GOSH Community Member Profile of Julian Stirling: “I felt I found my home”

Brianna Johns GOSH Profiles, Open Science Hardware Leave a Comment

Image Credit: Gathering for Open Science Hardware

This is the eleventh 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

Julian Stirling is a Post-doctoral researcher in physics and has been designing open source hardware for science for years. 

He is part of the OpenFlexure microscope project, which is increasing access to laboratory-grade robotic microscopes in Africa. His supervisor, Richard Bowman, attended the first two GOSH meetings, and showed the OpenFlexure microscope in Santiago, in 2017. He suggested Julian attend the third GOSH, in Shenzhen. “There I learned what the community was, and I’ve been very actively involved since”, he says. “This was the really interesting thing about GOSH: I hadn’t been in the open hardware space for very long. I’d been passionately open source in terms of software, but I’ve been working at places where people weren’t that interested in making things open, until I joined the group in Bath in 2018. Maybe six months later I came to Shenzhen, and I instantly felt at home with the GOSH community. Even though I’d known people for a few days, most of them, I just felt that I’d found my home”.

“There’s the ideological perspective: I want to share everything that I do and I’d like other people to share it. GOSH is not only a group of people with the same idea but with a passion for how we push that forward, and for working together to do it. I’m used to talking to people and saying ‘we should do this openly’, and either get greeted by people who say ‘that’s a nice idea in theory’ but they’re not going to do much about it, or find people who think I’m a weird hippie. And maybe I am. But then you got to GOSH and it was a whole community of people that had not only been thinking about this for years but were passionately wanting to make the future that I want to see”, he highlights. “The whole event was not focused around ‘there’s one or two people who have this vision and you’re here to act it out’, but getting everybody to talk about their vision. It was a combination of the fact that everybody listened to you but there was time to make sure that you listened to them, and then we were all pushing in the same direction”.

For his experience convening a session in GOSH 2018, he learnt the value of planning. “We turned up with a microscope and somebody suggested to me we could do a microscopy session. Another person also wanted to do that, so we formed a group, and, somewhat naively, I assumed that we would look at our microscopes, how hard could that be? There was poor facilitation, planning and coordination. People enjoyed themselves, but I think with a bit more planning and a bit more conversation we could do it better, not as two sessions in one”.

Having a plan

In February 2020, he organised the meeting Open Hardware From Academia in the University of Bath. “It was a ‘not GOSH’ event, because it was funded by the university, and less community focused, mostly academic. Also it was less international, mostly UK and Europe. As we had funding for travel and accommodation, it was quite good at getting early career researchers, but it was very hard to get many people from Latin America and Africa, because that would use up our little budget too quickly. So it was less diverse”, he considers. “We didn’t have a quota, nor did anything specific in the call to reach a diverse audience. We put it on the GOSH forum, and the usual suspects showed up. We ended up with about the same number of applicants as spaces, and then it was predominantly white and male. It was my first event, so I didn’t realise these things early enough. If I’m running another, I’ll ask how to do it better to people that have run very diverse events, like GOSH”.

“There’s always a trade-off with how long an event can be in terms of inclusivity”, he says, “if people have commitments they cant’ have a long time”. Reflecting on the event he organised, he regrets that it was too short for some goals. “It probably only needed an extra half an hour, but it was at the end of the day and it wasn’t like GOSH 2018 in Shenzhen, where we could just stay there till midnight if we wanted to. It was a conference center at a hotel, where the manager said ‘your time is up, please leave’. The staff was coming and going, saying ‘it’s cleaning time, come back tomorrow’. We were very lucky in China that we could stay whenever and do whatever we wanted”.

He wishes he would have thought in advance how the conversation would keep going. “The last day we thought about how to move it forward. We could have used the GOSH forum, but some people wanted a mailing list, others created a Gitlab repository, and we ended up doing nothing”, he remembers. “Getting to everyone in the GOSH forum would have been more productive.”

“To make sure that somebody in the organising committee has organised an event before would be a good idea. It was my first event, and also for the four people helping me. There were lots of things that we didn’t realise would be an issue, a lot of ‘oh no we haven’t’. All of the things that GOSH made look easy, like running an unconference session well facilitated, planning what’s going to happen, making sure everybody feels involved, welcome and talks to each other… If it’s done really well, you just hope it will happen naturally at your own event. And it just takes work to get it going, which takes some planning: making sure you’ve got a good plan for how everyone can be part of the programme, how you’re gonna save the information from the sessions and share them, and how to keep the conversation going… Having a plan, rather than hoping it goes okay. That’s why sharing a toolkit is useful.”

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