Nothing is harder than starting right as the pandemic hits. Today, R Consortium talks to Joselyn Chávez of R Ladies Cuernavaca about what it was like to establish a chapter right a pandemic hits, and how they haven’t just survived, but thrived and built community throughout Mexico.
What is the R community like in Cuernavaca?
JC: The R community is relatively new here, but it is enthusiastic. Before 2018, users in Cuernavaca were split and isolated. Mostly they were students taking graduate courses or workshops but not in a community or involved in international R.
In 2018, the community of software developers for bioinformatics held a workshop. It’s from these that we started our R Ladies chapter. The community started growing up, and we invited people to join the R community in general. We saw an opportunity to start and expand our chapter because in Cuernavaca we have several campuses from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, as well as the National Institute of Public Health in Mexico, and The University of the State of Morelos. We saw an opportunity to recruit these people, and the students of the university were the first target. We also have professional attendees, researchers, and diverse teachers. There are a lot of students in the biological area with a great interest in basic R usage, analysis of biological data, and applying statistics as well.
This year (2022), we partnered with the Biotechnology Institute in Cuernavaca, to which a lot of members have ties. In this program, participants meet once per month from January to December covering various topics. There are around 60 people that attend these workshops and at the end of the program, graduate students from the Institute receive a certificate of completion.
We also welcomed two new members to the team, Aurora Labastida Martínez and Ernestina Godoy Lozano. This has been great because the group gets to share the work and collaborate with one another more.
How has COVID affected your ability to connect with members?
JC: When the lockdown started in March of 2020, we had just started R Ladies. We ended up postponing the third meetup we had scheduled. We spent the next 4 months thinking about what we should do. Should we wait for the end of the pandemic or start looking for new possibilities? Seeing how other chapters were doing virtual, we started to have meetups on Zoom. We started recording meetings, made a YouTube channel, and made the recordings available. Initially, we were afraid of how the community would respond. We were lucky because the community was very responsive and we saw people from other cities in Mexico, as well as other countries. Mostly from Latin America, but some from Spain and other countries. Currently, we hold our monthly meetings in a hybrid format but most of the attendees still participate virtually.
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?
JC: We have a Slack channel, we do have some interaction with members there, but Slack isn’t that popular in Mexico. We have some problems getting people to connect in that space. They interact mostly via Twitter, Facebook, and Meetup. We also have a GitHub repo and a Youtube channel where people can access all our materials including talks and demonstrations on R tools.
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?
JC: Our community is interested in statistics, plot generation, and data management. Some of the most successful talks have been given by Aurora Labastida, one of our team members who has a lot of experience in biological data management and statistics. She also has a talent for teaching. For one of her talks (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iT0SJ-9ZIlc ), the people were very excited. The meeting was planned for 2 hours, but in the end, we extended it for 3 hours. Attendees continued asking questions and doing the example work. They were very happy. We had an attendee from Spain who stayed for the entire time. It ended up being 3 am in Spain at the end, but he refused to leave, even though the recording was available after. That was a very successful meetup.
What trends do you see in R language affecting your organization over the next year?
JC: We try to offer trendy topics like tidyverse and this year we planned a syllabus for all the meetings of the year, covering from R for beginners, to statistics and plotting. We are focusing on basic topics because a lot of members find in R-Ladies Cuernavaca meetups the opportunity to first approach the R 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?
JC: Since our community is relatively new, they have not done much journalism in the community. In the past year, in the general R community, we started doing the 30 days of graphics. In Latin America, we had data on the Wednesday project. I think all of these have the main goal of growing data management, plotting, and analysis.
Of the Funded Projects by the R Consortium, do you have a favorite project? Why is it your favorite?
JC: From the 2021 funded projects, my favorite is Setting up an R-Girls-Schools Network because it has similarities with the general philosophy of the R Ladies project. I believe that opportunities created by this project can be life-changing for so many girls from different backgrounds. Speaking from my experience, being a part of this community has opened a lot of doors. I was able to get a scholarship to attend an RStudio scholarship that I got while a member of R Ladies. I met a lot of organizers around the world, not just in Latin America, but in other countries. After the conference, I started collaborating with them. I gave some talks for R Ladies Baltimore. I have an invitation for R Ladies Tunis. I also started a collaboration with other RLadies from Latin America. We have a survey where we look at R users in Latin America to know the challenges they face and how we can help. Also, I took part in the UseR 2021 conference organizers team that represented a huge opportunity to collaborate and connect with others.
Of the Active Working Groups, which is your favorite? Why is it your favorite?
JC: I am biased by my professional interest and experience with the Community of Software Developers CDSB. I think the R repositories group (https://github.com/RConsortium/r-repositories-wg) plays an important role, since there is a lack of resources that encourage people to transition from R users to developers.
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:
JC: I think one that affects a large part of the R community. I am biased because I am a part of the Latin American community, which has space to grow up. I have taken some courses from an Argentinian initiative called Metadocencia. They started offering courses given by trained teachers that are carpentry trained. I took a course with them, and it was amazing! I was teaching a course at the beginning of the pandemic, and after taking the class with carpentry instructors, I was able to incorporate some of the aspects that they suggested. I think I became a better teacher. It is different learning how to code and teaching code. I think a training program for R would have a huge chance to have more workshops, recruit more people, recruit more instructors, and spread the language. Also, since I am part of the R-Ladies, this program gets my vote. It has been a great resource to receive support and collaborate with other R users in the community.
When is your next event? Please give details!
JC: We are preparing the next monthly meetup on July 14th that will cover an introduction to tidyverse packages (https://github.com/RLadiesCuerna/meetup_julio_2022).
Some of the founders of our chapters run summer workshops as well as part of the International Workshops of Bioinformatics (https://www.nnb.unam.mx/EBM2022/ ). Verónica Jiménez Jacinto and Leticia Vega Alvarado lead the Basic R course (Intro to R and RStudio), while I lead advanced workshops as part of the CDSB community (Advanced analysis of metagenomes https://comunidadbioinfo.github.io/post/cdsb-2022-workshops/#.YsN8Uy1h2wA )
In 2020, Ana Beatriz Villaseñor Altamirano from R-Ladies Queretaro and myself created R Ladies MX, which is a virtual annual meeting of all R Ladies chapters in Mexico. This year’s event will be organized primarily by members of the R Ladies Puebla chapter. We will have this meeting in September 2022. This idea was inspired by the Latin American community. We chose September because independence day is on September 16th. Last year we launched it for the second time and had a lot of attendees. We took advantage of the internet so we could all get together. We have 12 chapters and we all came together to meet and collaborate, there were over 300 spaces available. We had presentations from members to show how they use R in work or research. We are planning to do this meetup annually and have invited all the chapters in Mexico to join in. We are always welcoming more members to join!
How do I Join?
R Consortium’s R User Group and Small Conference Support Program (RUGS) provides grants to help R groups around the world organize, share information and support each other. We have given grants over the past four years, encompassing over 65,000 members in 35 countries. We would like to include you! Cash grants and meetup.com accounts are awarded based on the intended use of the funds and the amount of money available to distribute. We are now accepting applications!