Fellows Feedback: Revisiting My Application for Mozilla Fellowship for Science 2016

So – you’re thinking of applying to the Mozilla Fellowship for Science… but you have some questions not addressed by the FAQ. First, I want to encourage you to reach out to the current and former fellows. We are busy, but we are friendly! I’ll try to address some of the things I was worried about when I was applying, and then follow that with the full text of my application answers.

On Advisors:  “As fellows will be based at their home institutions, please note that a letter of support from their advisor is mandatory for consideration” CUE PANIC! Who should be my advisor??!??!  My PhD advisor was not an option to be my fellowship advisor. He’s not an open science person, and didn’t understand or support what I wanted to do. I was worried that not having a letter from my PhD supervisor would make me look bad, as it would in a normal academic fellowship application. Despite this, there was no way I was going to use him as an advisor for the application. Lucky for me, this is not a normal academic fellowship. I asked Robin Champieux – a frequent collaborator, library faculty, and a major open science advocate at my institution –  and a dean at the graduate school to co-sponsor me. In retrospect, I only needed Robin’s support. I thought the dean might lend some credibility to my application, in the absence of the support of my PhD mentor. However, the role of the advisor is to support your efforts at you home institution, so I’d recommend finding someone who knows you and understands what you want to work on, rather than someone who sounds fancy.

On Experience:…have experience participating in open communities”  CUE SELF DOUBT! Have I done enough?!?! When I applied for the fellowship, most of the projects I’d done were events based at my home institution. I did not regularly make contributions to open source projects. I was just barely learning to code. I was too intimidated to go to OpenCon or Mozilla community calls. (Hot Tip: Community calls are fun and you don’t have to talk.) I didn’t participate in the 2016 Mozilla Global Sprint because I was intimidated and didn’t know how I’d be useful. (Hot Tip for 2017: See you all at the Mozilla Global Sprint – I need help developing curriculum, no coding required.) My advisor was not supportive. I hadn’t spoken at conferences on open science issues. In summary: I wasted time worrying, comparing myself to others and minimizing what I had accomplished. Remember, you definitely won’t get this fellowship if you don’t apply! So if you’re eligible and you’re thinking about it – DO IT. Write a draft! Have your colleagues and friends help you toot your own horn a little. Get it in before the deadline (that part is critical). Think about what you would do with the support and resources that this fellowship provides. Don’t hesitate, and don’t doubt yourself!

On Projects: I proposed multiple projects, and wound up working on some things (like Data Rescue) that emerged during the fellowship. In my application and during my phone interviews, I tried to emphasize how each project would impact a specific aspect of the scientific system. Other fellows have focused mainly on one project. Both single project and multiple project approaches can be successful in this fellowship.

My Application: When I was applying for the Mozilla Fellowship for Science in 2016, I found the blogs by the 2015 Fellows, such as Christie Bahlai’s, really useful. In that spirit, here is my application from the 2016 cycle with new comments on what’s happened since then, in italics.


What research fields are you in? (25 words)
I am a neuroscientist and cell biologist who is passionate about improving research practices and science policy for the future of science.

Still true! I no longer work at the bench, but I’m still a scientist. I now have direct experience advocating for policy at the national and state level. I have have time to focus on institutional policy issues. And, importantly, I am a more effective communicator and a confident leader because of the fellowship.

What is your research focus? (50 words)
I study the demyelinating peripheral neuropathy Charcot Marie Tooth 4B2, a disease caused by the loss of a protein with an unknown function. I am working to understand the basic biology behind this disease using genetic knock-out models, cell culture, molecular biology, virally-mediated genetic manipulations, and fluorescence and electron microscopy.

I finished my PhD, so this has changed. I now spend most of my time thinking about open data, project management, and projects that support an inclusive future for science.

Describe to us your current research team. (50 words)
My research team includes cell and molecular biologists, neuroscientists, myelin biologists, as well as fluorescence and electron microscopy specialists. My lab is currently a small group (4 people) but we collaborate within our institution and globally. My open science advocacy partners include faculty, students, librarians, and open source community members.

My team has changed now that I’m no longer in the lab. However, my experience at the bench helps me advocate for researchers at the bench because I understand what they do every day, how academic incentives impact research, and their priorities. Today, my team is my fellow-fellows, the 2015 fellows, Mozilla Science and Advocacy teams, and most importantly – the worldwide Mozilla community! When I want feedback on a project, I bring it to the community call and get comments from around the world. I :heart: #mozfamily!

Describe to us how open science advances your research. (100 words)
Through years of research in neuroscience labs, I’ve seen cultural and technical barriers stand in the way of open science and data sharing. Until recently, I thought this was how science worked. After learning about the open science movement, I began teaching myself tools to ensure my work is transparent, reproducible, and archival. Meetups in the local open source scene empowered me to learn to code. Code literacy has been transformative for my scientific practice in terms of efficiency, reproducibility, and data management. I’m not an expert, but I seek out resources and try to teach as I learn.

This fellowship has enabled me to develop my skills working with open tools and I’ve co-founded a Mozilla Study Club (BioData Club). I an a co-organizer of csv,conf,v3, I’ve taught Working Open Workshops (Montreal, miniWOW PDX, and more on the way), I’ve taught numerous intros to GitHub, and data rescue events. In summary, I’ve boosted my skills and gained a lot of valuable experiences!

Are you leading any projects related to open science? (100 words)
Open Insight PDX – Hands-on workshops and interactive discussions designed to bolster coding skills and introduce scientists to national and international leaders in the open science and open source communities. Events included Collaboration with Git and GitHub, Data and Doughnuts roundtable with Phil Bourne (NIH Data Science Director), Mark Hahnel (Figshare), Bastian Greshake (OpenSNP).

Science Hack Day PDX – 48 hour event that will facilitate collaborative projects between Portland’s scientist, open source, designer, and maker communities.

Rstats for n00bs – Workshop designed for small data scientists who are new to coding. Covers installation of R-studio, importing data, exploring data, and basic statistical tests.

So, I’ve done a lot of projects since the fellowship started in September. See my Project of Projects and fellowship resume for more on what’s been happening this year.

How do you see Mozilla advancing your work? (50 words)
Scientists need education around workflows and resources that make open science practices an easy investment. Good tools exist, but they are not typically taught during scientific training. Support from Mozilla will help me move new ideas into labs by eliminating the tool-barrier and hacking the culture to encourage open practices.

I’ve been able to invest time and energy into getting open tools in front of scientists and pushing the needle on open science at my institution. The work isn’t done. But with Mozilla resources and support, I’ve made progress at my institution. I hope this can serve as a case study for others!

What do you see as the opportunities for impact around open research at your university? Could you leverage this opportunity in a potential
project? (50 words)

There are labs on campus with potential to become open champions. They attend open science discussions and hands-on open tool workshops, but they don’t have consistent open policies and practices. I can provide support to identify and overcome barriers to openness, and create case studies for developing open champions.

The time and energy myself and my collaborators have spent getting open tools in front of these potential champions has worked in some cases and is still a work in progress in other cases. Cultivating open champions within in institution is an impactful way to push scientific culture towards openness – but like a lot of my projects, the work isn’t done yet.

What do you think needs to change most immediately in scientific research? (100 words)
Culture. Scientific culture moves slowly. To keep their jobs and maintain labs, investigators buy into the existing system and train their students to do the same. I can’t count the times I’ve been told “That’s the way science works” as justification for secrecy, biassed processes, nonsensical assessment structures, and other cultural constructs that have little do with scientific inquiry. It is more efficient, reproducible, and impactful to work openly. All scientists want to be efficient, reproducible, and impactful. We need to leverage this to instigate broad cultural change towards open science.

I stand by this answer! I haven’t fully changed scientific culture in the last six months, but I’ve made some good progress and plan to devote my career to improving scientific culture and practice.

What project in the field do you find most inspiring to further science and the web? (50 words)
I am inspired by ASAPbio’s use of education and outreach to get biologists to use existing preprint infrastructure. High profile champions were created at the ASAPbio meeting and preprints have now been posted from several historically secretive labs. This project’s strategy is pushing scientific culture towards openness and web-based resources.

I stand by this answer – ASAPbio is awesome!

Why is the the open web important to you? (25 words)
The open web is the future of science. Scientific methods and data now live online, but only the open web enables accessibility, transparency, and reproducibility.

Yep! Still true! In fact, now I fully appreciate how science depends on the web. A healthy future for science depends on a healthy internet.


I hope this is helpful to those applying to the 2017 cycle!  I am happy to talk to people who are considering applying. Find me @daniellecrobins