Workshop in Brussels, 2-3 Nov 2015

Authors: Tracy Teal BLOG

At the beginning of November, Belgium held its first Data Carpentry workshop.

Belgium has a flourishing biological research community and skills in data handling have become an essential tool for anyone conducting biodiversity science. The workshop was jointly organised by the VIB and the Botanic Garden Meise as part of a series of “Empowering Biodiversity workshops” supported by the Belgian Science Policy Office.

The thirty-five attendees of the workshop came from a wide variety of backgrounds in biology, including marine biology, bioinformatic, plant biology and ecology. They were also at many different points in their career, some were students wanting to gain experience, while others were established scientists looking to learn new tricks. Nevertheless, this diversity was not a problem for the workshop as everyone came with enthusiasm and an interest in improving their knowledge. We were instructed by Leszek Tarkowski and Frederik Coppens with support from Dima Fishman and Christof De Bo.

The workshop was graciously hosted by the Belgian Science Policy Office, for which we are very thankful, particularly as one of the days was a holiday for federal employees. Their location in central Brussels and their well-equipped meeting rooms made the logistics much easier.

The Timetable of the workshop was as follows:

Day 1 AM: Working with spreadsheets and introduction to Open Refine (Leszek)
Day 1 PM: Data manipulation in R (Frederik)
Day 2 AM: Data visualisation in R (Frederik)
Day 2 PM: Managing data with SQL (Leszek)


The feedback we received after the workshop was very positive. Participants were happy with the range of skills they learned and the quality of the teaching. As one of the students wrote “Broad, good introduction to a lot of data management software Helpful teachers”. Given the diverse backgrounds of the participants some people found the pace either too slow or too fast, but it sees that there was, in general, a good match between the expectations of participants and the positioning of the curriculum.

Still - there is a room for improvements. The problem with diversity of participants is hard to answer - maybe in the future organizers can provide two rooms, and two sets of instructors, for better fitting into attendees capabilities. Data Carpentry lessons materials needs some polishing, to match the quality of Software Carpentry materials.

We would like to thank all the teachers, helpers, funders and organizers who made this event successful and we look forward to all the great data science that will be encouraged by this workshop.

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