The Oxford R useR Group organizers are leading the R meetup effort in Oxford, UK. The group has over 600 subscribers and brings together >20 R enthusiasts together monthly in an informal setting and over pizza to talk about R coding, learn from one another, and network across sectors.
Meet the Organizers of the Oxford R useR Group 👋
Mariagrazia Zottoli originally from Italy, a very proud R user and co-organizer of the Oxford R User Group, studied statistics for her bachelor’s and master’s degree. While attaining her master’s degree at Università della Calabria she attended her first R course. As a statistician, R is the main programming language she has been using in her work.
Aino Järvelin, originally from Finland, is a Bioinformatician working in the biotech industry. Introduced to programming and R through a compulsory course in her biotechnology degree, to her surprise, something about writing code just “clicked.” She has been using R ever since to do genomics research in academia and industry.
Kaspar Märtens, originally from Estonia, got acquainted with programming during his undergraduate studies in statistics at the University of Tartu, first in Python and then in R. He was first drawn to R because of its data visualization capabilities, in particular by the amazing ggplot2 package. Soon after he started using R for much of his work, and even co-authored a course in Data Science and Visualisation taught in Tartu. Kaspar now mostly builds Machine Learning models in Python, but R is still his first choice for data wrangling and visualization.
Why did you personally get interested in learning R? How do you use it in your work?
Mariagrazia: I started working after graduating from university. I actually needed to re-learn R, because my degree course was really theoretical, so I didn’t really see any real data that was applied to R. It has been really rewarding learning R and seeing all the different things that I can do with it. Also in my daily job, I’m a statistical consultant, so regarding my projects, I have a lot of variety which is really exciting, but we have to constantly learn new ways of delivering content to non-statistical users.
Aino: R is a very useful tool for biological data analysis and communicating scientific data. I’ve learned more and more about it over the years while doing research, thanks in no small part to fantastic online materials and community.
Kaspar: Data visualization, specifically the ggplot2 package, drove my interest in R initially. I agree with what Aino said about how welcoming the R community is towards newcomers and how many fantastic resources are available online. My current work involves using both R and Python, among the two I find R incredibly useful for data wrangling and data visualization.
What is the R community like in Oxford, UK?
Mariagrazia: The user group has been changing a lot in the past few years. It was a huge group since Kaspar formed it along with the previous person that was organizing the group. The pandemic slowed us a little bit down, we are now recovering from it. We have people from many different backgrounds and several departments at the University of Oxford; there are a lot of people from biology, medical science, and a few people from other departments in industry. We also have many people with statistics and medical science backgrounds, as well as other local councils. It’s very interesting how people use R in their work, specifically when we talk about analyzing data.
Aino: When I first joined the group, I was surprised to meet many R users from many different areas of the public and private sectors — this opened my eyes to the wide uses of R beyond academia where I worked at the time. The group is diverse not only in sectors where people work but also in age and level of experience in R. The monthly meet-ups that we host give people a chance to connect across these differences.
Kaspar: We founded this group back in 2016. Thinking back, I recall the excitement of designing our logo and the challenges of finding the first venue. We gradually managed to build up a diverse community of attendees from different parts of the university as well as from various industries. It is really cool to meet all these people from so many different areas and learn how they use R in their work. Our meetups typically involve a talk which is followed by informal networking over pizza, this is thanks to our sponsor Ascent.
How has COVID affected your ability to connect with members? What techniques (Github, Zoom, other) have you used to connect and collaborate with members?
Mariagrazia: During the pandemic, we decided not to organize the reunions via Zoom or any digital platform because it was really overwhelming. It was a point when everything was moving online; job, family, and even social life. We concluded that people didn’t need another online meeting, because we use these opportunities to get to know people and network, which is not something our members felt comfortable doing online. Right now, we have the facilities to make hybrid meetings, and we do not exclude that possibility because there are people that do not want to lose the opportunity to meet members and ask some questions.
Aino and Kaspar: Also, in these meetings, we have volunteer speakers who give presentations. Often, these are made available online afterward so that people who could not attend the meetup can catch up and be up to date with new topics and tools.
What trends do you see in R language over the next year?
Aino: One positive trend is tools that support better ways to work in multiple languages simultaneously, especially in R and Python. This is useful in my field where both languages are very popular.
Mariagrazia: Something in my daily job that I have found very useful is the program Quarto, which is used for marking data and building a more straightforward report. Or Shiny, to produce reports daily in my work.
What is your favorite R event you have attended?
Kaspar: Some of my favorite events are our meetups. We have had amazing speakers, and I really enjoy connecting with all our members.
Aino: I also have enjoyed R Ladies London, also an R group that hosts online and in-person meetups. The NHS-R group also do some fantastic online talks.
Mariagrazia: I enjoyed the EARL Conference which is organized by Ascent, a company that develops tools for R. I was very interested because their workshops showed tools and domains that can be applied to many areas when working with R.
What is your favorite project from the R Consortium?
Mariagrazia: My favorite project is the R-Girls-School Network. It is one of my favorites because, in my field of work, statistics, there is a huge gap between men and women in this kind of discipline. So, giving the chance for girls to develop the necessary skills early in their school career is great for introducing them to a scientific or a programming career. Another project that I liked is R Deposits. I think it’s really important to make these tools accessible, especially in research you need the capacity to make an interface to produce and analyze data and make a difference.
Aino: I also got very interested in the R-Girls-School Network, like Mariagrazia, as I also support the availability of these tools for everybody. They can be especially useful for young researchers to develop their skills.
When is your next event? What are your plans for the group for the coming year? Please give details!
We don’t have an event planned just yet. Our last event was on November 28th, it was a Causal inference in R. For future updates on what’s going on with the Oxford RUG, you can follow us on Twitter or our Meetup Group, as well as our Github where we include previous talks and other materials.
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!