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UPDATE: Successful R-based Test Package Submitted to FDA

By Blog

The R Consortium is happy to announce that the R Submissions Working Group successfully completed the follow-up to the original pilot 1 eCTD submission! All submission materials can be found at: https://github.com/RConsortium/submissions-pilot1-to-fda

The pilot 1 test submission was an example submission package following eCTD specifications which included a proprietary R package, R scripts for analysis, R-based analysis data reviewer guide (ADRG), and other required eCTD components.

The initial submission was submitted through the eCTD gateway on Nov 22, 2021. An FDA written response letter was received on Dec 3, 2021. The FDA response commented on two minor findings and included a number of suggestions for best practices. The updated submission package addressed all of these issues and was submitted on Feb 11, 2022. The final response letter from FDA was received on Mar 14, 2022, and can be found at: https://github.com/RConsortium/submissions-wg/blob/main/Documents/Summary_R_Pilot_Submission2.pdf .

Throughout the submission process, we successfully submitted R scripts with its natural file extension (.r) through the eCTD gateway. A proprietary R package was also submitted through the eCTD gateway. Following the submitted ADRG, the FDA staff successfully installed the proprietary and open source R packages, reran the submitted R scripts, and reproduced the analysis results. In addition, the FDA staff performed independent programming in R to evaluate the results.

To our knowledge, this was the first publicly-available regulatory submission package using open source language; this successful pilot sets an important milestone to streamline future open-source language-based submissions. 

As a next step, the R Consortium R Submission Working Group aims at initiating an R submission pilot 2 to experiment with Shiny app code submission through the eCTD gateway. In addition, the working group is also exploring R based pilot submissions to other health authority agencies globally. 

The initial announcement of the R Consortium R Submission pilot 1 can be found at: https://www.r-consortium.org/blog/2021/12/08/successful-r-based-test-package-submitted-to-fda

Eswatini R Users Group Forging Ahead Despite Pandemic Hurdles

By Blog

R Consortium recently caught up with Emmanuel Olamijuwon and Nontsikelelo Shongwe, organizers of the Eswatini R Users Group (Twitter: EswatiniUseR). They discussed how the R user base is growing in Eswatini and how the pandemic has affected them. (Eswatini is located in southeastern Africa, surrounded by South Africa and Mozambique.) Although the COVID pandemic really affected their community, the group is gearing up to restore the former status quo before the pandemic hit.

What is the R community like in Eswatini?

The R community in Eswatini is expanding significantly, and we are optimistic it will continue doing so. Apart from tertiary students and the corporate world, there have been calls for adoption and use of Free and Open-Source Software in teaching and learning in Eswatini’s secondary and high school. This is perhaps the reason behind the growth of the R community in the country.

How has COVID affected your ability to connect with members?

The COVID pandemic has greatly affected us. We haven’t been able to meet physically because of the restrictions that came with the pandemic. Having virtual meetings has also been impossible due to limited internet connectivity — not everyone has internet access because of the cost — and for those with internet access, the speed is slow. 

In the past year, did you have to change your techniques to connect and collaborate with members? 

The Internet has always been a challenge that’s why we haven’t been able to use any online platforms, such as GitHub or Zoom. We have only used WhatsApp, but only for the organizers so we could share important communications.

Can you tell us about one recent presentation or speaker that was especially interesting and what was the topic and why was it so interesting?

We had Heather Turner do a presentation on diversity and inclusion in R. It was exciting to see what R-Ladies community groups are doing and how we fit in as a community.

What trends do you see in R language affecting your organization over the next year?

I am not sure if this is a trend, but I would love to see R incorporated with Python. Not necessarily to see which language is better but in order to get maximum results from the two. 

Do you know of any data journalism efforts by your members? If not, are there particular data journalism projects that you’ve seen in the last year that you feel had a positive impact on society?

Currently not really any. However, we heard in the local newspaper of an initiative UN Eswatini was running to educate journalists in the country about data journalism. That’s the only data journalism project we have heard about.

Of the Funded Projects by the R Consortium, do you have a favorite project? Why is it your favorite?

Emmanuel: I love the Setting up an R-Girls Schools Network project. It is my favorite probably because I joined the R community through R-Ladies South Africa. I had gone to one of their meetings and one of the organizers advised me to start an R-User group so I started. I love its goal which is to increase representation and participation of girls in R. This happens to be one of the things I would love to see as well.

Of the Active Working Groups, which is your favorite? Why is it your favorite?

Nontsikelelo: My favorite is R/Pharma. It is my favorite because it focuses on easening decision-making environments and health technology assessment for Health Analysts through utilizing R. 

When is your next event? Please give details!

We are still in talks with other organizers when we can have our next meeting.

Hiring a New Community Manager for rOpenSci

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From the rOpenSci Project

The rOpenSci project, a developer collective that develops tools and fosters community to enable open science with R, is hiring a new community manager. rOpenSci is an avenue recruiting new talent into the R ecosystem and a hotbed of experimentation of approaches to package design and infrastructure for R.  Our work is only as strong as our community, though, and the community manager plays the central role in bringing in new members, fostering collaborations, and maintaining the welcoming and positive experience that keeps that community strong. Thanks to an award from the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative, this position will help lead a new program to recruit and support open-source leaders from historically underrepresented communities, working with affinity groups like Minorities in R, LatinR, AfricaR, R community, and R-Ladies.


The job is fully remote and has no geographic restrictions. A full job description and application form can be found at https://ropensci.org/careers/community-manager-2022 

Risk Assessment Shiny App – Update from R Validation Hub

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Recent update by Marly Cormar on the Risk Assessment Shiny App. Marly is an executive committee member of the R Validation Hub where she advocates for the use of R within a biopharmaceutical regulatory setting, and Senior Data Scientist at Biogen.

The Risk Assessment App is an interactive web application serving as a front end application for the riskmetric R package. riskmetric is a framework to quantify risk by assessing a number of metrics meant to evaluate development best practices, code documentation, community engagement, and development sustainability. The app and riskmetric aim to provide some context for validation within regulated industries.

Update details:

Murcia R Users Group (UMUR) in Spain Didn’t Let the Pandemic Break its Momentum

By Blog

R Consortium recently talked with Aurora González Vidal of UMUR Asociación de Usuarios de R Murcia (Also on Twitter). She covered the historic involvement of Murcia in the evolution of R in Spain and the progressive nature of the R community in Spain. Although the original community spirit of the group has suffered during the pandemic, shifting events online has also significantly increased the reach of the group. With two future events already planned, the group has held on to its pace and is also hopeful to host hybrid events in the future.

Aurora has been the president of the R Murcia Users Organization since it was established in 2017. She is also a postdoctoral researcher in the Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence at the Faculty of Computer Science, University of Murcia. In her free time, she enjoys playing sports, including climbing and krav magá (self-defense). She is also an avid reader and loves playing the saxophone.

What is the R community like in Spain?

I consider that the R community in Spain is very active, and it consists of multidisciplinary researchers and people in business. Some of my colleagues also work for banks and engineering companies and they are introducing R in their work environment. Adoption of R in industry is still in its early stages and mostly as a personal effort from the employees.

I was told that in 2009, before I started at the university, there were some individual R users spread through Spain that belonged to Linux mailing lists and statistical forums. They gathered here in Murcia for the first time to share knowledge and experience at a national R conference. It was special because here in Spain, bigger events happen in Madrid and Barcelona. Since then, there is an annual conference that grows more every year. 10 years later, in 2019, we celebrated the Xth conference again in Murcia and there were 144 attendees, 32 talks, workshops, posters, a prize, and 2 invited speakers that are prominent references in the R-world: François Husson, who was there in person, and Julia Silge, who gave her talk remotely from Utah. I think in Spain we are very passionate about R and the ecosystem around it because it relates to progress and sharing. 

How has COVID affected your ability to connect with members?

Our original community has suffered a lot because the main activities that we performed, the bi-monthly workshops, had a powerful component of being present. Seeing each other’s faces and getting to know the people, getting to share ideas by having a coffee together after the workshop, was an important part of our spirit. So the original idea of the workshop has suffered. 

In the past year, did you have to change your techniques to connect and collaborate with members? For example, did you use GitHub, videoconferencing, online discussion groups more? Can these techniques be used to make your group more inclusive of people that cannot attend physical events in the future?  

We are using Zoom, and some of our speakers have decided to publish their code on GitHub. It’s something we promote, but not something we ask for. Normally, how it works is that we work a lot through mailing lists. So when someone wants to become a member, they fill out a questionnaire, and we communicate through email. If there is any discussion, it goes through email. We normally provide a doodle to select days for workshops so that every member can vote. In other words, apart from video conferencing, there is nothing new in particular that has happened during the pandemic.

Since we started offering the workshops online because of the pandemic, we have enlarged our community. We engage people not only from our region but also people from other local groups in Spain, and even in Latin America. We also started a YouTube channel that gives our content a projection. It’s great because we get to analyze the interests of the audience from the views on your YouTube channel. For those things I am happy, and the idea is to continue with a hybrid setup in the future, once it is safe to gather again. 

Can you tell us about one recent presentation or speaker that was especially interesting and what was the topic and why was it so interesting? 

Our most recent workshop was very interesting. Jose Vicente Yago, a colleague of mine, who is a data analyst in the Computer Sciences Faculty of the University of Murcia, gave it. It was about creating R packages and deploying them as APIs for machine learning applications. I think this is especially interesting because once we create a function, a set of functions, or even a package, there is the possibility of exposing them to any platform or to any client that does not want to be aware of how R works. It was great, and it is currently available on our channel and also the code is on GitHub. This is not something we ask for because every talk is different, but we encourage the speakers to publish their content, and we support them.

What trends do you see in R language affecting your organization over the next year?

I see that people at the organization are very interested in R for education, R for ecology, and artificial intelligence. A more transversal interest is always developing Shiny apps. Our vice-president already gave a workshop about flexdashboards, and we are thinking of offering a talk about shiny extension packages for theming, UI components, visualizations, etc.

Do you know of any data journalism efforts by your members? If not, are there particular data journalism projects that you’ve seen in the last year that you feel had a positive impact on society?

There is a local R organization, named R-Quixote, from Toledo with which we collaborate frequently. Through them, the editor of the digital journal “The Data Science Magazine” contacted us to help in a section that is an R course. Some members of UMUR, the organization, especially the ones on the directive board, have collaborated previously, providing R courses to Ph.D. students, professors at the university, and other professionals. I will try to get many members involved in this project. 

Of the Funded Projects by the R Consortium, do you have a favorite project? Why is it your favorite?

Personally, from my research and academic view, I would say that the Google Earth Engine with R is amazing. In smart agriculture, satellite images are really useful for detecting problems with crops. 

And then also from a social point of view, the R Girls Schools network sounds amazing too. I think this is something we can also do as a local group. We could try to go to schools, teach what is coding and empower girls from school to choose Data Analysis and Computer Science as careers. So these two things would be my favorites from the funded projects. 

Of the Active Working Groups, which is your favorite? Why is it your favorite?

I think R Certification is very useful because at this point we use online courses, we try on our own but there is a lack of institutions or certification that can provide proof of proficiency in R. So that would be useful.

And also the Distributive Computing working group. Because many times there is this belief that we can only work sequentially in R. Of course parallel computing is possible but people aren’t aware, so these efforts are interesting and useful. 

When is your next event? Please give details!

We have already planned the following two talks. The first one will be about CARET from a predictive point of view and with a focus on biotechnology. There is a lot of expectation with that one. The second one will be a presentation of a package named mapSpain() that is in CRAN. The author himself will show how the package can create maps of the different administrative levels of Spain with R. 

How Abidjan R User Group Is Leveraging Online Meetups To Go Beyond Borders

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Anicet Ebou is a PhD student in Bioinformatics at the Institut National Polytechnique Félix HOUPHOUËT-BOIGNY de Yamoussoukro (INP-HB), Ivory Coast. He works as a bioinformatician to design tools and methods for molecular and agricultural data, and he is one of the lead organizers of Abidjan R user group.

Anicet talks to the R-consortium on the status of their community group especially during this post COVID era. He also shares the trends in the R language which he feels will affect the global R user community.

What is the R community like in the Ivory Coast?

Our community is medium-sized in terms of number of members. We have around 500 active members. The community is composed of people who are very interested in the R language. We have people from academia, students, professions in the field of data science, networks and IT.

Majority of the members come from academia. We have PhD students, researchers, university lecturers etc. Our members have done interesting projects in R which we keep in our Google Drive folder.

How has COVID affected your ability to connect with members?

When COVID hit our country, it was not easy for us because we had to find a new way to meet and continue with our programs. After realizing that the pandemic was not going away anytime soon, we switched to online.

All the meetings we had in 2020 were online, and we would have at least one physical meeting a month. In 2021 it was more difficult to have in-person meetings despite that the COVID situation was calm and the restrictions were lessened.

Our community members now prefer online meetings to physical ones. In 2020, we used to book a small room at one of the universities and invite only a few people to attend while the rest were streaming at home. I think this is what has made our members more inclined to online meetings than physical meetings. Whenever we call for a physical meeting, they always ask for an option to stream online.

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?  

What we have learned from 2020 through 2021 is that people are now used to having everything online. This has prompted us to switch to video conferencing for all our meetups. I think one of the mistakes we made in 2020 was that we were not quick to discern that our community was turning virtual.

We tried organizing in-person meetings in 2021, but the community was not reactive. We have learnt that it’s better to have on-site meetings only for bigger meetings like conferences, hands-on training, and leaving the rest for online. Online meetings are what people now prefer.

Apart from video conferencing, we have a Telegram channel where people ask questions and help one another. I believe these techniques are going to be more effective for us as a community because people are able to connect from anywhere.

Our online meetings always draw people from outside Abidjan and also from outside the country such as Senegal and Mali. Transitioning to online has eliminated geographical barriers. 

Can you tell us about one recent presentation or speaker that was especially interesting and what was the topic and why was it so interesting?

We had Abraham Bio do a presentation on the use of Shiny to create web apps. It was interesting because it gave the participants an opportunity to see what R is capable of doing.

What trends do you see in R language affecting your organization over the next year?

What I have seen is that people are more interested with the use of spatial analysis in R, like how to draw maps, and view spatial data. People are also interested in linking R with Shiny to create web applications, and also how to transform data in R. These are the three major areas we are planning to address as a community this year. 

Do you know of any data journalism efforts by your members? If not, are there particular data journalism projects that you’ve seen in the last year that you feel had a positive impact on society?

I haven’t seen any data journalism from any of our members, but it seems to be a trending topic in the data science space. We are thinking of having a meeting in line with that this year to motivate people who would want to go into this field.

Of the Funded Projects by the R Consortium, do you have a favorite project? Why is it your favorite?

My  favorite is the Extendr – Rust extension for R because Rust is a new language and is memory safe. I feel it is a good language to get into R. I work with Rusty on a regular basis that’s why I love this project.

Of the Active Working Groups, which is your favorite? Why is it your favorite?

I really like the Distributed Computing in R working group because my day-to-day job involves working with algorithms and how to optimize them. This area interests me because everything we use in R involves data structures and making sure the design is perfect.

When is your next event? Please give details!

We have our next event in February. The executive team will be meeting soon to decide on the agenda and the date.

R-Ladies Galapagos Chapter on Collaborations, Challenges, and Opportunities During the Pandemic

By Blog

R Consortium talked to Denisse Fierro Arcos of the R-Ladies Galapagos Chapter (also on Twitter) about the struggles of managing an R-Ladies group during the pandemic. Denisse talked about the close collaboration between three R-Ladies chapters in Ecuador and one in Colombia during the pandemic. With a shared YouTube channel, the Ecuadorian chapters are deeply committed to their shared goal of promoting R in Ecuador. Denisse also shared the challenge of internet connectivity issues in the Galapagos and her plans to overcome it. 

Denisse is a Marine Biologist by training and started programming during her postgraduate studies. She developed a deep interest in programming and is passionate about teaching programming to people, who can then apply it to their research. R-Ladies has provided her with a platform to pursue her passion and reach out to more people through events and workshops. 

What is the R community like in Ecuador?

The R community in Ecuador is small but growing, I would say. More and more people are getting interested in applying programming to whatever field they are in. Since the pandemic, our R-Ladies meetings are done online, we get a lot of participants not just from Ecuador, but also from other places in Latin America. Most of the R users in Ecuador apply it to business-related projects, but the use of R in biology is becoming more prevalent. 

How has COVID affected your ability to connect with members?

So it has been good and bad in a way. It was good, as shifting to online events allowed us to reach many people all over the continent. It also led to our collaboration with four different R-Ladies Groups in Ecuador and Colombia, with whom we co-organized a series of workshops during 2021. 

Because of internet connectivity issues in Galapagos, it is difficult to reach out to the local population. Many people suggested recording the sessions, just in case the internet drops and they can’t actually attend. This led us to start a YouTube channel together with other R-Ladies groups in Ecuador.

In the past year, did you have to change your techniques to connect and collaborate with members? For example, did you use GitHub, videoconferencing, online discussion groups more? Can these techniques be used to make your group more inclusive of people that cannot attend physical events in the future?  

Yes, I have had to change the techniques I used to connect with members. When I started the Galapagos chapter, I was working with an organization that works on the conservation of the Galapagos. So through them, I could reach other organizations in the sphere. But after everything went online, it became a bit more difficult to reach out to potential participants.

A survey done in Latin America suggested that Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn are the three main channels people used to find out about programming-related events and activities. And so we have used these platforms. In addition, we are also using platforms like Google Colab, in case people do not have R installed on their computer. While tools like Google Drive helped us organize all our events even when we were in different cities across the planet. We depended a lot on Zoom for our sessions as well. 

Online events were a good thing in a way because anyone could connect from anywhere, but also not so good when people didn’t have a stable internet connection. I am still trying to figure out how to get around that. Possibly now that COVID-19 restrictions have loosened up a bit, we can create in-person sessions in places where there is a good stable internet connection, so participants can connect and take part that way. 

Can you tell us about one recent presentation or speaker that was especially interesting and what was the topic and why was it so interesting? 

The one that I liked the most was this series of workshops that we did with the four R-Ladies chapters. So essentially, we did a book club using the book “R for Data Science” by Hadley Wickham. Over six months, each R-Ladies chapter was in charge of a book chapter and we taught participants how to apply the concepts covered in that chapter.

It was really great experience because we had never really worked with people outside Ecuador before and also because we helped start a new R-Ladies chapter in Ecuador. I feel it was a really great way to collaborate and make new friends in the process.

What trends do you see in R language affecting your organization over the next year?

So at the moment, I am doing a Ph.D. and I am a little outside of my area of expertise, combining physical oceanography with marine biology. It is a challenge because not only they are two different fields of study but also because physics people usually use Python, while biologists use R. I think the trend in science is going to be that more people are going to use programming, whether it is R or Python. This is mostly because it is now really easy and less expensive to collect vast amounts of data and it would be impossible to analyze it using spreadsheets. In the future, I think researchers will use a combination of programming languages because each has its own strengths and weaknesses. Researchers will become better at programming and incorporate it into their work. And hopefully, we will start teaching these skills at university, because they are a must for researchers. 

Do you know of any data journalism efforts by your members? If not, are there particular data journalism projects that you’ve seen in the last year that you feel had a positive impact on society?

I don’t know of any members of R-Ladies, or any of the groups I am involved with, that are doing data journalism. But in Ecuador, there are a couple of groups that are doing a superb job of sharing information about science, specifically about open-source. 

There is OpenLabEc, which completed a series of workshops in 2021 about open data, how people can apply that to whatever industry they are in. They also organized along with another organization, Datalat, a workshop about the principles of open data, which I attended earlier in 2021, thanks to a scholarship they offered. 

There is also another group that does a podcast, which is available on various platforms, including Spotify. I usually listen to them, it is called Estacion DivulgaCiencia. It is a station that dedicates itself to science in general. They feature different aspects of science and they make it really accessible to the general public, so it’s nice and clear. I really enjoy listening to them. I think these groups are great because they make information more accessible to scientists and the general public.

Of the Funded Projects by the R Consortium, do you have a favorite project? Why is it your favorite?

It’s the R-Ladies, I really think that it is an excellent community. I have learned a lot through them. The reason I started the Galapagos chapter was that I was introduced to an R-Ladies group through an organization that I was working with, in Ecuador. And I really like how they try to help each other in becoming better at programming and teaching others. And I think that is the way forward and I quite like them. 

When is your next event? Please give details!

We are in the planning stages at the moment of the next event. We are going to start a series of workshops, with other R-Ladies groups in Ecuador, particularly the one in Guayaquil. Through this series, we will teach people about R programming and a bit about statistics focusing on biology and ecology.

We did something similar last year in Galapagos, but because we could not secure any funds, we could only complete one workshop out of a four-part series. This year we are working on improving the curriculum we developed last year, so we can get funds. We don’t have any dates yet, but we think it’s going to be in the first trimester of the year. We are going to have these workshops throughout the year and hopefully, we will complete the entire series this year. 

Using the Local Dialect to Teach R Programming

By Blog

Tell us about yourself

My name is Dattijo Murtala Makama, I am currently working as a Senior Software Engineer at the National Center for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (NCAIR). I majored in Applied Mathematics and Machine Learning. I have been the Lead Organizer for Bauchi R User Group for the past 3 years. Furthermore, I have experience working with Machine Learning technology and also community organization.

What is the R community like in Nigeria?

The R community is still young and vibrant. In July 2018 when I started the R user group in Bauchi after I exchanged some emails with the then Director of R Consortium, Mr. Joseph Rickert, we had only 3 R user groups in Nigeria. But now we have over 10 user groups. More needs to be done to capture young developers and bring them to learn R programming, but we’re making progress.

How has COVID affected your ability to connect with members? 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?  

The pandemic pretty much brought almost everyone to a halt. Our community was hit by the pandemic as well. We had to improvise via WhatsApp. Some community members who live in the same neighborhood do meet, program, and have mini-workshops. Generally, we still had to follow the trend of utilizing virtual platforms. We had tried different approaches in order to make our meetups possible despite the pandemic. We utilized exchanging scripts via WhatsApp as we have a very vibrant WhatsApp group for Bauchi RUG. We later changed to hybrid events as the social distancing measures were being relaxed.

What trends do you see in R language affecting your organization over the next year?

In the coming year, I see organizations and schools adapting to use R programming in many data analysis projects. We did a few outreaches this year and the attendance was impressive. 

Also, using our local language to teach R is becoming more important. This year we had facilitators from Horizon IT Services who taught R programming in Hausa to our community members. Numerous researches have shown that the use of the first language in the second-language classroom helps students make connections with their existing knowledge of the mother tongue, thus facilitating the process of better understanding. This is the reason why we adopt the Hausa language as a medium of instruction in teaching R programming language to our members. In addition, we’re based in the Northern part of Nigeria, where many of its inhabitants struggle to understand English as compared to the Southern part of the country.

We believe this will empower our local community and increase interest. And we intend to continue next year. Moreover, we are following the footsteps of the LatinR community whose member, Yanina Bellini, teaches R programming in Spanish in order to facilitate a better understanding of R within the Americas. As a result of which, she recorded a significant increase in terms of participation at their meetups. And we have also recorded some impressive numbers as well.

Of the Funded Projects by the R Consortium, do you have a favorite project? Why is it your favorite?

Well, actually I have 2 favorite projects: Improving translation in R. This is because language serves as a barrier to getting many people to get started learning to program in R. Having documentation in other languages could help attract lots of people to programming in R.

Secondly Setting up an R-girls-schools network, we need to give more women the opportunity to learn data science because the statistics show that women are not well represented. By exposing young girls to R programming we can improve the participation of women in data science.

Of the Active Working Groups, which is your favorite?  Why is it your favorite?

R/medicine is my favorite active working group. I have always wanted to apply mathematics to solve medical problems. During my undergrad, I got a freelancing job to analyze Vesicovaginal fistula (VVF) patients’ data. 

When is your next event? Please give details!

The first event of the year is scheduled to hold on 29th January 2022. It’s titled “Getting Started with R programming.” It will serve as an introduction on why and how to get started programming in R. We’ll also use the opportunity to announce the registration for our next R for Data Science Study Jam. But we’ll be focusing on tutoring R programming in Hausa as well as collaborating with women in data science in order to attract as many women as we can.

Salt Lake City R User Group Looks to Meld In-person and Online Activities

By Blog

Salt Lake City R User Group noticed that their users were missing something during their online meetings. R Consortium talks to Julia Silge about how they planned on mixing online meetings with in-person activities to help with networking. She also talks about how funded projects helped her directly in her work as well as how to increase worldwide acceptance with more translated documentation for the global audience.

RC: What is the R community like in Salt Lake City?

JS: Salt Lake City hits above its weight population-wise based on where it’s located regionally in the Mountain West, without other big cities with tech hubs nearby. The R community here is a mix of academic folks (from the University of Utah, the medical school, and other academic institutions) and the burgeoning tech scene. We have a thriving academic scene, and the medical school is well respected and is connected to a lot of life science research. This area in Utah is called ”Silicon Slopes,” due to the beautiful skiing and the corridor of tech companies from Salt Lake City down to Provo. The R Community reflects all this; we have life science researchers and people who work at technology companies that are based in this area. 

RC: How has COVID affected your ability to connect with members?

JS: We had a meeting scheduled for March 2020, and we had to scramble to cancel it! Schools were moving online, and everyone was uncertain about what was happening. We took one month off since things were in flux. Then we moved to an online format later that spring, which we had never done before. We kept the same time slot (a weekday lunchtime Mountain Time) but shifted to online. We continued to use the same channels to get info about our meetings out. Thanks to the R Consortium, we have a meetup page. We also use GitHub to share talk materials after the fact, as well as a YouTube page for our videos. It was a big shift moving from in-person to online! Like a lot of R user groups, our meetings now had global reach.

RC: 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?  

JS: The other organizers and I discussed our meeting plans in the summer when things were turning around here in our community, with low cases, hospitals under control, and the vaccine rollout. We decided to keep lunchtime virtual talks and add in in-person networking events between the virtual talks. The idea was to alternate every other month or so. Networking and social connections are something that we miss with only virtual meetings. That was the plan, but then the Delta variant arrived in our community and we scrapped it. That is still our long-term goal for the future, a mixture of online talks and in-person events for social connections.

RC: Can you tell us about one recent presentation or speaker that was especially interesting and what was the topic and why was it so interesting? 

JS: One that comes to mind from this year was in May when we had a presentation on how to build a data science portfolio. Dr. Rachael Tatman gave a talk about how to make the transition from an academic or analyst role into data science with a portfolio of work. This talk is an example of a career or community talk, thinking about processes or decisions independent of the specific language we use.

The other category of talks we do are more specifically about using R, like using a certain package or how to write better R code. We ended 2021 with a talk about the pins package, an R package for publishing and sharing datasets, models, and other objects. It lets you collaborate with coworkers more fluently. Katie Masiello gave this talk, and it’s an example of a talk about a common problem and how we solve it with a tool in R.

RC: What trends do you see in R language affecting your organization over the next year?

JS: One thing that I see more and more people need to address in their workflows is moving from local development environments to a cloud environment. Our talk in October was about how to get started in AWS for machine learning and use SageMaker. (Since the October talk, there have been changes in how to use R on SageMaker.) Emily Robinson gave that talk and she used her own experience in her job to share what she learned. Using cloud resources is something that is a real trend, affecting more and more R users. There is a lot of interest in these topics, and we will continue to see talks reflect that.

RC: Do you know of any data journalism efforts by your members?  If not, are there particular data journalism projects that you’ve seen in the last year that you feel had a positive impact on society?

JS: Salt Lake City isn’t a huge data journalism hub, but one project that comes to mind is the work of data journalist Peter Aldhous at BuzzFeed looking at the pattern of election results and how they were affected by COVID. This project basically asked the question, “During the election, did the mishandling of COVID affect Trump’s chances?” It turns out it didn’t, and neither did unemployment. This was a difficult dataset because the first outbreaks were in New York City and other very blue cities, and then the worst of the pandemic moved to red states. The analysis shows that places that were hard hit by COVID were no more or less likely to vote for Trump. Peter used R for his analysis, and you can go and see his script on GitHub for how he did his modeling. 

RC: When is your next event? Please give details!

JS: Our first event of 2022 is lightning talks done by our community members. This is a tradition for us; our first meeting of the year is always lightning talks, a nice variety of things from different people. Our members will give talks either showing off successes or failures, at a lot of different levels, and about both process as well as statistical methods. The variety is always nice.

RC: Of the Funded Projects by the R Consortium, do you have a favorite project? Why is it your favorite?

JS: One that personally impacted me is the HTTP testing in R book. I work on some packages that make HTTP calls like the qualtRics package (to access Qualtrics surveys) and, honestly, the testing was a mess before I used this book. It made a huge difference in how my collaborators and I were able to build more reliable, better tested open source software for people to use. This testing book was my personal favorite funded project because it helped me move from being less effective to having a better grasp of good practices in this context.

RC: Of the Active Working Groups, which is your favorite?  Why is it your favorite?

JS: I’m going to highlight two. The first is distributed computing. I work on tooling for machine learning and modeling, and that work makes me very interested in better patterns for distributed computing structures for R. The other one is the R Pharma group. I gave a keynote at R Pharma in 2020, and although this is a community that I had not had much interaction with until then, I found that they are working on such interesting problems! They are interested in scaling up maturity in terms of software engineering and modeling practices. 

RC: There are four projects that are R Consortium Top-Level Projects. If you could add another project to this list for guaranteed funding for 3 years and a voting seat on the ISC, which project would you add?

The current four projects are:

JS: One that I think that would be, priority-wise, important and valuable would be the issue of translations in R. (That’s one of the funded groups this year.) When I look at the top-level projects, they focus on these top-level ways that we look at the R community and how we support people. How do we grow a thriving open source community better? High-level English competency being required to be able to access help messages, documentation, and more is rough. R is not unique in this challenge, but one of the things that drives the adoption of R is that you can use it to solve your everyday data analysis problems, no matter where you are. English isn’t the majority language in the world or even on the internet, so I think it is worthwhile to improve the translation situation, with better non-English support in general, and more documentation and blogs in multiple languages. 

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 4 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

COVID Is Accelerating the Growth and Reach of the R-Ladies Johannesburg Community

By Blog

The R consortium recently checked in with Vebashini Naidoo, one of the organizers of the R-Ladies Johannesburg. The group started in July 2018 and has so far had 19 physical meetings and 16 online meetings. Their shift to online has allowed the group to become a global community, with the leadership team from the Gauteng province in South Africa. Vebashini shared how they have leveraged the COVID pandemic to expand their reach beyond South Africa.

What is the R community like in your country?

Our community is very diverse. We are people from different ethnic, gender and academic backgrounds. We have people from academia, and different industries such as banking, telecommunications, journalism, law and epidemiology.

Members of the community are so enthusiastic and appreciative of the speakers. I think Africans, in particular, are thirsty for knowledge because we know that’s the way to elevate African people. Our members are very engaged in the talks. 

Before COVID 19 hit we expanded R-Ladies Johannesburg because my co-organizer is from Pretoria. This has made R-Ladies Johannesburg to grow and become R-Ladies Gauteng. However, rebranding ourselves to R-Ladies Gauteng is quite a long mission since people know us on Twitter and Meetup as R-Ladies Johannesburg, but our current perimeter goes beyond the city of Johannesburg. 

How has COVID affected your ability to connect with members?

As with any human being, even if you are an introvert, you still need to see people every once in a while. But, with COVID and the vaccination rates in South Africa being quite low—only about 38% of the adult population is fully vaccinated at the moment, our meetings have migrated and stayed online. When we were meeting physically, we used to eat pizza together and interact. I guess that’s the one thing we dearly miss.

However, COVID has been like a blessing in disguise for our community. Now our community has gone international, which is a good opportunity to bring speakers from across the world to our local audience. Previously, that wasn’t possible. 

Before COVID, it was so hard to get speakers locally. We tried contacting universities and inviting those doing interesting work in South Africa to come speak for us, but with the meetings being physical, we were limited by the number of people to invite. With us being online, we now have a wide range of speakers to invite.

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 have used Zoom for video conferences. We were lucky because R-Ladies set up a Zoom account for the R-Ladies user groups. They did that nearly immediately when COVID hit. It is very convenient for us, because whenever we want to have a meetup, we access a calendar and book a session if the slot is available. We are probably going to remain online even after the pandemic is under control for the reason that online meetings have expanded our reach and given an opportunity to those that could not attend our in-person meetings.

Having online meetings has also enabled us to record our meetings and upload them on the R-Ladies global YouTube channel. The nice thing about this is people can watch our sessions at a time convenient for them. That’s another blessing the pandemic has bestowed upon us. 

We’ve always used and continue to use GitHub. Whenever a speaker gives us materials, we upload them on GitHub. Regarding online discussion groups, we haven’t had any so far. 

Can you tell us about one recent presentation or speaker that was especially interesting and what was the topic and why was it so interesting?

We had Diana Pholo, she did a presentation on incorporating Auth0 to implement authentication for Shiny. Like where you would have different people have different user profiles, and the contents they access would also be different. She did an entire setup (with authentication) using Auth0 to allow people to log on and access different materials from each other. People without login credentials wouldn’t be able to have access to the Shiny app at all. That was quite interesting.

What trends do you see in R language affecting your organization over the next year?

One thing is with tidymodels ecosystem growing as it is, as well as the package enhancements in that ecosystem, I think that will give the world more opportunity to use R more widely. The other is the addition of R to the AWS cloud environment. I believe that is another step to wider adoption of R in businesses.

In South Africa, most businesses are more into SAS/Matlab. They are not embracing R, and when there is adoption of open source, they are more inclined towards Python. I think having R in AWS cloud is a step in the right direction to getting more adoption of the language across companies and academia. Most people I talk to love R, they love the ease of use of the language. 

Do you know of any data journalism efforts by your members? If not, are there particular data journalism projects that you’ve seen in the last year that you feel had a positive impact on society?

We have a member (she hasn’t come to many meetups but we’d still like to think of her as part of the community) that works for a local online data journalism magazine called Outlier. They do an amazing job when it comes to data journalism here in South Africa.

Of the Funded Projects by the R Consortium, do you have a favorite project? Why is it your favorite?

I like the Setting up an R-Girls Schools Network. The reason it is my favorite is that there is a lot of underrepresentation of women in technical fields such as data science, and I want to see more equality in the tech fields in the future. Projects like that go a long way to meeting that goal. If that project becomes successful in the UK, I believe the materials can be distributed and copied as a recipe to the rest of the world.

Africa in particular, is in desperate need of such projects, not just for women or girls but for African children. The project’s focus is on girl children, but for us as Africans it can be a recipe to follow for our African schools. 

Of the Active Working Groups, which is your favorite? Why is it your favorite?

The R community Diversity and Inclusion is my favorite, though I am not sure if it is still active. The R consortium is very supportive of R groups that are trying to bring diversity and inclusion, such as the R-Ladies groups, AfricaR etc. This project is similar to why I chose the R-Girls schools one because it focuses on equality.  

When is your next event? Please give details!

In 2019, I did an R package tutorial for our group, and my co-organizer asked me if I can do an online one for some of her colleagues working in the university. That will be one of the presentations that’s coming up in the first half of next year.

We are in talks with a couple of people at the moment. There is one lady who uses R for artistry and another one who uses the gm package to make music in R. (Editor’s note: The package name “gm” means “grammar of music” or “generate music.”). She will probably speak to us early next year.