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Use of R in Non-Profit Social Policy Research in New York

By July 24, 2023Blog

Dorota Rizik of the R Ladies New York recently talked to the R Consortium about the diverse R community in New York. She also discussed how her current job at a non-profit organization involves training her colleagues to use R. She shared details of some of the packages they have developed for internal use. 

Dorota has done her Bachelor’s in Psychology from Northwestern University and also completed her Master’s in Applied Statistics from New York University. She currently works as a Technical Research Analyst at MDRC

Please share about your background and involvement with the RUGS group.

My background is in psychology and policy research. I currently work at a nonprofit social policy research organization. I learned R during my Master’s in Applied Statistics and then I joined my current organization. When I joined, MDRC was primarily using SAS and over the past couple of years they’ve been transitioning to R because it’s open source. My role has been to train my colleagues in the R programming language. So I train them on how to use R and also how to do specific data-related tasks like data cleaning, data analysis, or data visualization in R. 

Our focus has been on building both training and guidance for using R for various use cases. We have been working on developing internal functions and packages that staff can use to help automate certain tasks. We have ‌been trying to replace all of the macros and functions we previously developed in SAS. So we have been translating a lot of code from SAS to R. 

It’s just been a wonderful experience to help organize these meetups for R Ladies of New York City. I’ve learned how to organize and communicate, as well as how to adapt to a changing audience and community. So it’s been a very challenging, but rewarding experience.

Can you share what the R community is like in New York?

In our group, we have people from both the private and public sectors. We have someone who works at 1-800-Flowers. We have someone who works in the political space doing analysis for political campaigns or getting voters registered. There are folks that work in media and journalism and the pharmaceutical industry. There are some people who have gotten higher-level degrees. 

It’s just such a wide range, and it’s been very eye-opening to interact with all these people who come from such different backgrounds. It has also been eye-opening in the sense that I have realized that I can really take my skill set and apply it to any industry‌. R programming and programming knowledge ‌in general, as well as data analysis knowledge can be used in many different industries. 

Please share about a project you are currently working on or have worked on in the past using the R language. Goal/reason, result, anything interesting, especially related to the industry you work in?

We are currently wrapping up two major packages, one focuses on analysis, and the other focuses on tabling. The packages are for internal use and not publicly available. Our staff prefers having all the analysis results in one place, so we have been working on that. We have different basic statistical functions like linear regression, chi-square, etc., but we have written them together so that they can produce a nice table of results. The package focused on tabling will interact with the analysis package to create a table of results.

What trends do you currently see in R language and your industry? Any trends you see developing in the near future?

Recently there’s been more talk about ethics and reproducibility. AI has made a huge impact and has been a major consideration for people within my company as we are talking about how to train people in R programming. We want to be mindful that some folks will probably use AI for coding help, but it doesn’t necessarily give you the most efficient answer. So, a major trend in our meetups has been AI and the ethical considerations of relying on AI for developing your code. 

Any techniques you recommend using for planning for or during the event? (Github, zoom, other) Can these techniques be used to make your group more inclusive to people that are unable to attend physical events in the future?   

We use Zoom for our meetups and Zoom has been incredibly helpful in the sense that it has allowed us to tap into a wider audience. I’ve noticed we have people who don’t live very close to New York City but are still in the relative area and they join our meetups. So that’s been a significant benefit. 

The only downside has been that we get some uninvited people joining and disrupting our meetups. So I would suggest that groups hosting online meetups try to come up with ways to minimize the possibility of strangers joining their meetups. We’ve taken the approach of having a separate sign-up form where you have to provide your first and last name and your email. We’ve also tried not sharing the Zoom link until the last minute before the meetup. So a mix of those two approaches has been helpful.

I’ve noticed more of an interest in physical meetups now. We’ve been online for a while at this point. So we’re trying to find the right balance of which meetups are more appropriate for physical versus online.

Get Involved!

The 2023 RUGS Program is currently taking applications and will close at midnight PST on September 30, 2023. 

These grants do not include support for software development or technical projects. Grants to support the R ecosystem’s technical infrastructure are awarded and administered through the ISC Grant Program which issues a call for proposals two times each year.