CZI Lat Am Meeting 2023: some questions I have before the meeting

I’m excited for the opportunity to participate at the #CZILatAmMtg in 2023 organized by CZI Science. I’m also thankful to those who nominated me, and in particular to Alejandra Medina Rivera. I believe that one of the reasons I’m here is for my volunteer work at the Community of Bioinformatics Software Developers in Mexico (CDSB), where many have made very important contributions. Some also know me from my time in the Bioconductor Community Advisory Board, from which I stepped down earlier this year once my 3 year term ended.

Having said that, I have been sharing with some other event attendees that I do feel burned out. I had envisioned that at CDSB we would train and empower those who would eventually replace us. And we’ve had quite a bit of success in doing so (3/7 CDSB board members are not founders). However, it’s been limited to a few key new volunteers, who then they risk burning out themselves. Since I want CDSB to continue on for many more years to come, I sometimes feel like I should again involve myself on organizing CDSB events. Doing so would involve volunteering on my free time. Given my position as a principal investigator, I actually spend more extra hours on activities related to that job, so I don’t have much free time to give. There are also other non-academic interests I want to pursue.

Naturally, I want to chat with others that organize short courses through their own organizations to learn how they plan to pass on the torch and see if those ideas can apply to CDSB as well as renew my own fire. Maybe others don’t plan to pass on the torch for many years as organizing these short courses becomes part of their main job. At CDSB (and LCG-UNAM) courses, I like the path of having students in year 1, that become teaching assistants in year 2, that then teach a portion of the course in year 3, then can organize part of or a full course in year 4. But that’s a long ramp, and I think that I failed to anticipate what would happen after year 4. Like there needs to be more structure to help them continue this cycle and reach a point where they can apply for grants without the names of the founders. I also failed to notice that founders would need to be involved for a longer period of time, until we reach a larger critical mass of highly trained volunteers, which at time point can fully replace us and keep CDSB going for more years to come.

However, I also have other questions and topics I want to discuss with others. For example, I’m really curious to learn about justifications others use to convince their employers to let them spend work time on these type of initiatives.

Some arguments I’ve used are:

  • We are training the future staff we want to recruit. I learned this from a former SACNAS president and it was useful to argue for time to teach (in my case in Mexico) without having to take vacations time to do so for a week or two per year.
  • This is one I used recently in the context of the LIBD rstats club I organize at work: “YouTube analytics tell me that we’ve had 4,621 views in the last 365 days for a total watch time of 280.7 hours. That’s an average of 5.4 hours per week, which is 13.5% of a 40 hour work week that we saved a full time employee on average per week this last year. For example, for a base salary of $x$ or $y$ that’s >10,000 or >20,000 USD in savings per year taking into account fringe costs. These videos remain in perpetuity, and while some might become outdated, they are definitely an asset for the institute.”

I’m also curious to hear what arguments others use to convince their employers to let them apply to grants that limit indirect costs. For example, US-based institutions depend on those indirect costs to function, and will not like it if you apply for a grant that will limit your effort available for other grants if that grant provides, let’s say, less than 25% or 50% of the indirect costs other grants provide. Direct costs are like research costs and salary support for your team. Like if you are doing so well that you get funding for 100% of your effort, then of course institutions would like it for you to have the max indirect costs rate possible. Though well, a grant with a lower indirect costs rate is better than no grant if you don’t have 100% funded effort.

Maybe something funding bodies could do is request that a small portion of the grantees time is used to teach communities in need for these opportunities (here we are talking about Latin America, but it could be other ones). Another idea is that they could reward with a higher indirect cost rate those institutions that allow grantees to do this during work hours. These ideas might have no legs, but maybe they could. We’ll see.

While change takes a lot of effort and sometimes one might feel alone, I am definitely excited about the discussions we’ll have the next two days. Though I’m also aware of potential pitfalls, like fighting for a piece of the cake. Hopefully we can make the cake bigger!


Leonardo Collado-Torres
Leonardo Collado-Torres
Investigator @ LIBD, Assistant Professor, Department of Biostatistics @ JHBSPH

#rstats @Bioconductor/🧠 genomics @LieberInstitute/@lcgunam @jhubiostat @jtleek @andrewejaffe alumni/@LIBDrstats @CDSBMexico co-founder

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