Neural Pathways: Xu Fei

Episode 2 of the Neural Pathways podcast features Xu Fei, who works as an Outreach Scientist at Code Ocean. To hear the full interview, listen to the episode here.

Xu Fei finds working at a start-up to be very satisfying; he appreciates the flexibility of his role, the chance to help shape the company, and the value-driven nature of his team. Code Ocean is a research collaboration platform created by researchers for researchers that allows scientists and developers to easily share and run code. In his role as an Outreach Scientist, Xu helps researchers of different science backgrounds to work with computational tools: he provides training on computational reproducibility concepts and best practices, and gathers feedback to make it easier to work with these tools and collaborate. Xu enjoys the benefits of the relatively flat organizational structure of the company’s employees when it comes to problem-solving. “You can get things moving relatively fast, and see impacts and results quickly” he explains.

For his Master’s project, Xu worked at the McConnell Brain Imaging Centre located at The Neuro, doing magnetic resonance spectroscopy in patients suffering from multiple sclerosis and sleep apnea. This involved taking patients through the scanner, processing the brain images and applying the necessary statistical techniques. Xu’s time at McGill gives him a strong appreciation for the clientele of Code Ocean, as he points out that there has been a big expansion of the coding community since his time as a graduate student trying to learn how to code. The value he sees in coding training and resources is also what inspired him volunteer with The Carpentries at the end of his graduate studies, an organization aimed at teaching graduate students how to code. By leading coding workshops, Xu provided others with the opportunities that weren’t available to him during his studies. This experience also led him to his current role – while he was searching for a job, he received an email from The Carpentries mailing list, outlining a scientifically relevant opening at Code Ocean.

In addition, Xu also gained skills from his extracurricular involvements as a student, which included participating with the Graduate Student Association for Neuroscience, McGill’s Brain Awareness Week, and the McGill Outdoors club. “These things are what people tend to call ‘soft skills.’ I feel like when I was a science student, I tended to interact with only scientists,” he remarks. “That isn’t true of the world, it’s a very biased sample.” These experiences, especially his time with the Outdoors club, provided Xu the chance to connect with individuals of different backgrounds and to break out of his science student “bubble.” Xu values the ability to communicate and interact with different types of people. “I do code and I do this kind of technical work, but a lot of the time I’m communicating with humans and my work benefits humans.”

To find out more about Xu Fei and Code Ocean:

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