The R Consortium recently spoke with Ryan Benz, one of the organizers for the Southern California R Users Group which covers Los Angeles and Orange County, CA. Ryan shares more about how the R Community in SoCal continues to grow by forming partnerships with local universities to offer students workshops. The SoCal R useR Group is also committed to offering a valuable learning environment and resources for those who are both new and have more experience with R.
Other organizing members that make the SoCal R useR Group possible are:
Ryan is a computational and data scientist with a background in computational chemistry and bioinformatics. Ryan currently works as the Director of Data Science at Seer, a Biotechnology company pioneering unbiased proteomics technology to decode the proteome and improve human health. His main expertise and interests are in data analysis, visualization, and statistical modeling.
Why did you get interested in learning R?
Back when I first started in my career, data science was not a formal field, but I was interested in learning more about it. I received my bachelors in chemistry, and then my Ph.D. in computational chemistry. In my studies, I definitely gravitated toward computational methods and working with data. In my graduate studies, I took a statistics class and the professor told us about R. That is when I first started using R, but at first, I did not like it, the syntax was strange, and I did not use it much after that class. Years later in my first job out of school, I had a boss who was using R, so I had to use it too. I continued to learn and practice, and found some really powerful packages like ggplot2. Since then, I got more involved in the R community and have been using it every day for over 10 years!
What is the R community like in your area (Socal/Orange County)?
The R community in Southern California is big and active! Without putting the community structure together, you wouldn’t realize how active and wide the R community reach is. Our user group was originally formed as the Orange County R Users Group working mostly in the Orange County area, but we recently merged with the East LA R Users group and rebranded as the Southern California R Users Group.
In our group, there are so many people that use R in diverse and interesting ways, including finance, business analytics, biotech, big tech, and the government. We even had an interesting talk by someone using R at the local water district. We are welcoming to everyone and encourage those who are new to R and programming in general to join our events. Our experienced users also enjoy teaching and sharing their experiences with others, and still continue to learn from each other.
Who comes to these meetups? What industries do you see more in the area?
We see people of all backgrounds in our meetups. Southern California has many diverse industries and our members are using R in lots of different areas and contexts. In terms of levels of knowledge, about half of our members are fairly new to R, and the other half have more professional experience, looking to learn something new, find networking opportunities, and some are even hiring and come to our meetups as a way to meet potential candidates.
How has COVID affected your ability to connect with members?
Like many groups, COVID forced us to host our events online. We are currently working on getting back to in-person events by the end of the year. Even though we were unable to see each other in person, the virtual meetups have been a good way to get top speakers in the R community. This is something we hope to continue to do even with COVID restrictions lifted.
In the past year, did you have to change your techniques to connect and collaborate with members? For example, did you use GitHub, video conferencing, online discussion groups more? Can these techniques be used to make your group more inclusive to people that are unable to attend physical events in the future?
We are a pretty large group and people connect in many different ways. Some of the ways we communicate are through our GitHub repositories to share events, workshops, and items for Hackathons. We also have a Slack group, but that has been somewhat quiet for general discussions, though we do use it for group organization. Our YouTube channel is also a great outlet to share meetups and talks and to make them accessible to those who cannot attend.
Can you tell us about one recent presentation or speaker that was especially interesting and what the topic was and why was it so interesting?
We’ve had some recent workshops presented by Dr. Olga Korosteleva, a professor of Statistics at the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at California State University, Long Beach. I think all Data Scientists can always learn more statistics and Dr. Olga has been a great teacher in these workshops presenting topics like regression modeling and non-parametric analysis. I think our community really gets a lot out of these events.
Since data science is so popular and many schools now offer data science programs, we’ve reached out to local universities, like UC Irvine, to see how we might work together. Over the last several years, we have been working with them and these interactions have been mutually beneficial. Our members, particularly the working professionals, can interact with the student, and the Universities can help support our group with meeting space, co-branding opportunities, and funds. Working with professional data scientists has been very valuable for the students, and we keep seeing great attendance at our events. This has also been a good way for students to network and make connections with professionals already in the field. I’d recommend that other R user groups reach out to universities and see if there is any opportunity to collaborate with them.
What trends do you see in R language affecting your organization over the next year?
A key piece is welcoming new people into the data science community and helping it to expand. R has a very friendly community and I think it is really important for us to reinforce this in our own groups. The ease at which people can now get into R is one of the reasons I believe so many people continue to learn the language and are getting into the data science field.
I’m also really excited about the tidymodels ecosystem and allowing R users to do machine learning and modeling with the same ease as we’ve grown accustomed to doing data analysis with the core tidyverse packages.
I’m also interested in the recent movement of the R community starting to embrace Python. They are both really powerful and useful languages, and there is no need to pick one over the other. I’d say to learn both if you’re so inspired and use these great tools to tackle interesting and important problems.
Of the Funded Projects by the R Consortium, do you have a favorite project? Why is it your favorite?
All the Funded projects look great! Some of my favorite ones are Google Earth Engine with R, there is so much geospatial data! I also really like Improving Translations in R. This is a great effort to continue to make R more accessible for non-English speakers.
Of the Active Working Groups, which is your favorite? Why is it your favorite?
One of my favorite working groups is R ladies. It is great to see how much they have grown! The group has a big influence on inclusion and making sure everyone feels comfortable. They’ve also been active at the rstudio::conf’s (rstudio::conf(2022)) and do an amazing job representing the R community.
When is your next event? Please give details!
Two recent events we have coming up are:
A UseR’s Introduction to Machine Learning in AWS by Emily Robinson, Senior Data Scientist at Warby Parker on September 27 at 6:00 PM (PDT) and Advanced Regression Models with R Applications By Dr. Olga Korosteleva on October 1 at 8:30 AM (PDT).
We also hold monthly virtual meetups which are posted on our Youtube channel as well as events hosted with local universities throughout the year. Another exciting event we plan annually is a Hackathon, more details to come! Follow our group on social media for updates and R related content!
Twitter (@oc_rug) https://twitter.com/socalrug
Instagram: (socalrug) https://tinyurl.com/socalrug-instagram
How do I Join?
R Consortium’s R User Group and Small Conference Support Program (RUGS) provides grants to help R groups around the world organize, share information and support each other. We have given grants over the past four years, encompassing over 65,000 members in 35 countries. We would like to include you! Cash grants and meetup.com accounts are awarded based on the intended use of the funds and the amount of money available to distribute. We are now accepting applications!