research Computing. Now with modularized training every three to four months, interested participants can gain knowledge and actually practice before moving on to more advanced sessions, he says. Instructors, including Want, ensure that the bootcamps are hands-on and follow a "nobody gets left behind" approach.

Since fall 2018, IST and the Library have run five Research Computing Bootcamps, each becoming more successful and well-attended than the last. This winter bootcamp saw 480 registrations. According to John Simpson, Digital Humanities Specialist with IST and fellow bootcamp instructor, the attendance speaks to the value these sessions provide. “They provide the training that people desperately desire,” he says. With waitlists for introductory workshops to Python and R seeing a combined waitlist of more than 110 people, “clearly, there is unmet demand.”

The future plans for Research Computing Bootcamp are two-fold. Expand the sessions to meet the demand, and expand the course offerings to include intermediate and advanced course options – which will in turn require more instructors. “We would like to see a day when every graduate student from UAlberta leaves with some basic digital analysis skills that complement their field of study,” Want says. Whether it be feedback from participants, or the waitlist numbers that speak for themselves, the worth and benefits these bootcamp sessions provide are limitless. “This is training that raises the computational competence of the entire University, across each campus, and we’re hoping to increase the significance of impact by expanding the reach of this training,” Simpson says.

If you missed Winter Bootcamp, stay tuned for more information on Spring Bootcamp! Keep an eye on the IST news blog for upcoming details on dates, workshops and registration. If you’d like more information about the bootcamps, research computing in general, or are interested in volunteering your services as an instructor, please contact . We also encourage you to attend an upcoming training session or seek a consultation to see what’s available to your group at no direct cost.