Asking for Help

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Where can I get help?

The easiest way to get help is to send an email to You can also ask in person, but there is a good chance that I (or whoever is in a position to help at the time of asking) will forget the details of your problem a few minutes later, so it is a good idea to send a follow up email with the details anyway.

What information do I need to provide?

In all cases, you should provide enough information so that an admin can reproduce your problem. What is required will depend on the nature of your problem, but here is a good start:


To paraphrase the stackexchange meta people may ask about a failed attempt at a solution to a problem, rather than underlying problem itself. To avoid this, include some context about your issue.

Consider the following contrived example: Alice is experiencing stomach pain due to appendicitis. She tried taking ibuprofen, but it proves ineffective. Believing that she has a solution, she asks her friend Bob to buy her a stronger painkiller, without offering any context. Bob complies, but the stronger painkiller is not a solution to her problem and it does not cure her of her appendicitis. Had Alice described her actual problem Bob could have directed Alice to the correct solution (the nearest hospital).


Include the command/script that is not working as expected.

Environment Variables

Include the output of


just before or after you execute your misbehaving script/command.


If execution of a program is resulting in an error, or just not producing the output you expect, you should include the exact output. It's ok to copy and paste here. If the output is longer than a few lines, it would be better to save it to a file and attach it to your email instead.

If you are using bash, you can redirect the stdout and stderr streams of a command (`ls -l` in this case) to a file like this:

 ls -l >> output_of_ls.txt 2>&1

Expected Output

This is very important. An admin probably will have no experience with the program/tool you are trying to use and they will not necessarily know what the correct output looks like.

What have you tried?

Presumably you have tried to troubleshoot the problem yourself to the best of your ability. Describe what you tried and why it didn't work.

Where else can I get help?

Hacky Hour

Hacky Hour is an informal meetup for anyone using computing to solve data intensive research problems (such as bioinformatics). Meetings happen (approximately) every other week. For more details see