On this page you can find the answers from my (successful!) application to become a Mozilla Fellow for Science in 2016.
The application was submitted on Jul 15th at 11:33pm (swoosh, just before the deadline).
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License which means you can distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon these answers as long as you credit me for the original creation.
What research fields are you in?
Longitudinal neuroimaging, brain development, adolescent psychopathology, MRI physics, network analysis, cognitive neuroscience
What is your research focus?
I aim to integrate multiple neuroimaging techniques of brain development during childhood and adolescence to predict individual differences in susceptibility to mental health problems and response to interventions. I use graph theory to investigate changes in MRI measures of brain structure and function, and the biological mechanisms underlying brain networks.
Describe to us your current research team
The Neuroscience in Psychiatry Network is a collaboration between the University of Cambridge and University College London, funded by a £5 million Wellcome Trust Strategy Award. The team comprises 5 principal investigators, 2 project managers, 25 postdoctoral researchers, 8 graduate students, and 26 administrative staff situated across 7 geographic locations.
Describe to us how open science advances your research
Psychiatric disorders are responsible for 184 million disability-adjusted life years worldwide (Whiteford et al, 2013) and there is strong evidence that environmental and genetic effects affect the structure and function of the developing brain, which in turn leads to individual differences in each person’s susceptibility to mental health disorders. However, neuroimaging studies are often underpowered and are always expensive and statistically noisy. When these data sets are published alongside their findings everyone benefits: researchers investigating similar questions may validate their findings in an independent cohort, computational modellers may test new methods, and analytic errors can be caught and corrected.
Are you leading any projects related to open science?
I lead the Brains For Publication project that provides command line and browser based tools to reproducibly create beautiful and informative figures for neuroimaging publications (https://github.com/KirstieJane/BrainsForPublication). It is particularly aimed at people with beginner level coding skills and has a high focus on documentation and usability. I lead the development of the STEMM Role Models database that promotes members of under-represented groups in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (https://github.com/KirstieJane/STEMMRoleModels). Data and analysis code for my recent publication on changes in brain structure during adolescence is available on GitHub (https://github.com/KirstieJane/NSPN_WhitakerVertes_PNAS2016). All are released under open licenses (MIT).
How do you see Mozilla advancing your work?
Mozilla brings together a global community of open advocates to build a better world. I will ensure that the field of human neuroimaging harnesses the expertise, creativity and passion of this diverse network to develop more effective ways to understand the developing brain and the emergence of mental health disorders.
What do you see as the opportunities for impact around open research at your university? Could you leverage this opportunity in a potential project?
In sharing data from the multi-disciplinary Neuroscience in Psychiatry Network I will build connections between the different research areas at the University of Cambridge, increase the impact of our work on the development of mental health disorders, and serve as a flagship example of best practise in open science.
What do you think needs to change most immediately in scientific research?
We must incentivise the measurement of the reproducibility and replicability of scientific findings. We should preregister our analyses, publish null results and ensure that researchers are rewarded for rigour rather than novelty. The scientific method is defined by the constant testing, updating and integration of previously acquired knowledge and it is essential we return to that philosophy. At a minimum, raw data, analysis code and instructions to recreate figures need to be made available to reviewers with all submitted journal articles. More extensively, we must better reward the people who build, develop and document tools to facilitate this process.
What project in the field do you find most inspiring to further science and the web?
I am most inspired by the Neurosynth project (www.neurosynth.org): an online platform for large-scale meta-analyses of functional MRI data through text mining published articles. You can explore associations between regional brain activations and each of over 3000 terms, or decode your own results in real time by reversing the process.
Why is the open web important to you?
The open web advances science by building tools and diverse communities that support the real human beings who undertaken all the necessary work every day.
15th July 2016
Dear Kaitlin Thaney and the Mozilla Science Lab leadership team,
I am delighted to submit my application to join the Mozilla Science Lab as a 2016 science fellow. I hope to capture in this page, the growth that I have already achieved in the last year through my membership of the MSL community, and to outline the strengths I will bring as a fellow in the coming months.
The timing of the Working Open Workshop (WOW) in Berlin, to which I was invited in February 2016, could not have been better. Before I flew from London I attended a mentoring day for finalists of the Rosalind Franklin Appathon: an international competition to build new mobile phone apps to empower women in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine. My project idea, which went on to win the runners up prize, was designed to tackle the problem that women are less likely to be invited to speak at academic conferences and therefore are less able to promote their work or build new collaborations. In the STEMM Role Models database, any member of traditionally underrepresented groups can be nominated and vouched for as outstanding in their field. We seek to inspire the current and future generations of researchers and technology industry professional by making it easy for organisers to providing the most exciting and diverse speakers at their event.
On arrival at WOW I had an idea, but needed support to put it into action. By the end of the three-day workshop I had a github repository, a guide for contributors, a roadmap, an explanation of the project and even a lean canvas business plan. More importantly, I had the confidence and the support network to make the STEMM Role Models app a reality. As a member of the Open Leader’s Cohort I had fortnightly meetings with my mentors, Abby Cabanouc and Aurelia Moser. They supported the development of my first website, helped me promote my project to the Mozilla Science Lab network, and held my hand as I learned how to manage contributors from around the world who all had different skill sets and levels of expertise. I developed communication and leadership skills that I didn’t know I was missing, and I am so proud of the ongoing work of our development team.
In my “day job” I am a postdoctoral researcher in the Neuroscience in Psychiatry Network (NSPN). My recent publication used graph theoretic models to describe the mechanisms of adolescent brain development of particularly well connected regions, the “hubs”, of the connectome. We integrated magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) measures of cortical thickness and myelination with human gene expression data openly released by the Allen Institute for Brain Science and replicated all our results in two independent cohorts. We shared the data and code to reproduce our findings on GitHub but over the next year I will take responsibility for further opening up the NSPN database and analysis code with the wider scientific community. Our analyses would not have been possible without the exceptional Allen Brain Atlas dataset and I look forward to supporting the as yet unknown innovations that will come when others build on the MRI scan data we collected.
As a Mozilla science fellow I will have access to the skills, innovation, and – most importantly – the protected time to ensure I am able to share the NSPN MRI data to the very highest standards of openness, accessibility and ethical integrity. I will hone my collaborative working skills and foster their development within the diverse team of talented statisticians, clinicians, physicists, psychologists and epidemiologists. Every member is passionate about producing ground-breaking interdisciplinary research and I am confident that we will build a symbiotic exchange of analysis hypotheses, techniques and interpretations with innovations in open source software development, open access publishing and diverse and inclusive scientific communication. By working together, we are all better equipped to translate basic science to clinical applications and thus make a difference in the millions of lives affected by adolescent mental health disorders.
If I were to sum up what I’ve learned as a Mozillian over the last year it would be that leadership is a web rather than a linear hierarchy. Everyone can be both mentor and mentee, provide support and be supported, and inspire and be inspired by every other member of their community. No one is perfect and everyone’s contributions are valuable. With a little empathy, a lot of encouragement, and by celebrating our differences, together, we can change the world.
With very best regards,
Kirstie Whitaker, PhD