Dr. Shirin Elsinghorst recently shared her great experience with the R language, motivating her to start the Münster R useR Germany. Shirin shared how R has become a very important part of her life, from her first contact with the language while receiving her Bachelor’s degree, in the workplace, and even as part of her spare time activities. She also emphasizes how significant is the presence of women in the IT world, describing herself as a staunch supporter of the R-Ladies.
Shirin Elsinghorst is a biologist by training turned bioinformatician and Data Scientist. She has a PhD and a Postdoc, in which she worked with Next Generation Sequencing data. Shirin has a keen interest in data analysis through R, using the language every day in her work as a data scientist at codecentric. Shirin Elsinghorst is the creator of the R exprAnalysis package, which streamlines RNA-seq data analysis pipelines. Her passion for teaching has led her to give conferences, workshops, meetups, and blog posts to inspire others to use R.
Why did you personally get interested in learning R? How do you use it in your work? What do you do when you’re not programming?
SE: I am a biologist by training and R has always been the go-to language for statistical analysis of experiments. Therefore, I had gotten to know R from the beginning of my Bachelor’s program. I had been using it sporadically for analysis, like survival curves, Analysis of variance (ANOVAs), t-tests, etc. However, I was not very well versed with R until my Ph.D., which ended up being very bioinformatics-heavy. For my Ph.D., I had to analyze quantitative traits (Quantitative Trait Analysis) and RNA-Seq data. Surprisingly, I got really into the bioinformatics part and so totally enjoyed writing and improving R code and packages, that I ended up going for a bioinformatics postdoc. During these two postdoc years, I did a lot of Next-Gen-Sequencing analysis, like RNA-Seq, microarray analysis, analysis of SNPs (GWAS), methylation patterns, and microRNAs in regard to genetic epidemiology, specifically autoinflammatory diseases. During my spare time, I founded my R-blog (shirin-elsinghorst.de) and self-taught machine learning and other interesting ways to analyze data.
Even though I very much enjoyed working in academia, I did not enjoy the impact a career in it would have on my family life. So, I decided to switch to an industry where I found a great position as Data Scientist with an IT consultancy in Münster, Germany. Here, I also founded the Münster R User Group.
What is the R community like in Münster, Germany? What was most surprising to you about the community?
SE: The R community in Münster is very heavy on academia. Münster is a big university town with lots of students. In my experience, universities, particularly the life sciences, still pretty much exclusively use R. So, there are a lot of beginner users but also some very amazing PhDs, postdocs, (young) professors, and people in the industry who are doing some very cool stuff with R. This was probably the most surprising to me: just how many incredible projects people were working on with R, that went way beyond student-material.
Who comes to these meetups? What industries do you see more in Münster?
SE: The meetups were usually a mix of some students, Ph.D. students, postdocs, and professors, but also people working in the IT industry. Münster is not a very big city but still has a lot of businesses. We have more traditional IT firms and consultancies but also town-funded firms and a lot of startups.
How has COVID affected your ability to connect with members? What techniques (Github, zoom, other) have you used to connect and collaborate with members? Can these techniques be used to make your group more inclusive to people that are unable to attend physical events in the future?
SE: Since COVID we did not have any in-person meetups anymore. However, COVID pretty much coincided with my two parental leaves. During the first, I had help with organizing a few more meetups but ever since COVID, this completely went away. I had been sharing some virtual meetups from other R User groups, so people did not have to completely go without R-content.
What trends do you see in R language over the next year?
SE: In my experience, R tends to develop into being just one part of an analysis, as opposed to the entire analysis being performed in R. There are many tools very specific to certain tasks that are written in other languages, like C, Perl (yes, that does still exist), Python, Java, etc. t just makes sense to use different tools for different tasks. And use R for what is really good at statistical analysis and visualization.
What is your favorite R event that you have attended? From a small meetup to a big conference!
SE: This will most definitely be the rOpenSci Unconference 2018 in Seattle! It was absolutely great to meet so many R-folks. It was just amazing!
Of the Funded Projects by the R Consortium, do you have a favorite project? Why is it your favorite?
SE: There are so many amazing projects there, but I feel especially drawn to “Consolidating R-Ladies Global organizational guidance and wisdom”. As one of the fewer ladies in the IT-world, I am a staunch supporter of the R-Ladies and would like to see more ladies venture into informatics.
Of the Active Working Groups, which is your favorite? Why is it your favorite?
SE: Here, I choose R/Business. As a longtime R user, I enjoy working with R a lot and it is still my go-to language for most Data Science tasks. However, I find that in business, there are a lot of misconceptions about R, such that it is not suitable for use in production or in a business context in general. I would very much like to advocate for a place of R alongside Python in Data Science.
When is your next event? What are your plans for the group for the coming year? Please give details!
SE: I have only been back from parental leave since October of this year, so I’ll try to revive the MünsteR group in the near future to host in-person events again. However, as my kids are still very small, attending events in the evening is still impossible for me at the moment. But I am looking forward to when that changes again! You can check out any updates via our Meetup group.
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!