BEAR Challenge 2023: A whirlwind of GPUs, AI, pizza and future prospects

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The BEAR Challenge 2023 was an exciting three day event that allowed students to access a national Tier 2 supercomputer – the Baskerville High-Performance Computing (HPC) system, as well as hearing about careers in the area from leading industry specialists. Students tackled real-world problems in Artificial Intelligence (AI) using Baskerville’s GPUs. BEAR Challenge team member, Cameron, went onto work for the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) after his MSc in Computer Science and our team met up with him at the national cluster challenge CIUK23, where he was helping as a coordinator. We asked him a few questions about his experience in the BEAR Challenge 2023 and how it helped him start his career… team working hard on a challenge – Cameron is on the right in the photo.

What was your experience during the challenge?

Participating in the BEAR Challenge was an exhilarating experience, filled with highs and a few frustrating lows. Here’s a breakdown of my thoughts:

Fun and frustration

  • Overall, I had a blast during the challenge. The adrenaline rush of solving problems and competing against other teams was invigorating.
  • However, the most frustrating part was the intermittent connection drops while using Jupyter Notebooks. These interruptions ate into our precious time, leaving us disheartened at moments.

Note from the team: We are aware of problems when significant numbers of users simultaneously try to access Jupyter Notebooks which need to load numerous modules, and will be using alternatives for this year’s challenge.

Difficulty level and ideal solutions

  • The challenge difficulty was well-balanced, except for the first task. Unfortunately, our progress halted due to prolonged connection losses, making it hard to gauge the difficulty accurately.
  • It would have been immensely helpful to have access to ideal solutions. Knowing whether we were on the right track or how close we were to the optimal answer would have enhanced our learning experience.

Resources and flavourful notebooks

  • Despite the connectivity issues, the provided resources were generally satisfactory. The notebooks contained a wealth of information and flavor, which we appreciated.
  • Learning about High-Performance Computing (HPC) was a highlight. We delved into how compute resources are shared, the research applications of HPCs by academics, and more.

Teamwork and rivalry

  • Competing alongside my team, all fellow students from my course, was a joy. We supported each other, celebrated small victories, and strategised together.
  • Facing off against the other team from our course added an extra layer of excitement. Friendly rivalry pushed us to perform at our best.

Unique challenges

  • The team-driven challenges were a departure from our usual coursework. Short, intense tasks required decisive decision-making, effective time management, and collaborative effort.
  • This experience broadened our horizons and prepared us for real-world problem-solving scenarios.

In summary, the BEAR Challenge left an indelible mark on my understanding of HPCs, teamwork, and resilience.

Did the BEAR challenge experience impact your career choices?

Yes, I think it did, as I am now working at the STFC in the Scientific Computing Department which is all about facilitating scientific research or being involved in the research yourself. I think showing interest in the BEAR challenge and explaining what I was going to be doing gave me an advantage in securing my position, and the knowledge gained from the event gave me a better start when I got here.

Have you used the skills and information learned in the BEAR Challenge after the event?

I have used the information, such as using SLURM for job scheduling as well as the general python skills practised during the challenge. I also used the information to better follow seminars and conversation since.

I enjoyed the BEAR challenge and wish there were more events like it, and would definitely recommend anyone who wants to learn about HPCs or just get involved in some team based coding challenges to try it out.


BEAR Challenge 2024

We are holding our 5th BEAR Challenge ‘Capture the Flag’ event for undergraduate and postgraduate students taught students on June 24th-26th, 2024. Applications for this year’s challenge are now closed (Eventbrite details here) but if you missed out and would like to join the 2025 challenge, then email us at