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.