Dr. Maria Prokofieva of the Business Analytics and R Business User Group, Melbourne, recently talked to the R Consortium about the growing use of R and Data Science in Australia. The group feels strongly about contributing to the R community by building resources for R users at all levels of expertise. They are currently looking for volunteers to help put their plans into action.
Maria is a Senior Lecturer at the Victoria University Business School. She has a Bachelor’s in IT and Graduate Certificate in Accounting. Her Ph.D. is in the area of Business Information Systems (in Russia). With a background in IT and Business, she is passionate about using R in academic research and everyday life.
How did you get introduced to R?
I work as an academic at Victoria University. My work is at the intersection of Business, Social Sciences, and Technology. I got involved with the R community in Melbourne ten years ago. My first exposure was through R-Ladies Melbourne. I am really grateful for all the support I was provided in my early years, and I am trying to give back. Being an academic, I take great joy in teaching my students and colleagues and helping other people get insights from their data. It’s an amazing feeling to watch people progress from being afraid to do anything to feeling empowered that they can do anything.
What is the R community like in Melbourne? What is the most interesting thing about the community?
The R and Data Science community in Melbourne is very supportive. I feel that this is not just limited to the community in Melbourne. The strongest point of the R community is that if you are struggling with a problem you can reach out for help and people will try their best to help you.
People in R and Data Science are very welcoming and you feel at home when you talk to these people. And this is what I really love about the local community here and the community overall. You feel that these are my birds of a feather and I want to be around them.
What industries do you see using R in Melbourne?
The use of R in industries in Australia is still in the early stages. We can say that R in Data Science and business is still growing. In some areas of business use of R is growing rapidly. For example, the actuaries community in Australia has adopted data science. On the other end, if we look at CPA Australia publications, they still promote the use of Pivot tables in Excel and it is considered a really advanced skill.
So overall businesses are at different stages when it comes to adopting the use of R and data science in general. We are trying to provide all these businesses at different levels, a platform to share their struggles and learn from others. This group acts as a uniting force that can put people in dialogue and they can talk to each other for solving issues.
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?
I think the pandemic showed us new ways to work and some new ways to communicate with each other. As meetings have shifted online and people work from home, they have become more rational with their time. They no longer want to waste any time in commute. Many businesses only require their employees to come to work three days a week and they work from home for the rest of the week.
So even for group events people prefer the online format. Initially, they show enthusiasm for physical events as they are sick of staying at home. But when the actual time for the event comes everyone prefers attending virtually.
Even though Zoom works really well for presentations and workshops, nothing can replace physical events for networking and building relationships. In my opinion, as a participant and as an organizer, physical events work best for any networking activities. Just having a coffee together with a person can change your entire perception. And it allows you to build working relationships that can never happen on Zoom. And while there is the option of hosting hybrid events, the logistics can be very challenging.
What trends do you see in R language over the next year?
I really love the transition from R Studio to Posit, and I think it will open new horizons for all R users. In our group, we try to invite all people in the data science community to our events, regardless of the programming language they use. We believe that coming from different backgrounds is really great for information sharing and learning new approaches to solving a problem. So I think the integration of R with other programming languages is one of the biggest trends that I will be looking forward to.
What is your favorite R event you have attended?
R Studio conference is my favorite R event as you get to know all the new trends there. You get to see old friends, make new friends, and get lots of insights about what is going to happen. What I really appreciate are the contests they have started recently. And it’s not about the prize but the intellectual challenge. You get involved to see what you can do. It’s equally exciting for me and my students.
When is your next event? What are your plans for the group for the coming year? Please give details!
We are building an agenda for this year. We are planning to publish blog posts twice a month. We are also planning a series of webinars which we will be recording and sharing on our YouTube channel.
We are also building up our GitHub repository and have developed a plan for it. We will be making a list of all packages available for accounting and actuaries. We will also support them with educational materials and tutorials. Everyone will be able to find and use what interests them based on their level of expertise.
We will also generate data sets from data available from businesses. A lot of times businesses are not willing to share their data. Convincing them to share their data while preserving their privacy is a valuable task. This is all part of our efforts to give back to the community, as we have all used resources made available by the community to us. I feel that it is our responsibility to contribute and pay back to the community.
📣 We are also looking for new members and have published a call for volunteers in our recent R blog post. We need passionate volunteers who can contribute to the group with their time and effort. I would also like to take this opportunity to spread the word. It will be a really good opportunity for someone who wants to contribute to the development of resources and pay back to the R and Data Science community.
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!