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Acing Virtual Events with Networking Sessions and Collaboration

By October 11, 2022Blog

The R Consortium recently caught up with Alyssa Columbus of R-Ladies Irvine (also on MeetUp and Twitter) to discuss the group’s progress during the pandemic. Alyssa discussed the group’s efforts to remain active and provide networking opportunities for its members. The group has also formed strong collaborative ties with other R user groups in Southern California.

Alyssa is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in Biostatistics at Johns Hopkins University as a Vivien Thomas Scholar. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics from the University of California, Irvine, and a Master’s degree in Applied and Computational Mathematics from Johns Hopkins University. She founded R-Ladies Irvine in 2018.

What is the R community like in Irvine? Can you name a few industries using R in Irvine?

The R community in Irvine can be described in two words: dynamic and collaborative. I founded R-Ladies Irvine as a chapter of R-Ladies Global, and it was the first of its kind in Orange County, California in 2018. We have grown to around 630 members in less than five years, and our group works in collaboration with other R user groups in the Southern California area, including the SoCal R User Group, R-Ladies San Diego, and the Santa Barbara R Users group. You can find more information about this network of R user groups at the Southern California R Users website. Also, our group has collaborated with other groups outside of the R community, including Seattle Women in Machine Learning and Data Science, the Orange County/Long Beach Chapter of the American Statistical Association, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Orange County section. Ever since I founded R-Ladies Irvine, I have noticed that R has become more prevalent in multiple industries in Irvine. I know colleagues who work in the retail, marketing, and pharmaceutical industries in Irvine who all use R in their work. I have also used R while employed in the financial services industry in the area. 

How has COVID affected your ability to connect with members?

We haven’t held any in-person events since January 2020. However, we have regularly held virtual events. We’ve worked very hard during the pandemic to support all of our members in their careers by sharing employment opportunities and offering networking sessions and programming tutorials. Some of our members even found jobs and got hired during the pandemic through connections that they made through our networking sessions. 

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, and online discussion groups more? Can these techniques be used to make your group more inclusive to people who are unable to attend physical events in the future?  

We had to change almost every logistical strategy that we had previously used to coordinate our meetings. We quickly pivoted to using Zoom and heavily relied on its breakout room feature for our networking activities. We found that breakout rooms provide a convenient way to place people into groups for more spontaneous conversations. We also have a GitHub repository for our group. 

In addition, having a YouTube channel for all recordings of our presentations wasn’t something that was on our radar before, but during the pandemic, we have been able to record our online presentations via Zoom and upload them to our YouTube channel for the entire world to benefit from. As the pandemic has continued, we’ve realized that holding our events online not only helps us keep our members safe but also allows us to record the content of our meetings for posterity and distribution to anyone who wants to attend our events but can’t for any reason. Another interesting effect we have seen through holding meetings online is that we have been able to help women outside of Irvine and the general Southern California area with their R knowledge. We have had members come to our meetings from not only places across the United States but also countries around the world. Going forward, I think it would be beneficial to keep our meetings mostly, if not entirely, online for greater inclusivity and to be able to teach and provide R resources to as many women as possible.

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

A recent presentation that we hosted in October 2021 was ”Teaching and learning Bayesian Statistics  (with bayesrules)” It was a joint meeting between our group and the SoCal RUG, and our speaker was Mine Dogucu

Her talk here was incredible. She discussed the current popularity of Bayesian Statistics in data science, gave an introductory course in Bayesian Statistics, and shared tools for teaching and learning Bayesian Statistics with the bayesrules package. She also introduced the open-access book, ”Bayes rules! An introduction to Bayesian modeling with R”, which she had recently published at that time. It was fascinating to hear about Bayesian Statistics and her experience writing her book with her collaborators. 

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

I have seen a sharp increase in the popularity of Quarto. I think that the popularity of Quarto will increase more in the upcoming year, and our group will have a parallel trend. I believe many of our documents written in R Markdown will transition to Quarto, and we will start writing our new tutorial and reference documents in Quarto as well. 

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

My favorite is the R-Ladies project that was funded in 2020, which was titled, ”Consolidating R-Ladies Global Organizational Guidance and Wisdom”. It aimed to make an open source online book that combined all of the existing R-Ladies documentation and guidance into one easy-to-find and easy-to-use resource. This project received $4000 in funding, which is remarkable. 

This is my favorite project because it not only supports R-Ladies’ mission, but it also keeps it current and provides information to help future chapter volunteers get involved in the organization. I have personally used this book and found it very helpful for trying different meeting strategies (e.g.,  icebreakers and networking ideas). 

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

It’s tough to choose a favorite among the active working groups since they are all working on pretty exciting projects. I’d have to say my favorite is the R7 package, or the Object-Oriented Programming Working Group. Since it aims to build a new OOP language system (i.e., R7 package) that would succeed S3 and S4, I think it has tremendous potential to improve R and by extension, R’s vast package ecosystem in the long term. I also admire the level of collaboration in this working group and how it has members from the R development core team, RStudio/Posit, and the R-Ladies community.  

When is your next event? What are your plans for the group for the coming year? Please give details!

We currently don’t have any events planned, but stay updated via our Meetup and Twitter account!

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 accounts are awarded based on the intended use of the funds and the amount of money available to distribute. We are now accepting applications!