The R Conference has been able to thrive with the changes that have occurred due to COVID. They also are planning for life post-COVID, with the lessons that they have learned from a digital world working their way into how they organize conferences going forward. R Consortium talked to Jared Lander about the issues with online conferences, how they have seen increased attendance, and how they will incorporate them into a new hybrid system.
RC: What is the R community like at the R conferences in New York and DC?
Each conference is a microcosm of the area that they are located in. We see all fields at the conference since all groups come together.
For the New York conference, it’s mostly people from the metro area, but since New York City is a hub people will stop by and attend. People are always visiting beyond the geographic area. People from Europe come and talk. We get a lot of people we wouldn’t otherwise because it’s a hub.
The DC conference is a government conference. It’s a way to focus on the DC community and their interests. It focuses on government and public life. Military talking about military matters. Intelligence offers to talk about working behind a secure network. Economists doing economic data. And teachers talking about how to analyze student data.
RC: How has COVID affected your ability to connect with members?
We used Hopin for the conference. This was a real resource drain for a lot of the attendees. I needed to run two computers to keep it going. We had to instruct people to turn off all other programs and run Zoom from the browser. It worked decently, had a good stage area, a good chat room. However, our conference has always been very lively. We normally had walk-on music for the conference. We had a visiting professor tell students at the conference to not expect this at any other conference and that this one is not normal.
To try to replicate that at the virtual conference I played walk-on music through my speakers. It was okay. We were able to get a mathematical comedian at the conference to attend, we were able to get a whiskey and rum producer to give a lesson on it and give them a discount on the products.
Usually, the speakers are local people or companies that let people travel to give talks. When we went virtual we could get a lot more people. We got Rob Hyman to give a talk because he could. Going forward, we plan on doing a hybrid approach so that people can attend anywhere.
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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?
Andrew Gelman was great. He went up there with no slides and talked for 40 minutes. He is the only person I know of who could do that. This talk was on open science and how to make it work. You need to publish your data, methods, and code to make this work.
For the government conference, there was Graciela Chichilnisky, who gave a talk about carbon offsets and went over how they helped at the time and how they would work going forward. She went over how carbon offsets can save you money and help the climate at the same time.
RC: When is your next event? Please give details!
The New York Conference is going to be September 8-10 and will be HYBRID! We will have speakers announced soon. We have 8 to 10 planned right now. We are very excited. It’s going to be in Midtown East, and it will be online as well. Our R in government will be in-person and virtual also and will be held in early December but no dates yet.
RC: Of the Funded Projects by the R Consortium, do you have a favorite project? Why is it your favorite?
CVXR is such a nice way to do optimization methods, and it’s so explainable, and it can do quasi complex programming and not just linear programming.
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?
I would like to add something that would allow vendors to support R better. We have people like database companies and people like Nvidia who have APIs for every platform but R. They say there will be community support because there is no market for it. Even companies that have an R API do not update it as much as their other APIs. They tend to only update the tools that are for their target area, not realizing that there is a market for people who work in R. It wouldn’t even be that hard since R was written in C, so all you would have to do is modify an existing C API.
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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. We are now accepting applications!