For the next few weeks, we’ll feature blog posts from our current fellows about their fellowship experience, read on to find out why you should apply for the 2016 Mozilla Fellowship for Science according to 2015 fellow, Richard Smith-Unna, cross-posted here on his github account.
I want to try to explain what it means to me to be a Mozilla Science Fellow – about the mental experience rather than the practicality.
Just under a year ago, I was living near Cambridge in the UK. Our son Max had just been born. My partner Steph had been through a horrific pregnancy and birth. We were both doing PhDs, and we’d started our own software company the year before. We had a house, a dog and four cats to look after as well as the new baby. It would be an understatement to say that I was completely drained and exhausted. I wasn’t sleeping, and was pushing myself to the extremes of my physical and mental tolerances to look after our family and meet my responsibilities. I felt pressure from everywhere and support from nowhere outside my immediate family. Running on fumes – it was the lowest I have ever felt.
Today, I’m sitting in a paradise forest reserve near Nairobi in Kenya. I’m at 7000ft above sea level, using a 3G dongle to connect to the net. In a few weeks the Mozilla Science team and other fellows will join me here for a week of collaborative working. I feel the best I’ve ever felt. I love my work. I feel valued and that I am making a difference. I feel part of a community. My family is in an excellent situation and the future is very bright. If things could be going better, I can’t imagine how.
The journey between where I was a year ago and where I am now has been defined by the Mozilla Science Fellowship. The best decision I ever made was to apply for the fellowship in July last year.
If you’re a student who cares about open science, there is no better thing you can do than to give yourself a chance to become a fellow. Here are some reasons why…
The material support
Enough money that your graduate student money problems go away, and then some. Childcare, healthcare, and a generous equipment and project budget. Travel expenses, anywhere in the world, to pursue your open science interests – I’ve been to Khartoum, Nairobi (twice) and Berlin (twice) as well as all over the UK.
For most grad students this is huge. For me, with a family and life to consider, it was liberating.
The other fellows are all different, but all very impressive.
Right at the start of the fellowship I felt a huge responsibility to live up to the role. It was paralysing, actually, and I struggled with it for a few weeks.
What turned this around was really the birth of the fellowship for me: I got to know the other fellows. We talked every week by video chat, and every day in a chat room.
We are all so aligned and yet so different, it would have been impossible for us not to bond. It turned out that other fellows felt the same way I did, and we became not just friends but also a support group.
The Mozilla Science Lab team
At the same time, we all got to know the Mozilla Science team. Since last September we’ve had a permanent online group chat open with the fellows and the team – this alone has made my life immeasurably more interesting.
Talking to them it became clear they just wanted to support us and cared deeply about it. The pressure melted away and was replaced by a feeling of community unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.
The team have gone to extreme measures to empower us to figure out, and then do, whatever we most wanted to do. They are the brightest, most talented, most caring and insightful people I’ve ever known. They have kept us inspired, moving, and focused. They’ve helped us solve any problem we could imagine – nothing has been too big or small for them.
Whether or not you apply to become a fellow, I would encourage anyone to take any chance they get to work with the Mozilla Science Lab team.
Mozilla and the wider community
The Mozilla Science Lab is a part of the Mozilla Foundation. Mozilla are a unique organisation. They are unparalleled experts on making openness work, and building open communities that really change the world. As a fellow you become a Mozillian, which means joining a global community of people who are open, believe in the power of technology, and support one another.
It was Mozfest that really opened my eyes to this – a three day festival in London in which 2,000 Mozillians get together to have fun with technology. If you’ve been to an academic conference, MozFest will blow your mind. It is so welcoming, so thoughtful, and so alive, I guarantee you’ll fall in love with it.
Last month I attended the Mozfest planning retreat in Berlin, and had my mind blown once again. So much work and care goes into crafting the experience of Mozfest, and so many people make it their mission to create a successful event. Community building and event design has been honed to a beautiful science by Mozilla – and the whole thing is founded on openness. I felt so challenged and yet so at home.
I don’t want to go into detail about my projects here – I’ll save that for later. But there are some general things worth mentioning here.
What I ended up working on was completely different than what I wrote in my application. You’re not restricted by what you write in that application form – figuring out what to work on is a gradual and collaborative process.
In the last 8 months, I’ve had the most fun of my life. I’ve learned so much, built software, taught courses, given talks, attended and run events. I’ve worked with incredible people from around the world and I am excited about the future like never before.
All of it has helped me understand what I am capable of and what I want to do next. And crucially there is no way I could have done these things without the support, the community, and the freedom this fellowship has provided.
Something I’m particularly excited about this year is that anyone studying or employed at a research institution anywhere in the world can apply.
The fellowship will change your life completely. The opportunity is too good to miss. Do it, apply now.