Diversifying the HPC Community:
HPC training workshop for underrepresented groups
In a male-dominated environment like High Performance Computing (HPC) it is vital to ensure that women and minorities advance equitably in their careers. Conferences such as WHPC summit 2020, workshops such as Women in HPC at ISC20, and tutorials and training events targeting underrepresented groups can support this goal.
At the end of January five female HPC experts came together to run an introduction to HPC workshop for a female audience. The instructors were Mozhgan Kabiri chimeh (NVIDIA), Anna (Ania) Brown (University of Oxford, University of Southampton), Fouzhan Hosseini (NAG), Weronika Fillinger (EPCC) and Neelofer Banglawala (EPCC), all of whom have a proven track record of delivering HPC training.
The course was attended by PhD students, early career researchers and post-graduate researchers, a lecturer, a senior research software engineer and an IT support technician. There was little overlap in their research interests but they all needed to understand and use HPC systems.
Over the last decade HPC resources have become more widely accessible to researchers. However, many researchers still do not use HPC resources, simply because they do not know how to. The main objective of the workshop was to help participants to develop the skills and confidence to use HPC resources in their everyday work. To help with this the course covered:
- motivations for using HPC in research,
- how HPC systems are put together and how they differ from desktops/laptops,
- how to connect to remote HPC systems and transfer data,
- use of a job scheduler to work on a shared system,
- use of software modules to access different HPC software, and
- how to work effectively on a remote shared resource.
To run exercises during the workshops, attendees were given access to Cirrus, a Tier-2 HPC system at the University of Edinburgh’s Department of Physics and Computer Science. This helped them to get a feel for working on a live HPC system.
The workshop had a generous instructor to student ratio of 5:1 meaning everyone was well-supported. The fact that the instructors and participants were all female added to the feeling of a relaxed, safe and welcoming atmosphere.
The instructors were able to speak openly about their experience of using HPC, sharing mistakes, frustrations, and joys. Similarly, participants were able to ask questions without feeling that they were too basic or advanced for the workshop.
The workshop acted as a safe zone where participants felt comfortable to try working on an HPC system and overcame their fear of breaking a shared resource.
Outcome and Future Plans
By the end of the workshop 89% of the participants said they felt more confident to use remote HPC facilities in their work. Encouraged by the success and impact of this workshop, we plan to run regular HPC training workshops in the UK; one introductory and one advanced one per year. Stay tuned!
Course materials can be found here.
If you would like to know more about future workshops and events, please join the WHPC mailing list.
PhD Student, Lancaster University
‘Attending the HPC Carpentry workshop has given me an understanding of how cluster computing works and confidence that I have been using HEC correctly. I have come away with new ideas on how to progress with my work and how to improve the efficiency of some of my current scripts…I would recommend it to anyone who is starting out with HPC.’
PhD Student, University of York
‘…learning bash language as well as the way to send a job to HPC is important for my work. I would like to thank the staff who were present during these two days. Everyone was very friendly and the lessons were clear and of high quality.’
Research Fellow, University of York
‘…I had no experience with accessing HPC systems and found the documentation daunting. This workshop provided an accessible introduction to how HPC systems work, in a non-intimidating and inclusive environment. I still have some learning to do, but I now have the confidence to reach out to my university support team and understand how to ask the right questions.’
Research Associate, Lancaster University
‘I attended the HPC Carpentry workshop to relearn how to use shell scripting and connect to HPC systems. After about 4 years of not using them I was scared to try again and this workshop gave me the perfect opportunity to re-learn in a safe friendly environment.’
Manasi R. Mulay
PhD Student, University of Sheffield
‘Another key highlight of the workshop was well-prepared study material on GitHub by Dr. Brown. This did not only help the beginners for how to start but also explained the fundamentals to the existing HPC users.’
PhD Student, University of Liverpool
‘Through this workshop, I gained hands-on experience on how to connect to a remote server and use HPC. Consequently, I managed to take advantage of the HPC services provided by the University of Liverpool and progress further with my research.’
PhD Student, Newcastle University
‘Both days of the workshop were really productive in term of material, lectures delivery, and eagerness of instructors to explain and clarify ambiguities. By the end of the workshop, I am quite confident in working on an HPC system.’
PhD Student, Newcastle University
‘I actually loved the energy of the instructors and their method of delivery was just perfect – not intense or too serious but informative and fun-filled.
I really want to thank these wonderful women who devote their time and effort to make a positive change in the lives of other women. I look forward to other exciting events!’