MozFellows on the Road in Cape Town, South Africa!

Last week, the 2016 Mozilla Fellows for Science and Mozilla Science lab joined Mozilla Science staff and special guests Chicago Hive’s Kenyatta Forbes and new Kent State faculty and 2015 fellowship alum Christie Bahlai!  We are scientists, data specialists, open source developers, community management experts, advocates for open scholarly practices, and open scientists. Together, we see open practices as a way to move our communities forward.  We gathered for a week of discussion, workshops, and exploration in Cape Town, South Africa where we were graciously hosted by Spin Street House, an inspiring co-working space in downtown Cape Town.

Travel: Cape Town is about as far from the West Coast of the USA as you can possibly get. Teon and Danielle arrived a little early and prioritized finding the best coffee in Cape Town.


Monday: We started the week with coffee and an introduction to Kenyatta Forbes. Kenyatta is the Community Manager at Hive Chicago and so so much more… more here, here, and here. She joined us in South Africa to learn about our curriculum and process, and we were excited to have her there to learn from her and gain her perspective on our challenges. Although we need community buy-in to accomplish anything in academia – whether it’s launching a new course, changing a policy, challenging the status-quo, or getting a collaboration off the ground – we don’t often learn the management and communication skills that can help get things done. One spectacular thing about this fellowship has been the emphasis on community. Working with Kenyatta for a week, I learned tools and exercises from her that’ll help me better document what’s happening and be constructively critical of my vision for community in open science.

Tuesday: Funding is on everyone’s mind. There have been eight Mozilla fellows so far, and of them three have stayed (or will stay) in academia. However, the five that are no longer in traditional academia still apply for grants. On Tuesday we devoted time to discussing the funding landscape for nonprofits, the pros and cons of becoming and nonprofit, and where our projects might fit into the current landscape. Well truthfully, as the fellowship as almost over, this conversation started on Sunday as soon as we’d had coffee and continued for the entire week. Looking for funding is like dating? Or is it like applying for a job? How do you network, when you’re a little bit desperate, without appearing desperate? We tossed around a lot of metaphors and ideas, but my fellow-fellow Kirstie said it best when she commented “The most important principle is to look for connections you can build between people, rather than looking for stuff for yourself.”

Candid shot of the Science Fellows deep in the work week zone!

Wednesday: This was a ten month fellowship. At the beginning of a ten month fellowship, it seems long enough to accomplish almost anything. At the end, it seems like it was barely enough time to start. On Wednesday we worked on our talks for Thursday evening’s event, spent time to document our fellowship projects, and discussed ways of communicating our work. To this end, we worked on resumes of all our fellowship projects and events – check out Danielle’s fellowship resume (she is inordinately proud of the emojis – full credit to Kirstie for starting this cool resume trend).

Thursday: We took a half a day off to visit Robben Island, but the ferry was not running due to rough weather. We opted to tour around Cape Town instead!

Tourist time!

#mozfamily <3

We then returned to Spin Street House to prep for the Working Open Workshop (WOW). The workshop sessions on Friday are designed to help participants learn more about our curriculum, run through how to teach the material, and discuss their communities needs. Thursday evening was reserved for lightning talks and mingling!

Steph getting the party started at our Working Open Workshop kick-off party.

Lightning talks from fellows and participants kept the energy high on Thursday night. Christie talked about using other people’s data to teach research data management and analysis.

Christie Bahlai, PhD discusses the skills that scientists need!

Teon talked about democratizing access to science through open source, open hardware, and the Do it Yourself or DIY ethos.

Teon Brooks, PhD rocking the DIY cog-sci ethos.

Danielle shared her perspective on playing the long game in my local community.

Danielle’s story of local movement building.

Bruno enlightened us all about the volume of genomic data in the world today and discussed growing his online open source community.

Bruno Vieira’s take on open source community development.

Kirstie described her thought process throughout establishing her new lab at the Turing institute and assured us all that while she sounds very fancy, she is just faking it until she makes it – and so should we.

Kirstie keeps it real.

And Jeremiah Pieterson of SPARC Africa told us about how libraries are advocating for greater access to scholarly resources and knowledge across Africa.

Jeremiah Pieterson, a librarian at University of Cape Town, OpenCon Alum, and an advocate for open access to scholarly work with SPARC Africa spoke about the progress SPARC Africa has made.

SPARC Africa’s objectives!

Friday: Our attendees represented universities from all over South Africa, including University of Venda, North-West University’s Mafikeng campus, University of the Western Cape, and University of Cape Town. Our participants are leaders in South African higher education and in the sciences.  Mmaki Jantjies, scholar, advocate for women and girls, writer, and Head of the Department of Information Systems at the University of the Western Cape. Jeremiah Pieterson, a librarian at University of Cape Town, OpenCon Alum, and an advocate with SPARC Africa. Ivo Arrey, a PhD student and Software Carpentry Instructor who studies application of information technology to problems of subsurface hydrology and water resources management. Caroline F. Ajilogba, PhD is a rhizosphere biologist and runs the Rstudio study group on her campus. Peter van Heusden runs a software development team at a bioinformatics institute where he works to make computing systems less labor intensive to manage and computing more accessible to researchers. Martin Canaan Mafunda is an MSc student interested in infectious diseases modelling in open source languages. Jean-Baka Domelevo Entfellner, PhD studies mixtures of statistical models to model highly divergent homologous sequences.

#mozWOW South Africa!

In the past, WOWs have invited participants to bring projects to in-person workshops to progress through a series of sessions designed develop open science, open community, and open source initiatives. In South Africa, our goal was to work closely with a small group of community leaders to train and catalyze them to disseminate the Working Open Workshop modules (or the spirit of the WOW process) in their own communities. As the fellows and staff in attendance are all based in the global north, we have worked mainly in large well-funded Western universities. We can’t tell participants what will work in their local South African scientific and scholarly communities and were eager to get the perspective on what works and what doesn’t in South Africa. We worked to create welcoming spaces for our participants to connect with each other and talk about their communities, their priorities, and their visions. We worked together to create definitions of the terms we use, like “open”, that are meaningful for our participants.

Collaborative definitions of Open in South Africa:


Jean-Baka accessorized his motorcycle with our stickers – move over laptops!

Has the Mozilla Science Fox ever looked cooler?

At the end of the day, we made friends and learned from each other… and then had a fantastic dinner where bibs were required!


#mozvan 4 life!