Some Mozilla Science Fellowship FAQ

You still have 14 days to submit your application for the Mozilla Fellows for Science! I’ve been putting the call out there on my networks, and there is lots of interest from the community. I’ve had a lot of questions, and many of them are falling into similar themes, so in the name of openess and fairness (and efficiency!) I thought I’d share them with my answers here, so everyone is working from the same information.

NB: You may also find some of my previous posts on the topic, particularly this one, useful.

Q1. So, the fellowship asks for 80% of your time, reserving only 20% for your research program. Christie, you’re a really research intensive, highly productive scientist, how the heck did you reconcile that? 

First of all, thanks for noticing- I am really into my science1, and as a person in pursuit of a research-intensive tenure track position, I know it’s important to show consitent productivity, so stopping or considerably slowing a research program is not an option. That being said, what you do with the fellowship is fairly open.

I’ve held the fellowship as a postdoc, and it worked well for me because I could adapt and shift my focus while still keeping my research program going, albeit at a slightly2 slower pace for hard publication production- but my work is in LTER data science, data synthesis etc, so it really was just a small departure to make it more about open science training. Of the other fellows, Joey is a MS student who successfully defended while on the fellowship, Richard a PhD student who is taking a break from his PhD work to go into full time open science advocacy and development work (just recently packed up and moved to Nairobi, the rest of us fellows are going to go visit him at the end of July), and Jason is an associate professor whose work has largely continued as it was, as it was open science aligned, just with the weight of Mozilla behind it now (meaning he gets invited to Very Important Parties in DC now because people listen to him 🙂 ). We all did very different things for our fellowship work- Richard and Joey developed open tools for researchers and engaged in a lot of training activities, I taught a class and developed curriculum, Jason studied and wrote guidebook on how people were sharing information in participatory medical trials. For me, I spent a lot of time thinking about the gulf that exists between research and training, and how to close that up, using existing scientific infrastructure.

So what I’m saying is the 20% of your own research can mean different things, depending on what your work is now, and where you want to take it for the fellowship. For me, it meant feeling less guilty about pushing the work I was already doing in directions I wanted to see it going, but never really drawing a line between “20% postdoc Christie” and “80% fellow Christie.” It can be intense at times- there is a lot of travel expected which has been hard but also amazing (I’ve got two young kids), but it’s been super, broadening experience.

Q2. What do you even *do* as a fellow? Are you, like, full time, open science superheros?


Yep, this is the sort of thing I do. Professionally. That’s Kaitlin Thaney on the left. Photo by Joey K. Lee. Photoshopping by Richard Smith-Unna

Well. Kinda.

Sometimes, I wear a cape.

My average day as a fellow might look pretty similar to my average day from the before-time. However, I was already involved in the open science community, the data science communtiy, the open and reproducible training community before the fellowship started. See, unh, this blog, for example. I was spending an undefined portion of my time devoted to improving reproducibility in science, particularly as this relates to data and analysis. Both for the good of humanity, and my own selfish reasons3.

The fellowship dialed these activities to 11, but also took me out of my office to meet with more people, and takes me out of the academic bubble just enough to see our inefficiencies/issues with new perspective.  Fellows maintain close, if remote, working connections to the MSL staff and each other- we have a fellows chat that we basically keep open at all times- which functions like a water cooler in an office we’re all in. As a result, we’ve become as close as colleagues/friends working in a shared lab.4

I still work on papers, analyse data, help grad students with their projects, read the literature, write grant proposals, go to scientific conferences etc. I also blog, write curriculum, participate in conference calls/video chats, travel to meetings, teach classes. It is simultaneously not different and very, very different. In a good way.

Q3. Can I have the money without doing anything?

No. Well, I don’t make this call. But. No.

Q4. What’s the application process like? Where do I put my detailed sampling plan into this form? There’s no place for my 20 page research proposal. What gives?

The application form is simple. The application is not long. Don’t panic.

The reason for this is that the fellowship is fairly open and does not require you to have a completely, 100% developed idea. The first part of the fellowship is devoted to developing your idea(s), and figuring out the best way to impliment them in your community with the help of MSL staff. Think about the goals of the MSL and the fellowship program:

The Mozilla Fellowships for Science present a unique opportunity for researchers who want to influence the future of open science and data sharing within their communities.

We’re looking for researchers with a passion for open source and data sharing, already working to shift research practice to be more collaborative, iterative and open. Fellows will spend 10 months starting September 2016 as community catalysts at their institutions, mentoring the next generation of open data practitioners and researchers and building lasting change in the global open science community.

Think about how the fellowship will help you help make science a more open, more collaborative place. Think about why your community needs it. And then tell us about it.5

Good luck with your application!

1. I *am* charming.
2. 3 4 papers so far this year, but in fairness, only one of them was first authored by me.
3. People ask me to help analyse their data all the time. When their data sucks, it makes my life harder. And it significantly constipates our science. And makes me a sad panda.
4. Real talk: the community we’ve built within the MSL and with the fellows reminds me very much of my time as a(n incredibly socially awkward) teenager who just discovered the internet. Suddenly, a new community that answers to a need I was not finding in my local population. My local scientific peers are awesome, don’t get me wrong, but between postdoc nomadism and being a data geek in a biology lab, it can get lonely.
5. Pro-tip: Use simple, clear language. Avoid jargon. Part of opening up science is becoming better communicators of science. Scientists have a bad habit of excluding people from the club with jargon because it makes us feel smart and a member of the elite- another thing that hinders efforts to diversify the scientific community- makes people with diverse backgrounds feel like they don’t fit/don’t now where or how to engage and also makes established scientists take people who don’t talk like them less seriously. I could rant about this for a long time.


About cbahlai

Hi! I'm Christie and I'm an applied ecologist and postdoc in the midwestern US. I am an #otherpeoplesdata wrangler, stats enthusiast, and, of course, a bug counter. I cohabitate with five other vertebrates: one spouse, one preschooler, one teeny baby and two cats.
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