The Importance of Working Open

Madeleine Bonsma-Fisher in her own words | A Network50 Spotlight

Mozilla Learning
Jul 6, 2017 · 2 min read

By Madeleine Bonsma-Fisher

I never thought I’d be studying bacteria. I didn’t want to be a doctor, so I tried my best to stay away from any science related to health. Despite myself, I became fascinated with biology in my undergraduate degree, and now I couldn’t be happier to be a student of biophysics. I love applying the tools and principles of physics to the endless interesting problems in biology, and I’m especially interested in how bacteria and viruses get along in the wild.

I run an open source project called phageParser which aims to curate all the publicly available information about the amazing bacterial immune system ‘CRISPR’. We hope to make it easier for anyone to study the CRISPR system using available data. Through this project I’ve realized the importance of working open from start to finish — not only is the end product open, but it encourages us to do better science right from the beginning.

I also never thought I’d be a teacher. I was surprised to find myself leading UofT Coders, a Mozilla Study Group at the University of Toronto, and I was even more surprised at the enthusiasm I encountered among my fellow students. UofT Coders has grown to include members from over thirty departments across the university and I believe it provides a much-needed platform for interdisciplinary knowledge-sharing and collaboration.

I have witnessed many instances of skills shared between people who wouldn’t normally interact in the traditional university structure. I myself have learned many things from others in the group that have improved my workflow and my research. Best of all, people are coming together to launch new projects, crossing the boundaries of disciplines to solve problems in new and creative ways.

I love science, and I am so happy to be able to mentor other open source projects through the Mozilla Open Leadership Training program. Mentoring was hard for me at first, but I’ve learned that mentorship can be transformative for mentors as well as mentees, and that the role of a mentor is to ask questions rather than to give advice. I am thankful for the many opportunities I have to practice and support science, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.

Madeleine is one of two U of T scientists awarded an NSERC in February, 2017 (photo by Martin Lipman/NSERC)

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