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R User Group Kano, Nigeria, is Bringing in the Next Generation of Students to the R Community

By Blog

The R Consortium recently reached out to Umar Isah Adam to find out more about the status of the R User Group Kano. Umar is a freelance data analyst who works as a part-time typist, data analyst, and  volunteer mathematics teacher at a local school. Umar loves to write programs and enjoys contributing to society. He graduated from the Federal University of Dutse in 2017 and holds a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. He is an organizer of the Google Developers Group (GDG) Dutse. After his graduation, he picked up an interest in data science and went for a series of courses including a nano degree online from Udacity, and R and Python programming from Coursera.

When he’s not programming or leading the R User Group Kano, Umar loves to play video games and watch movies.

What is the R community like in Nigeria?

In my opinion, the R community is doing well in Nigeria, but it can be better. We should work to make the whole R community connected and in touch with one another. We should be tracking progress and sharing experiences. Live events should be organized across the country, maybe once or twice a year. This would help to strengthen the R community, and it will help a lot in reaching out to others. It will also help the new chapters grow and acquire more audience. Furthermore, the younger generation needs to be engaged in the communities in order to help grow the community in the future.

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

COVID drastically affected our ability to connect with members because most of the time the people we are trying to reach are new to programming or to the R language, so meeting them in person has a significant effect on their interest and confidence. Most of the time we are meeting online we experience a lot of internet connection problems, this gives us a lot of headaches in achieving what we want to achieve. We have tried using different techniques to connect, but it is not working out well. It’s not all negative. Video conferencing and other technologies can be used in the future to make the group more inclusive to those who cannot attend.

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

Young adults are leaving secondary and tertiary schools, and with the rate of unemployment, the tech ecosystem is enlarging and areas like Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, Data Science, etc. are gaining visibility. These young people have to learn R and Python. 

I see a lot of people wanting to learn R. In fact, I don’t think we will be able to accommodate the massive crowd of new R learners in the coming year. There are no proper certification courses for these people, and the issues of access to the internet and computers poses a threat to this growth.

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

Interactive visualisations in R vial R-to-JavaScript-Transpilation. This is my favorite project because it will open a whole lot of chapters in the R community that will grow through this project.

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

R-Medicine is my favorite, because it will bring a real change in the medical field, it will save lives, and help grow a healthy world. I’ll be glad to have an opportunity to be with the team.

When is your next event? Please give details!

The time of our next event is not fixed yet. However, we are currently collaborating with Global AI hub to reach out to Secondary schools, and the program is expected to be continuous.  Secondary students from selected schools will be given the opportunity to engage in a code lab with hands-on experience. 

I realized most of the R community members are not as young as I thought, and for the future of the community, younger generations will have to be engaged and trained for them to be able to help the R community and brainstorm some exemplary solutions for the community. Given the current situation, schools will be chosen based on the availability of computers and interest of the students to be introduced to programming. All interested students can join regardless of their classes. This opportunity will be used to introduce R to the students, showcase its power and highlight some interesting projects that are done in R to capture their attention.

How the Lagos R User Group Has Leveraged the Pandemic

By Blog

Folajimi Aroloye is a data analytics professional and educator. He is the organizer for the Lagos R User Group. He is involved in capacity building. Folajimi started his data science journey in December 2017, using R at Wema Bank in Nigeria. According to him, it has been both challenging and exciting fitting into different roles and wearing different hats in the organization.

What is the R community like in Nigeria?

The community in Nigeria has grown over time, and it is exciting to see how many people use R. The user groups and occasional meetups have encourage people to come out of their shells. Although it may seem that there are no R users, our meetups are usually packed. The recently concluded useR conference had many Africans registering as attendees and most of them were Nigerians. 

The Lagos RUG started in March 2019. Interest is not limited to R user groups; several data science communities also use R. While some use Python, others use both R and Python programming languages. 

I can firmly say that the R language is gaining more ground in Africa, especially Nigeria. Several financial institutions, tertiary schools, and organizations use R to carry out research and execute their day-to-day activities. It is an interesting space to be a part of, more effort just needs to be made to create awareness and drive the adoption for the use of R.

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

In a way, I don’t think we were affected by COVID. WhatsApp has been the major platform for communication, but we were already leveraging these types of platforms prior to this time. We have a Slack group, but communication wasn’t seamless as some people found it hard to keep up with messages on the platform. We employed the use of WhatsApp for community engagement and collaborated more on Github. 

What COVID did for us was to help us save funds. For all our meetups, we made refreshments available and also had to pay for spaces we used for these meetups, so COVID helped us save money as we moved to a more virtual space. The money was converted and used to pay for much larger access on Zoom to accommodate more persons.

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? 

At an event last year, we had an interesting session on “Machine learning with R.”  It was an eye-opener. From the analysis we took of the attendees, we had more beginners in the community, and it was interesting to new R users as well as Machine Learning enthusiasts. It was facilitated by Oluseyi Obaloluwa Ajayi, one of the members of the community. We spent most of the year 2019 building the right competence in data analytics and entering into the year 2020, we saw the need to progress in the data science learning path.

The model we run in Lagos is an open and safe space; this means any member can speak. Our system is designed to expose new talents to the community and other larger companies. The only session I facilitated was the orientation in 2019. Members of the user groups are allowed to speak about their growth, challenges, and what they are currently learning. We have an executive body that organizes these meetups and reaches out to speakers. 

We are not biased in the sense that we have created opportunities for everybody to speak despite their levels of programming knowledge. From beginners to professionals our user group allows members to have the stage. We are building the Lagos R users group to be the template for other user groups in Nigeria and across Africa. 

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

I see a lot of people coming into Data Science as Africa is the hotspot for new tech talent. Also, a lot of people are using Python for data science, but other sectors like financial institutions and research institutes use R which means data scientists and data analysts would need to use R more for their analysis. So, a new trend would be a blend of the use of R and Python for data science across Africa. 

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 am not aware of any on a personal level, but some organizations use R in Data Journalism. Notable mentions include Stears Business, Nairametrics, and many more. These organizations have a knack for using data to help create public awareness and education on key matters that affects society. 

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

SatRdays and Software Carpentry R Instructor Training; additional support for trainers and facilitators. With SatRdays, there has been a rich source of resources for newbies and the R community.

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

Code Coverage: supporting the ecosystem and making available the best and updated tools to use is high for me on my choice of the Active Working Groups I see as a favorite. Having a tool that supports the breadth of the R language across multiple platforms, and that is used by R package developers and R core teams, helps to improve software quality for the R Community.

When is your next event? Please give details!

Presently, I can’t go into details but we will have a virtual 1-day session to evaluate the past year and plan for the future.

R-Ladies Lagos on Data Visualization and Hybrid Events

By Blog

Alimi Eyitayo is a Graduate of Computer Engineering and a social engineering professional with over 12 years of experience in the field of information technology. She is an international speaker and an education advocate. Her quest for knowledge motivated her to embark on virtual reality research which was published as the first virtual reality research work in Africa which she demystifies in TEDx talks and other presentations. She’s a Software Engineer that chooses to build people – especially women in technology – over building products. She’s a Cloud Solutions Architect at IBM, and you can connect with her on LinkedIn

What is the R community like in Nigeria? 

The R community in Nigeria is growing steadily. The R-Ladies Lagos user group was founded in September 2019. Sponsorship support is a challenge as well as R language acceptability. There are larger data communities already in existence, and we have to help most people understand why they should use R. 

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?  

In the past, we have arranged for virtual connections and events but that also has been challenging. Some of our community members have the challenge of staying focused at home because of the house chores while others need access to the Internet to remain consistent over time. When COVID happened it presented us with even greater challenges – economic change, local and global lockdown, and some other incidents created a very tough situation for physical – and often time – virtual connectivity. There are also some internal challenges with a diversity – women-focused – group like ours. Owing to this feedback, a hybrid-seasonal event will give optimum support. 

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 the Data Science Nigeria team come to one of our events at a university campus to speak on “Getting started with data science.” This event was interesting because we had the opportunity to access the student community, and it came as an opportunity to get newbies started with Data Science using the R language

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

I see more women tending towards data visualization and statistical implementation. As a technology community, more effort, support, and training from the community will sprout more interest. Women are interested in emerging technologies but adequate training and support will move them from interest to implementation.

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? 

None that I am aware of but as a member of the WHO infodemic exercises, that is one impact project I have been a part of as it helps people – software engineers and journalists – come together to work on projects and technologies that help flag misinformation while also providing professional journalistic views and reporting.  

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

The R Community Diversity and Inclusion. I’ve been directly involved in 3 user conferences and twice served on the community diversity and inclusion team. This is my favorite because It directly touches the humans working on the technology. Although this community diversity and inclusion working group in the R foundation has a lot of improvement to do, the fact that it touches the lives of people is something I’m really happy about.

When is your next event? Please give details!

We currently do not have an event scheduled. The community is currently on break and our next event will be scheduled for the first quarter of 2022.

New Data Science Degree in Zimbabwe Universities Fueling Interest and Growth in R Programming

By Blog

R consortium had a discussion with Asimbongeni Dhlodhlo, one of the key leaders spearheading the ZimR UseRs group in Zimbabwe. He talks on how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected them as a community and how they are dealing with the current global crisis. Being a community dominated by students, R is gaining popularity in the country especially after the introduction of a degree in data science by some universities. Asimbongeni also has an interesting take on seeing R running on serverless environments.

What is the R community like in your country?

The R community in Zimbabwe is young, driven by demand for workers with  programming skills. Our members are people who have a background in computer programming. Recently, there has been an introduction of data science degrees in three universities in the country. Five years ago, we did not have data science as a degree in Zimbabwe. R is being used in these universities as part of their core curriculum which has brought an increase in R members in the group. 

Also, Zimbabwe is facing a serious unemployment problem, but NGOs are growing. These NGOs normally come with their own standards such as the kind of software to be used, which has caused an upward trend in the use of R.  R is being used by NGOs for data cleaning, analysis and visualization. The largest group making up the R community in Zimbabwe are students from universities, not people in business.

How has COVID affected your ability to connect with members?

It has been a horrible time for us. Here in Zimbabwe we had an early lockdown, even when the numbers for COVID cases were quite low. This really affected us from meeting physically. The numbers are low even now but our borders still remain closed. 

We haven’t had a lot of events on just R. What we have done is to partner with the data science community which is bigger than ours, including a Python one that is popular. Whenever there is a Python Zimbabwe or data science event, we are always part of it, but that was like 2-3 years ago. We have tried using virtual meetings however, internet connectivity has been an issue of major concern. Most of our users being students, we cannot do a long meeting because the majority may not afford the internet costs. We have been using WhatsApp as a discussion board where people ask questions, help with challenges. But it’s been a horrible time. 

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 been using virtual meetings, but did not get good numbers and the numbers drop quickly during virtual meetings. The maximum we can do is 2 hours, beyond that the numbers start falling. 

The main platform we are using right now is WhatsApp, but then it has limits on the number of people. We have never used GitHub. WhatsApp is the only tool we are using to connect, but I doubt that we can continue using it moving forward. People get excited when there is a physical conference; they want to meet, interact, and travel to different locations. They really enjoy that. Unfortunately, we cannot replicate that virtually. 

For us, the ideal thing is to meet physically. I’m just hoping this whole COVID crisis goes away.  

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 Kundai Gwatidzo who did an analysis on tracking the number of burials during COVID. He used Sentinel satellite imagery to track graves. On the satellite image there is a shadow that shows when there is a grave that has been dug. He went ahead to analyze that and then used a classification algorithm that tracks the shadows and produces a count for a specific cemetery in the past week. Using this, we were able to have a weekly count of graves, if there are no clouds. This particular presentation was a “wow” moment for us as a community.

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

People have always enjoyed R since it is easier to learn than other languages. The learning curve allows people to jump on fast. What’s more interesting for me in the future is to see R being used in serverless environments like Docker plus other serveless platforms. There has been a lot of work that has been done to make R easier using packages, such as Machine Learning packages and R MarkDown. 

R has always been strong in visualization, ggplots is one of the best packages out there. It makes creating graphs a beautiful thing to do.

When is your next event? Please give details!

The plan was to have an event in February. We are hoping that it will be a physical event because here the policy is that if you are vaccinated you are allowed to meet physically. However, with the Omicron variant, it’s unclear. We are keeping our fingers crossed.

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

For me the one that stands out is the Google Earth Engine (GEE) with R project since it is trying to link R to the Google Earth Engine. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) is data intensive and it requires a lot of computation power. If that comes together by leveraging Google’s computation power, it would be an exciting project to watch.

Calgary R User Group on the Importance of Math Education

By Blog

Jonathan Lin of the Calgary R User group (meetup | website) talks to R Consortium about their adaptation into the COVID world and their struggles with the higher production value of videos. He also talks about the importance of making statistics and math more approachable to kids to get them more interested in data science in general.

RC: What is the R community like in Calgary?

JL: Speaking of the R community, it’s pretty diverse in Calgary. The main organizers are academic, and I joined primarily with a business background. A large portion of our audience comes from academia and statistical backgrounds, so our discussions are oriented towards studies and dissertations. We also get businesses and petrochemical engineering talks, too, being an Oil & Gas centric hub. The combination makes for a very diverse and interesting set of discussions.

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

JL: Up until this year, we hosted exclusively in-person meetings. While we would post slides after for people to use, we were limited by time needed to properly record our meetings. COVID has forced us to be more accessible. Having online meetings has increased our reach. We were able to advertise to a much wider audience, and also get a bigger range of both speakers outside of Calgary and even Canada. For instance, Edmonton is 3 hours away, and we were able to get a speaker that we wouldn’t have been able to consider before. 

There are some downsides, however. On Zoom, we have less banter and conversation. Our Zoom meetings follow a fairly basic format – the presenter presents, our members ask a few questions, and then participants leave. We also find its harder to organically identify speaking opportunities – Chel Hee Lee (co-organizer) has done an amazing job finding speakers during this time, and we are always looking for contributors.

We wanted to experiment with other platforms to try and break out from this pattern. We tried wonder, the online conferencing app. It showed a lot of promise, and the interaction was good. Zoom has significant momentum, so asking our users to try something new is a culture shift. The general shyness of online users (especially face to face) is a challenge – online, there is little incentive and lots of risk for individuals to engage with strangers. 

There is no substitute for in-person communication… but after doing several meetings online, there is a lot we can learn and integrate back into our in-person meetings.

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?  

JL: We used GitHub since day 1. This is a great way to show a presence both online and locally. It allows people to see prior meetings presentations, code, and other materials. This gave us a relatively easy transition for distributing materials when we started hosted online.

Recording videos is new to us, however. The need for reuse means we need to focus on higher production values, including additional post-event updates. 

The technical issues that come with it are worth the effort though. Having greater access to individuals with disabilities, or even those balancing family life, is the obvious benefit that comes from these changes. It enables access on our YouTube channel, allowing more people to access our content, regardless of their status. 

Ideally we’d continue recording videos, and would love ideas on how to easily put event videos onto Youtube.

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? 

JL: When we have presenters who have done academic work, they come in with a very novel aspect to problem-solving. Abed Ayyad gave a talk about how Alberta has the best solar exposure in Canada. And he didn’t just tell us, but he showed us along with the calculations. Another was by Danielle Clarke on bee habitats and bioversity can be affected by the shape of the habitat, and modelled with GIS and Landscape Analysis. She turned everything into a grid, how diversity was in each grid, and how a change in one area affects other areas. This application of R techniques to academic topics is something that tangibly demonstrates how to apply R to specific problems. I love seeing the cross-pollination of R (pun intended).

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

JL: We’re getting a steady stream of new R users coming into our organization, who want to learn how to use R. We are thinking of doing workshops and helping the community. It is one thing to host these user groups, but actively teaching and learning would be a highly effective way to improve our community.

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?

JL: I was watching Twitter and we had a recent municipal election where one of the people running was investigated after initial voting had taken place. One analysis used R to review how his votes changed from pre-voting to the day of elections. None of them were in our CalgaryR User Group, but it’s awesome to see other Calgarians using R for their work.

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

JL: Our next event (at time of interview) is with Cherri Zhang from the University of Calgary on the Validation of the underlying constructs of survey instruments, relating to the diagnosis and management of concussions. 

And anyone can join our CalgaryR Meetup group to hear about our 2022 and future events!

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

JL: They’re all great, and the following are especially of relevant to us:

  • Setting up an R-Girls-School Network is where we really want to get kids involved with coding earlier. 
  • The Java interactive visualization looks neat. I’m excited about that one. R is blessed with lots of visualization packages, and there are always advantages with one package over another, so I look forward to seeing what this one brings.

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

JL: Distributive Computing and R Certification both are interesting to me. 

Regarding the R Certification – How would you go around getting a common certification in R? Being previously “certified” in a different programming language, I found that certifications do not always indicate a strong competency in the language. 

I feel like Distributive Computing could use some development in the R system due to some of the issues going on currently with data size.

RC: Four projects 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?

For reference, the four current projects are: R Community Diversity and Inclusion, R-Hub, R-Ladies, and R User Group Support Program (RUGS).

JL: Similar to my earlier answer on supporting “R Girls,” one of my co-organizers (Cliff) is strongly passionate about “R kids,” supporting statistics and math fluency for kids. It would help to make coding and statistics more approachable and embedded in the minds before they reach high school. Visualizations, graphs, interactivity and discovery would all help make R more accessible to kids. 

Osun R User Group in Nigeria talks about Spreading the Gospel of R across Africa

By Blog

The R consortium spoke with Timothy Ogunleye on adapting to fit the system during the lockdown. We found out how they were able to adjust and move from having so many in-person meetups to virtual sessions largely through WhatsApp.

Timothy holds a Master of Science (M.Sc.) and Bachelor of Science (B.Sc. – Hons.) in Statistics with 2nd Class Upper Division from the University of Ilorin in Nigeria. Currently, he is close to finishing his doctorate degree under the supervision of Prof. A.O. Adejumo. 

Timothy has also trained at the Department of Computing of Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia, and has been certified as an R and Python Programmer (expert) in the field of Data Science. And he has obtained a national diploma (ND) and higher national diploma (HND) certification in Statistics from the Federal Polytechnic in Osun State in Nigeria.

Tim, as he is proudly called by his friends and colleagues, has at least 15 years of experience in both industry and academia. He has been a monitoring and evaluation (M&E) consultant, data analyst, and epidemiology and health consultant with more than 40 reports produced. He has worked with many local and international NGOs, including the United Nations. In addition, he has published at least 13 journal articles both locally and internationally. Tim is a Member of the Science Association of Nigeria (SAN), the Nigerian Statistical Association (NSA), the Nigerian Association of Mathematical Physics (NAMP); and the International Association for Statistical Computing (IASC).

What is the R community like in Nigeria?

In Nigeria currently, there are a lot of R users and user groups. We have preached the gospel of R to over 2000 people all over Nigeria. Our R symposiums were always packed with 150 – 200 attendees. Our R meetups were held in the Osun state, here in Nigeria. The R user group in Osun has received grants from the R consortium and also the Society of Research Software Engineers (SRSE), IESC. We have conducted a few symposiums using the universities in Osun.

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?  

During COVID19 here in Nigeria, we used Telegram and WhatsApp groups to connect with members. Every Sunday at 9 pm WAT, I would host an online session to teach R for 1 hour. We used the Zoom platform for video recordings and teachings. The classes were recorded with Zoom and shared across Telegram and WhatsApp for more engagement. Whatsapp is used to communicate updates. This is still ongoing, and we don’t take money. 

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? 

As the team leader of the Osun User group, I am assisted by four other organizers who can also speak at our meetups/sessions. This means there is a lot of variety in the people who speak. One of my favorite presentations was “Data graphics using the Plotly command.” I am especially interested in the Plotly application for graphics. It can do very good pie charts.

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

The team members are committed and passionate, there is the need for spreading the R programming language. The goal is to teach the R language from secondary schools. It is important to do this as technology is spreading and the need for Data scientists increases. 

R could be introduced early to assist students and help push the R programming language. We want to introduce programming to the Government, so it can be included in the syllabus. The challenge is some high school students do not have laptops for learning.

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?

Some of my group members have worked with newspaper publications. For a symposium, we needed to have some paid publicity. We got it for free and in return, we wanted to do something for the publication; this was where I started to look at how R can be used in journalism. There was data for different sectors, income, and expenditure, for Nigeria alone. I used R to get graphics and percentages to build data analysis. Since then, I don’t think I’ve worked on a data journalism project.

When is your next event? Please give details!

My user group and I have contacted R experts from other African countries in Kenya, Sudan, and Zimbabwe. We’re planning to conduct data science and machine learning workshops using the R language for Africans. More information cannot be given currently since the idea is still in planning. We are looking to send a grant request to the ISC at the R consortium to help fund this idea. This event is slated for January 2022.

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

My favorite project is The RECON COVID-19 challenge: leveraging the R community to improve COVID-19 analytics resources. It is a vibrant project that talks about covid 19 and how we can leverage R to fix most of the challenges with COVID19.

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

Well, I’d say my favorite is the R/Business and the R/medicine. They are directly connected to real-world problems.

We are also thinking of starting a working group ourselves. This is still in the pipeline. We need the opinions of other team members to make a final decision, but currently, it’s not something I can say so much about. 

Oslo UseR! Group’s Diverse and Inclusive Environment Has Fostered a Resilient R Community

By Blog

R Consortium talked to Raoul Wolf of the Oslo UseR! Group about the wide adoption of R in Norway, both in academia and industry. He explained how the pandemic initially hindered activities of the group, but they bounced back. The group took the opportunity to collaborate with other R communities and invite high profile international speakers for virtual events.

Raoul currently works as a Senior Advisor and Digital Developer within Sustainable Geosolutions at Norwegian Geotechnical Institute. Hailing from Germany, Raoul was first introduced to R when he began his PhD studies in Norway eight years ago. 

When he’s not coding in R, Raoul enjoys the cultural life in Oslo and is really fond of the fantastic museums and the vibrant culinary scene. 

What is the R community like in Norway?

I cannot talk on behalf of the entire R community in Norway, as we have several hubs of the R community. Oslo, as the capital of Norway, has the largest R community. But the R communities in other cities, e.g. Bergen, Trondheim or Tromsø, are also doing great things. 

What I like about the R community is how very welcoming it is. This is true not only for Oslo, but all over Norway. It is a diverse community in terms of cultural backgrounds, professional backgrounds and identities. My professional background is from academia, and we have a vast base in academia in Oslo, but also people from consultancies and the industrial sectors. 

We are lucky to be in the capital city here and can collaborate with the different communities that are already here and using R.

I need to mention that while I am the main organizer of our meetup group in Oslo, I have two wonderful co-organizers, Bethan Cropp and Henrik Galligani Ræder. At a certain point, both were regulars at our events and wanted to take a more proactive role in the community building here, and that’s a blessing. Between the three of us, we recruit speakers and organize events.

In Oslo, we not only have the UseR! Oslo meetup group, but also a great R Ladies meetup group. Across Norway,  other R Ladies groups are really active as well, and we have had great contact with R Ladies Oslo and co-organized events. So we are really happy with this constellation in Oslo. 

How has COVID affected your ability to connect with members?

Massively. It was an enormous challenge initially, but also presented new opportunities. Before the pandemic, we only had physical meetups. When the pandemic hit Europe in March 2020, we had events planned through the summer with confirmed speakers. We postponed our March event, hoping things would get back to normal in April or May. Luckily, Oslo useR!’s previous organizer Dmytro Perepolkin was able to present virtually on short notice, and subsequently we were able to transfer some of our planned physical events to virtual events.

At the end of 2020, we noticed that more and more meetups across Europe have turned virtual. We connected with a few of those meetup groups, but also reached out to international speakers who we thought would be interesting for our Oslo UseR! group.

In January 2021 we had our first “international” speaker, and it was a success event. We followed this pattern to mix up our local talent with some high-profile international speakers, and this has worked well for us. We have seen an increase in the number of people joining the meetup group and in the number of interactions. Along the way, we also figured out practicalities like moderating a chat box.

There was a steep learning curve, but the numbers went up considerably, and now we have over 1,900 members. It is very encouraging having 200+ people participating in our meetups. We started recording our meetups and put them on YouTube. Everyone can go back and watch the videos if they missed out on an event.

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 used the six months to figure out how we can continue with our meetups. We are lucky enough to have a colleague that is affiliated with the University of Oslo and they, very early on, had a professional Zoom license. At the beginning of the pandemic, it was a bottleneck to get people on a video conference like that, and we were lucky enough to have early access to such a platform. We quickly started reaching out to our local talent pool we were in contact with from before.

We are currently in contact with a tech community building where we plan to host our events once we go back to physical events. Additionally, we are exploring the possibility of hybrid events. Ideally we will have physical meetups with livestreams and recordings. This emphasizes our wish to stay in contact with as many people as possible, and to be more inclusive. 

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?  

There were a lot of interesting presentations this year. The one that impressed me the most was the one we had in January, which was our first international meetup.

The speaker was Paul Bürkner from Germany, and he talked about Bayesian Multilevel Modeling and presented his brms package. I have used the package before, and it is always a treat to have developers present their own packages. We got a lot of feedback and interaction in the chat box, and had an excellent discussion throughout.

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

That’s an interesting question! There are several parallel trends in R depending on your point of view. There is the ongoing trend of tidyverse that continues to develop into more ecosystem, like tidymodels. We get a lot of requests at the meetup for integrating R in a larger environment with databases, APIs and visualization tools. Besides the stereotypical use of R in academia, there is an increasing demand for using R in production and business use cases. Data journalism is also becoming more important, and there are some newspaper houses in Norway that are using R.

I don’t know if it qualifies as “trend”, but the positive spirit of dissemination and inclusion in R and the R community is really making a difference. We all witnessed how important it was during the pandemic, and it will be of equal importance moving forward.  

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?

The Norwegian Institute of Public Health has presented some of its COVID research and predictions using R. The modeling and visualizations were done in R. It was one of the biggest impacts locally to see R prominently displayed in the public. 

When is your next event? Please give details!

Our next meetup, “Wrapping Packages in R with {devtools} and Friends”, is scheduled for 16th of December. It will be our annual holiday season meetup, which traditionally is a bit more light-hearted. The first half will be about “wrapping packages,” demonstrating how to make packages in R. Afterwards, we want to have an open discussion with our community about how they have experienced the last year.

For next year, we are really excited about the planned events until spring. There are several interesting talks in the pipeline, and we will announce them as soon as we have finalized all details.  

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

Two projects, actually. One is the project financing the webchem package. I have used the package in my academic work, and have directly benefited from having it available.

The other is the consolidation of R Ladies groups. It is both unique and beautiful, and demonstrates the idea of R being a welcoming and inclusive environment.

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

The R Community Diversity and Inclusion working group undoubtedly one of them. Even though I don’t have a direct connection, I think the R Validation Hub for the pharmaceutical industry is important. To get into regulatory territory is a huge step for any programming language, and I am happy to see that R is moving in this direction. 

Successful R-based Test Package Submitted to FDA

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The R Consortium is happy to announce that on Nov 22nd, 2021, the R Submissions Working Group successfully submitted an R-based test submission package through the FDA eCTD gateway! The submission package has been received by the FDA staff who were able to reproduce the numerical results.

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 include a proprietary R package, R scripts for analysis, R-based analysis data reviewer guide, and other required eCTD components. To our knowledge, this is the first publicly available R-based FDA submission package. We hope this submission package and our learnings can serve as a good reference for future R-based regulatory submissions from different sponsors. Additional agency feedback will be shared in future communications.

About the R consortium R submission working group

The R Consortium R Submissions Working Group is focused on improving practices for R-based clinical trial regulatory submissions.

To bring an experimental clinical product to market, electronic submission of data, computer programs, and relevant documentation is required by health authority agencies from different countries. In the past, submissions have been mainly based on the SAS language. 

In recent years, the use of open source languages, especially the R language, has become very popular in the pharmaceutical industry and research institutions. Although the health authorities accept submissions based on open source programming languages, sponsors may be hesitant to conduct submissions using open source languages due to a lack of working examples.

Therefore, the R Consortium R Submissions Working Group aims at providing R-based submission examples and identifying potential gaps during submission of these example packages. All materials, including submission examples and communications, are publicly available on the R consortium Github page: https://github.com/RConsortium

The R consortium R submission working group includes members from more than 10 pharmaceutical companies, as well as regulatory agencies. More details of the working group can be found at: https://rconsortium.github.io/submissions-wg/

The R consortium R submission working group is open to anyone who is interested in joining. If interested, please contact Joseph Rickert at joseph.rickert@rstudio.com

Need to Code a Difficult Pharma Stats Table? The R Tables for Regulatory Submissions (RTRS) Working Group Wants to Know

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The R Consortium’s R Tables for Regulatory Submissions (RTRS) Working Group has made considerable progress in identifying and working through the issues involved with developing a modern R based framework for creating tables. The goal is to be able to make it easy for statistical programmers working in pharmaceutical companies to find the right R resources for creating any type of table that may be required to support a submission to the FDA or any other regulatory agency. 

Currently there are at least six R packages that have the functionality to support some portion of the panoply of tables that might comprise an essential part of a statistical report. These packages include

  • flextable
  • gt
  • huxtable
  • mmtable2
  • rtables
  • Tplyr

The trick is to establish a framework that makes it easy to use the combined features of relevant R packages to produce any table that is likely to show up in a production environment.  

RTRS wants examples of tables, those that are already part of your standard statistical submissions, and those that you would use if you could make them. 

              A: Drug X     B: Placebo    C: Combination
                (N=134)        (N=134)        (N=132)    
---------------------------------------------------------
AGE                                                      
  n               134            134            132      
  Mean (sd)   33.77 (6.55)   35.43 (7.9)    35.43 (7.72) 
  IQR              11            10              10      
  min - max     21 - 50        21 - 62        20 - 69    
BMRKR2                                                   
  LOW              50            45              40      
  MEDIUM           37            56              42      
  HIGH             47            33              50      

We want to make sure that we understand and explore the entire, conceivable space of production tables and want to see to which extent we are already able to build them in R. So please send us your tables. 

We will take them any way that is easy for you to provide. Open up an issue on our GitHub repository (https://github.com/RConsortium/rtrs-wg/issues) and drop them in. Something computable would be best, but we will take text or even screenshots. If there is some part of your example table that is particularly vexing to create, please point that out. Be careful not to include any proprietary information.

If we can already build your difficult table, we will show you how to do it in R. This is meant to be a benchmarking process to showcase abilities of the packages so far and to reveal current limitations. If it turns out that we cannot build your table with R’s current table making capabilities, then there is a good chance that we will add it to our “To Do” list.

If you think that you would like to become involved with our work, please let us know that, too. Include your email address and we will invite you to the next meeting.

R Skopje in North Macedonia Talks About the Challenges of Virtual Events for Smaller Communities

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The R-Consortium talked to Novica Nakov of R Skopje about the challenges of managing an R User Group during the pandemic. Novica told us about the budding R community in North Macedonia and how shifting events online has not been useful for this tightly knit community. However, Novica hopes things will return to normal once they resume events in a physical space.

Novica is a long term free software enthusiast and has been working with the free software community in Macedonia since 2001. Originally from a Social Sciences background, Novica initially contributed to the community mainly on policy issues, legal issues and localization. He later learned R-programming during his postgraduate studies in the UK.

Before forming the R Skopje User Group, Novica was also involved in establishing a hacker space Kika in Skopje 10 years ago. This hacker space hosted Linux help forum days, general knowledge sharing events and one day conferences.

What is the R community like in North Macedonia?

North Macedonia is a small country, so it is lagging in certain areas as compared to the US. Before 2018-2019, there were very few Data Scientist or Data Analyst jobs available in the country. However, there has been a general shift in public interest ever since. The R community in Macedonia is still in its early stages.

How has COVID affected your ability to connect with members?

I started the R User Group in 2018, hoping to provide a knowledge-sharing space for people like myself who do not have a technical background but need to use a programming language for data analysis. We formed the User Group within the hacker space, as there was an established infrastructure available.  

Before the pandemic, we were having regular meetings on Tuesdays. These meetings were like hands-on workshops where people helped each other with problems they faced while working with R. We also had presentations where members shared their projects with the group. Government ordered a lockdown in early 2020, and we had to shut down the hacker space. We also had to cancel the lease on the space.

As it was a tight-knit community which thrived on one-to-one interactions, lockdown significantly reduced the quality of communication between the 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?  

After the lockdown, we had 2-3 online events that were R-specific in which different speakers presented. Besides that, we also moved all our regular events to Google Meet, but it didn’t work really well. Since it was a small community, people spent most of the time catching up with each other and had very little interest in the actual slides, etc.

We are talking about a really small country and a really small pool of people interested in data science. Just to give you an idea about the scale, there is a group called Data Science Macedonia, where the main organizer is a Macedonian company ScaleFocus. They used to host events at a local university which attracted around 150 people. Companies such as Slice used to present in these events and discussed possibilities of employment, which was interesting for people looking to start working in the data field. 

Our group, on the contrary, consists of people who are simply curious to learn new programming languages, etc. for personal use. I think online meetings are not really good for such a group, because they don’t allow for person-to-person interactions for solving a particular problem. 

We attempted having online workshops, but it didn’t work out as it required a lot of troubleshooting, which is really difficult unless you have physical access to the participant’s system. I think online meetings are not great for workshops. 

We started talking about reopening the space, as many people are missing the ability to get together. I don’t know if this will happen, but if it does, we will resume our events in the physical space. But I am not very optimistic about the online events. 

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? 

I think the last presentation we had was by a Financial Data Analyst, Ljupcho Naumov, and the topic was optimizing your portfolio using R. This event turned out to be a huge success and around 300 people joined the online event. 

I am not sure if people joined the event to learn R or to get free financial advice about getting rich. Another reason for the success of the event was that it coincided with the central bank lifting the ban on personal accounts for trading in foreign brokerage companies.

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

Given the situation, I don’t think R or development in any language would be as important as dealing with the health crisis.  

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?

One media organization in Macedonia sometimes runs data driven stories, and I think they are connected by the European network called Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP).

Macedonia has joined this open data initiative recently and one non-government organization is running a project on creating datasets from local governments governance organizations.  

There’s also this project I was working on where we were trying to create local datasets from data from local governments. I guess this is something that can potentially be used in journalism. 

When is your next event? Please give details!

We don’t have a specific event in mind at the moment. However, as a lot of members in our events are women, I am hoping to connect them to R Ladies. R Ladies Belgrade is very active, and maybe we can have some sort of collaboration with them. I am also really interested in opening an R Ladies branch as we have this pleasant history of women getting involved in our space.