This is the second post of a series of profiles on GOSH community members who were featured in the GOSH Community Events Framework. You can access the framework, along with this profile in its original format, on the GOSH website at https://openhardware.science/gosh-community-events-framework/.
By Marcela Basch, independent journalist, Argentina. Twitter: @marbasch
Profile on André Maia Chagas, a researcher and open science hardware developer at the University of Sussex with a background in neurosciences.
“I did my bachelor’s in Brazil, and I went to Germany for a master’s degree. One day in I was sitting in the lab and there was 60.000 euros worth of equipment in front of me, just for one experiment”, remembers André. “I thought: ‘I’m glad I can do these things, but if I ever want to go back to Brazil then 60.000 euros worth of equipment is basically like a good two-year salary. There needs to be a way to do these things more affordable. This got me looking for open source hardware alternatives, because I had already played around with Linux. I discovered Arduino and some platforms that got me to open source hardware”. He started a user-driven database of open neuroscience projects. “Price is not the main issue with open hardware, but it’s what gets you hooked. Then you start realising other things that come with openness”, says André. “Eventually this became the main focus of my PhD, and now I work full time as an open science hardware developer to support research at the Department of Neurosciences at the University of Sussex”.
In 2015 he attended an event in Cambridge and showed a microscope he had built for US$100. There he met Jenny Molloy, who was talking about the first GOSH event, planned for 2016 in CERN. André applied. “Coming from a very traditional academic background, it was a bit difficult for me to digest the format of unconference. To be honest, I was thinking ‘is this really important?’ The second day I started to realize that people were discussing topics that normally are only discussed in the hallways, and this was the main focus.”
Next year he attended the second gathering, in Chile. “This was when I had the most fun with GOSH, because there was a lot of effort to make it a really diverse space. I remember talking to people that I never thought I would ever have the opportunity to meet in my life. The way people saw even little things that you take for granted, that you don’t even think about, was very interesting”, he highlights. At that time he was volunteering at Trend in Africa traveling and convening workshops. “One of the biggest impacts GOSH had on me was about what it actually means to be a person who’s not considered normal, who doesn’t feel welcome in spaces where everybody should. In GOSH 2017 I absorbed so much that it really changed the way I was doing these workshops.”
“In Chile we tried to have a 50–50 gender balance for the workshops, but it was not enough if only men were speaking”, remarks André. “How to make sure that everybody gets heard? How to make room for the introverted who have great ideas to be comfortable and share them? That is important, even if only for personal benefit, to get to know amazing people doing great things. They normally would never have said a word, and they talked because they were given a chance. Everybody benefited: more diverse people talking means more brains tackling the same issues. It is this maxima from open source: given enough eyeballs, all the problems become more trivial. So by raising these voices, you have more eyeballs on the problem to solve it.”
“The GOSH events look a little as if humans got it right”, says Andre. “People are what they are, it’s simply about respecting the person who’s next to you”, he adds. “If you prepare the participants for something, you have to deliver that. If you said that everybody’s getting time to be heard, then make sure that happens, otherwise you fall into participative washing”.
“It requires a lot of effort to bring all these people and remind them ‘look, it’s a different approach here’”, he highlights. “It rests a lot on the experiences of people that have been doing this for a while”. He proposes “to offer training to pass on the knowledge” in a “kind of a mentoring program or a workshop”. “I think a lot of people in GOSH would be super interested in this, although it sounds like just a maintenance or a housekeeping job”.
“A lot of the things I did in GOSH were remote, or off conference times: an informal workshop with Fernán and Nano before the 2018 GOSH, a lot of things in the forum. When the 2018 goals were set, I wrote to people trying to keep them on track”, he says. “This is also an art: trying to keep in touch with people. This could be super informal, just a couple of messages: it also costs time. I realized how this maintenance is a hard job: chatting to GOSH people over time, listening to a lot of ideas, or offering myself as a sounding board for others to explore and think about things.”
For example, in 2019 I got a Mozilla fellowship, I did a survey and people said what kind of equipment they needed for research in the labs. Then I had a little bit of funding to pay for parts. A lot of the people who built were actually people from GOSH: Thomas in Cameroon, Nano in Argentina… So most of the interactions that I had in the community were not necessarily at the events but before and after. But they’re only possible because of the events where I met the people: doing things together you get a feel for whether you like the way someone works or not. Then they become part of a network, an opportunity to try to elevate each other. There were a lot of collaborations.”
“Try to interact with people that you wouldn’t normally feel inclined to interact with, to avoid your bias. You have to be prepared to listen to things in a different way and try to understand what they are saying, not only listen so that you can think about an answer. This is the real interaction, this is how you find surprising ideas”.