Changing the World, One Fellow at a Time

Our Software Fellows program is one of our highest impact endeavors to date. The purpose of this fellowship is to provide Ph.D. and postdoctoral students with resources to succeed in their research, and to prepare them for continued academic and industry contributions. Not only do our fellows receive up to two years of funding, but they are given the opportunity to attend our Software Fellows Bootcamp: an intensive, week-long workshop on best coding practices and core skills paired with mentorship and guidance from The MolSSI software scientists. We had the pleasure of hosting our 2019 Phase-I Software Fellows at the end of July for our biannual Software Fellows Bootcamp.

While a software fellowship may not seem like an obvious choice for a graduate student or postdoctoral researcher outside computer science, our fellows sought The MolSSI Fellowship program for that exact reason.

Jennifer Hays, one of our Phase-I Software Fellows from the University of Virginia shared, “Its target is people like me who don’t have the software chops but are doing important scientific research that needs the software chops.”

While visiting The MolSSI, many of the fellows noted how a significant part of their graduate studies has required training themselves in creating or rewriting codes. Like many in the field of computational molecular science, they simply haven’t had access to formal computer science education. While their research requires simulations and complicated coding, they don’t have the tools to accomplish such tasks easily. And if the codes already exist, there’s no easy way to access, edit, or share them. As we’ve discussed before, communal, sustainable, and clear coding is necessary for the molecular software science community to advance.

The MolSSI Fellows are a group that understands the importance of sustainable, transferrable software in the community. “Most of the time scientists just develop software as a means to an end,” Dr. Hytham Sidky, a Phase-I Fellow from the University of Chicago explained. “The fact that The MolSSI emphasizes good software and community outreach is very unique. If you make accessible tools and easy tools it will bring in more people, and you can have a broader impact.”

If our model of education outreach started and ended within the walls of a workshop or conference, our community wouldn’t continue to grow and thrive. We hope that participating in workshops, educational opportunities, conferences, or the Software Fellowship will start a network through which best practices and core skills can disseminate through participants to their individual networks.

Many of our fellows heard of The MolSSI fellowship through their research groups or labs–those in connection with The MolSSI as fellows themselves or individuals in alignment with us. This sets up knowledge transfer, as they return to their institutions armed with confidence and intricate knowledge of coding best practices.

Not only will the breadth of our educational impact increase, but their individual impacts on the molecular science community will be wider, because their work will be more usable. “When [your code] is not polished or readily usable your impact is pretty limited,” Nathan Lim, a Phase-I Fellow from the University of California Irvine explained. “By The MolSSI teaching us best practices and best standards the idea is that the code will be more readable and readily usable.”

In a sense, you could say that the work of The MolSSI –and specifically the Software Fellowship program– is designed to create efficiencies and alignment that leads to an accelerated impact. “People publish really interesting things but it takes forever to translate down into the software and the tools people are using,” Chaya Stern, a doctoral candidate from Weill Cornell-Memorial Sloan Kettering and Phase-I Fellow, said. “Educating on best practices creates better communication between different subfields of the field, and it makes transference of software easier and smoother because they’re all speaking same language.”

Our annual software fellows bootcamp has us energized and excited about the things to come for The MolSSI and the computational molecular science community at large. Actionable and specific events like this bootcamp lay the foundation for tangible progress towards wide reaching impact in our field, and thus lay the groundwork for finding solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems.