Mastering Python During a Pandemic
In our increasingly digitized world, programming is literally all around us. Knowing how to code is a critical skill, with applicability in almost every field. This Einstein SHOUTout! goes to Roland Ferger, a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Dr. José Luis Peña, for offering an online introductory course in Python—among the most popular programming languages—which offers extensive use in scientific computing, data science, and machine learning.
Roland enjoys teaching and has previously taught Python informally to his lab mates and several students in the neuroscience department. Stuck at home during these unprecedented times, Roland was approached by Dr. Bryen Jordan, associate professor of neuroscience, who asked him if he would be willing to teach Python to students online. "The idea was to make good use of those times when lab work was impossible and offer an opportunity to learn a useful skill,” said Roland.
Soon after the e-mails about the free course were sent out to researchers, Roland’s inbox was flooded with messages from prospective participants. A course that was initially designed for 20 caught the interest of students, postdocs, and faculty, leading more than 110 members of the Einstein community to sign up for the course.
The original plan to hold three biweekly classes was reorganized to accommodate the huge response. Instead, the course has been taught weekly over six weeks. In all, 90 of those who initially replied have taken the course, with classes split into manageable groups of 30, including three faculty members.
“Unfortunately, we couldn’t accommodate everyone who was interested,” said Roland, who holds his Zoom sessions midafternoon on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
He added, “Even though it's a bit odd to talk into a camera instead of teaching in a room, I get good feedback via the chat function on Zoom. There’s a lot of positive feedback and that is a great feeling during these difficult times. It makes me feel less alone in my apartment, and it’s good to know that I can be helpful to others in the Einstein community.”
Roland aims to teach participants the basics of Python so that they can learn and use it effectively in their own research. He equates the programming language to a Swiss army knife, noting, “Though not the best language for every application, it can be used for almost anything.”
In his personal experience, Roland has used programming to analyze data where often no other tools were available. He believes it’s even possible that someone in the course could apply a few lines of Python to help with COVID-19 research.
Posted on: Thursday, June 25, 2020