Tag Archives: startups

“Startup weekends” in science

News about yet another “startup-weekend-like” event keep hitting me more and more often. They do not always are about creating a company or a product. Sometimes it’s about collaborative coding a game or writing a novel – all in very short time. In many cases it works amazingly well – being so tight on time forces people to be ultra-productive and to be focused only on important parts of the project. I envy people attending such meetings, not necessarily because of possible outcomes, but because of the energetic atmosphere that is present there.

Deepak wrote some time ago about “Bursty work” – idea, that work can be done by distributed teams focused around high value projects, instead of teams gathered around company/startup. That actually made me think if we can join these two ideas in science: to have ultra-productive and distributed team working on time-constrained project.

Lets assume that the average publication in the field of bioinformatics/computational biology takes six months of work of one scientist. It doesn’t really matter if it’s new server, database or protein family annotation. So a team of four people should do the same work in six weeks or faster (why faster? knowledge and skills are not distributed evenly, so someone else may code the necessary script faster than I would do it). If we would increase even further the number of people involved, create a distraction-free environment and prepare enough coffee for everyone, the whole process could be done in a week. Even if the assumptions here are not really correct, I’m pretty sure that quite a number of valuable papers could be done this way in a week.

So what do you think? What about creating a platform that allows for:

  • creating a project that has a clear and appealing outcome (for example publication, or at least manuscript in Nature Precedings)
  • creating a project workspace with all necessary tools (wiki, chat, svn, etc. plus small computational backend for testing)
  • creating a number of roles, that need to be filled by people with certain skills
  • joining the project if the skills match requirements
  • setting an clear deadline (for example, a countdown clock that will forbid to commit changes to the project after certain amount of time, leaving the workspace read-only)

I agree that science takes time, especially the quality science. But on the other hand, I have a feeling that we waste a lot of time learning things by ourselves, instead of learning form others, we waste this time because the outcome is not well defined, and finally we waste time solving everything ourselves instead of bouncing the idea against other people (this is what collaboration is all about). So what about creating an artificial environment that forbids wasting time?

Utopian? Maybe. Naive? Most likely. Worth considering? I hope so. Let me know.


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