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R Conferences that Serve a Diverse Population

By Blog, Events

The R Conference has been able to thrive with the changes that have occurred due to COVID. They also are planning for life post-COVID, with the lessons that they have learned from a digital world working their way into how they organize conferences going forward. R Consortium talked to Jared Lander about the issues with online conferences, how they have seen increased attendance, and how they will incorporate them into a new hybrid system.

RC: What is the R community like at the R conferences in New York and DC?

Each conference is a microcosm of the area that they are located in. We see all fields at the conference since all groups come together. 

For the New York conference, it’s mostly people from the metro area, but since New York City is a hub people will stop by and attend. People are always visiting beyond the geographic area. People from Europe come and talk. We get a lot of people we wouldn’t otherwise because it’s a hub. 

The DC conference is a government conference. It’s a way to focus on the DC community and their interests. It focuses on government and public life. Military talking about military matters. Intelligence offers to talk about working behind a secure network. Economists doing economic data. And teachers talking about how to analyze student data.

RC: How has COVID affected your ability to connect with members?

We used Hopin for the conference. This was a real resource drain for a lot of the attendees. I needed to run two computers to keep it going. We had to instruct people to turn off all other programs and run Zoom from the browser. It worked decently, had a good stage area, a good chat room. However, our conference has always been very lively. We normally had walk-on music for the conference. We had a visiting professor tell students at the conference to not expect this at any other conference and that this one is not normal. 

To try to replicate that at the virtual conference I played walk-on music through my speakers. It was okay. We were able to get a mathematical comedian at the conference to attend, we were able to get a whiskey and rum producer to give a lesson on it and give them a discount on the products. 

Usually, the speakers are local people or companies that let people travel to give talks. When we went virtual we could get a lot more people. We got Rob Hyman to give a talk because he could. Going forward, we plan on doing a hybrid approach so that people can attend anywhere. 

All of our content is available on our website.

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

Andrew Gelman was great. He went up there with no slides and talked for 40 minutes. He is the only person I know of who could do that. This talk was on open science and how to make it work. You need to publish your data, methods, and code to make this work.

For the government conference, there was Graciela Chichilnisky, who gave a talk about carbon offsets and went over how they helped at the time and how they would work going forward. She went over how carbon offsets can save you money and help the climate at the same time.

RC: When is your next event? Please give details!

The New York Conference is going to be September 8-10 and will be HYBRID! We will have speakers announced soon. We have 8 to 10 planned right now. We are very excited. It’s going to be in Midtown East, and it will be online as well. Our R in government will be in-person and virtual also and will be held in early December but no dates yet.

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

CVXR is such a nice way to do optimization methods, and it’s so explainable, and it can do quasi complex programming and not just linear programming.

RC: There are four projects that are R Consortium Top Level Projects. If you could add another project to this list for guaranteed funding for 3 years and a voting seat on the ISC, which project would you add?

I would like to add something that would allow vendors to support R better. We have people like database companies and people like Nvidia who have APIs for every platform but R. They say there will be community support because there is no market for it. Even companies that have an R API do not update it as much as their other APIs. They tend to only update the tools that are for their target area, not realizing that there is a market for people who work in R. It wouldn’t even be that hard since R was written in C, so all you would have to do is modify an existing C API.

 

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 4 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

New York City’s R Community’s Diverse Population Provides a Depth of Speakers

By Blog, Events

R Consortium talked with Jared Lander about the R Community in the New York Metro area. The R Community’s ability to draw upon not only their large metro area as well as their status as a hub city has allowed them to have many different speakers. This has allowed them to grow the community to an impressive size.

RC: What is the R community like in New York?

We are not just the City, but we have a broad reach. We have an active and vibrant community that is very enthusiastic. From Brooklyn Hipster data scientists with MacBooks riding a fixie [Editor’s note: A type of bicycle with just one gear, considered cool and stylish], office workers in slacks and ties just off from work, and everything in between. 

Old school data scientists who consider themselves hardcore statisticians, people just learning the field, people with 30 years of experience, people with one-year experience dipping toes into a different field, we have so many people, the topic of the meeting determines who shows up. If we have a finance talk we will give finance and insurance. Marketing topics will give marketing and business people. If we have a pharmaceutical talk we will get biologists and biostatisticians. 

We also have talks on topics like racing, military, doctors, and lawyers. We have talks and members from all walks of life. We have over 12,200 members. We usually have a core group that shows up to meetings, but others will come because a topic speaks to them. Some won’t come for 6 months till another topic interests them. Attendance comes down to the meeting.

RC: How has COVID affected your ability to connect with members?

We lose the in-person connection. We usually have people show up at 6:15-6:30pm for pizza and (budget allowing) drinks. Usually, people meet for 30 or 40 minutes and talk/socialize and start making friends. We have a speaker go on for 45 minutes or so. We then went to the bar to hang out about whether or not they drink. We get a great lecture, the best night school, that’s free, sandwiched between hanging out with people who are interested in your field or something close to your field. 

Even though we are missing out on that, we are meeting every month. We are having Zoom fatigue because we are losing people. So we do clearly lose out on that social interaction. In-person meetings can have several people having a chat, while a Zoom meeting can only have, at most, two people talking at a time. It becomes a one-way lens. 

People will chat in a Slack room where people can ask their questions. However, I preferred the in-person where people could nod to show understanding or sit next to people and whisper to them. We are missing out on that. 

We were interested in using gather.town and spatial.chat, but were unable to. Due to meetup.com restrictions, we are forced to use Zoom. 

However, the nice thing about going virtual is that we got a worldwide attendance from those who wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend. 

Going forward, we will have the in-person meetup (hopefully soon) and Zoom as well. This way, people can participate online and via Slack as well as in person. People can also access all of our meetings via our website or our YouTube channel.

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

Will Landau wrote the drake package and the targets package. Targets is a real game changer at my work. It makes my life so much easier as it looks at dependencies to not rerun redundant processes and parallel processes tasks. I was able to get Will to give a speech after he attended another meetup. I have done that several times actually, where people who wrote packages attended, and I have been able to get them to do future meetups.

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

It’s getting more respect. People are starting to learn that R is a full production language, and I have used it in many sectors. We are getting more people who are learning it for a job, and they come and visit us, and they learn that there is more to it.

RC: Do you know of any data journalism efforts by your members?  If not, are there particular data journalism projects that you’ve seen in the last year that you feel had a positive impact on society?

We have a lot of members who are journalists who either use data to figure out what’s going on and/or use data to inform their readers. We have members from AP Press, NY Times, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, and more. It’s so cool seeing this because they want to use data to find out what’s going on. They love it, and it’s so great to see these people who are using the code to find the outcome.

RC: When is your next event? Please give details!

Our next meetup is on June 15 is a talk by Emil Hvitfeldt who is going to talk about text mining. The July 13 is by Sean Taylor with no topic chosen yet.

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

SFDBI because I do a lot of geospatial work. I have always asked people if I can work with geospatial data in postGIS, I can use geospatial data in R, can I use postGIS in R and I’m hoping that I can do it in R now.

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

Distributing computing. Most things don’t need it, but we had a speaker who worked on Ballista (now merged with Arrow Datafusion) which is a language-agnostic distributive computing program that could be integrated into R. This could force people like NVidea to port CUFD to R.

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 4 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!

Bioconductor Asia Membership Increasing Due to Going Virtual

By Blog, Events

R Consortium talked to Bioconductor Asia co-organizer Matt Ritchie about the upcoming conference (BioC Asia 2021), how COVID has affected attendance at the conference, and how they deal with multilingualism at their meetings.

RC: What is the R community like for Bioconductor Asia?

In terms of other Bioconductor groups, such as Europe and America, Bioconductor Asia is quite small. We are building up, and are grateful to receive R Consortium support for our event. The first BioC Asia was held in 2015 as a satellite of the GIW/InCoB meeting in Japan. The program included a workshop day, followed by a mini-conference where people could learn about Bioconductor and present their research. Martin Morgan (project lead at the time) gave a talk and an introductory workshop on Bioconductor to around 30 participants. In the following years, we organized our meetings as satellite events to the larger ABACBS annual conference in Australia (Brisbane 2016, Adelaide 2017, Melbourne 2018 and Sydney 2019). In 2020, we were planning an in-person meeting in China hosted by Tsinghua University and were expecting a large audience of around 200 attendees. Oddly, after we went digital we ended up having 400 registrants. Thanks to the generous support of our sponsors, BioC Asia 2020 offered free registration and more people could participate in the workshops than ever before. In 2021, we will again run our event virtually, with lead organizer Kozo Nishida from RIKEN in Japan. We are also keen to have conferences in other countries. Last year we had several people from South Korea attend, so maybe future BioC Asia events can be hosted virtually (or in person) by South Korean researchers.

RC: How has COVID affected your ability to connect with members?

We canceled the in-person conference and went virtual. Zoom was the main tool that we use to communicate, and we set up a #biocasia2020 channel on the Bioconductor community slack for further discussion. Because of the virtual conference we were able to increase attendees in the workshops, where we had more people possible for virtual than in person (100 plus people online versus 30 or so for in person workshops, often limited due to physical restrictions of space). For the conference, we used the Orchestra platform that Sean Davis developed for running workshops in the cloud. We recently used this platform to run virtual training in Africa, so it’s been well tested now in different parts of the world and can scale up or down very easily. We are likely to keep a hybrid option in the future as it is more accessible for students and people without a travel budget. We want our meetings to be as accessible as possible. It’s also nice to have a meeting in your general time zone as opposed to one that is scheduled for when you were hoping to be asleep, which is often the case for meetings based around other time zones. 

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

I enjoyed the presentation by Koki Tsuyuzaki on tensor decomposition and the work that has gone into applying this approach to single-cell data analysis in the scTensor package (a video of this presentation is available from the Bioconductor YouTube channel). F1000Research, who also sponsored our meeting, hosted the slides from this presentation which were accessible before and after the talk so people could easily follow along at home. F1000Research also allows hosting of poster presentations, which is great for virtual poster sessions.

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

The growing influence that the tidyverse is having on the Bioconductor project, with software such as tidyBulk and plyranges applying these principles to genomic data analysis. Both packages have been developed by researchers based in our region, and it will be exciting to see further applications in the future.

RC: Do you know of any data journalism efforts by your members?  If not, are there particular data journalism projects that you’ve seen in the last year that you feel had a positive impact on society?

Although not directly related to Bioconductor, the work led by Rafael Irizarry that I saw presented at an AMSI Bioinfosummer public lecture in 2019 on estimating the number of excess deaths in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria (bioRxiv preprint here and news story here) is very inspiring. They modeled data to look at excess deaths and found that the government reported figures grossly underestimated the real impact of the disaster, which lasted long after the Hurricane had ended.

RC: When is your next event? Please give details!

BioC Asia 2021 will be held Nov 1-4 as a virtual event. The lead organizer is Kozo Nishida from RIKEN, who represents our region on the Bioconductor Community Advisory Board. This is the second time the event is hosted in Japan, albeit virtually this time around.

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

An early one funded in the 2016 round: ‘Software Carpentry R Instructor Training’ by Dr Laurent Gatto was a really valuable contribution for teaching countless people how to use R. Software carpentry is an amazing platform for onboarding new users, and Laurent and colleagues are currently planning a new curriculum that introduces the world of Bioconductor using this approach.

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

R / Medicine, as a lot of Bioconductor tools are used in clinical research and there is a lot of interest in Bioconductor from that sector. R / Medicine has an annual conference that will be held virtually this year on August 24-27th.

RC: There are four projects that are R Consortium Top Level Projects. If you could add another project to this list for guaranteed funding for 3 years and a voting seat on the ISC, which project would you add?

More support for teaching R in other Languages would be great for our work. At BioC Asia 2020 we ran workshops in Mandarin which proved very popular. We have also published RNA-seq analysis workflows in English and Chinese. It would be great to see more multilingual vignettes and workflows so that people can learn about different packages in whatever language suits them best. We are looking at redeveloping the Bioconductor website and aim to have key landing pages and training material translated into different languages. Adding closed captioning in English to talks can also improve accessibility.

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 4 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!

R-Ladies Philly – Building our Online Community During the Pandemic

By Blog, Events

Authored by: the R-Ladies Philly organizing team

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, R-Ladies Philly has shifted from local in-person meetups to virtual events. Hundreds of local, national, and even international R enthusiasts joined us for monthly virtual meetups and social activities! We organized more than 10 R workshops and co-hosted a datathon with local partners. We even launched a YouTube channel to make our workshop recordings widely available. Based on feedback from our members, this has been very successful despite the difficulties associated with COVID-19. In this post, we share a bit more information on our events and what has worked for our group.

Workshops

Starting from April 2020, we organized 11 R workshops, ranging from basic data cleaning and visualization to more advanced R usage like R package development and popular topics such as machine learning. One of our goals is to celebrate gender diversity in the R community by highlighting different speakers. We also aim to engage R users from all different levels and encourage speakers to share their learning experiences. We made all workshop content and notes captured during Q&A available to the public through our Youtube channel and event recaps on the R-Ladies Philly blog. See below for links to our workshop events:

  1. Tidyverse (April 2020) – Kelsey Keith
  2. A/B Testing in R (May 2020) – Elea McDonnell Feit
  3. Introduction to R lightning talks (June 2020)
    • 6 R Packages to Add to Your Workflow – Jinyi Kuang
    • How to install R and RStudio for the first time – Tess Cherlin
  4. How to Test and Roll (July 2020) – Elea McDonnell Feit and Ron Berman
  5. Hands on Machine Learning (August 2020) – Jaclyn Taroni
  6. Decision Trees & Random Forests (September 2020) – Trang Le and Karla Fettich
  7. Flexdashboard and debugging with shinyobjects (October 2020) – Jake Riley
  8. Your first R package in 1 hour (November 2020) – Shannon Pileggi
  9. Data Visualization (December 2020) – Trang Le
  10. Introduction to R dashboard development with Shiny Dashboard (January 2021) – Anastasia Lucas
  11. From Learn-R to Teach-R (February 2021) – Ama Nyame-Mensah, Cass Wilkinson Saldaña and Silvia Canelón
A screenshot from our panel event that is posted on YouTube. Here we used slido.com to facilitate a panel session with R educators. The top upvoted questions are: “How can I teach my coworkers R?”, “Learning what to google when something went wrong was such a big factor in my own learning curve. Any advice for helping beginners learn what to search?” and “How do you come up with good active learning opportunities, or examples?”

Datathons

We asked Datathon 2021 participants how they would describe the experience in one word or phrase. This word cloud visualizes their responses. Teamwork, learning, and cats feature prominently.

Every year, R-Ladies Philly organizes a datathon that aims to bring R enthusiasts and community organizations together to create insights through data and give participants exposure to new techniques, real-world data, and a diverse group of local data science professionals. These datathons consist of in-person kickoff and conclusion events, and 6 weeks of online collaboration in between. 

The pandemic caught us in the middle of our 2020 datathon, which was a collaborative effort with other local data groups to help address the opioid epidemic in Philadelphia, so the conclusion meetup had to change format from in-person to online (see a recording here). 

In 2021, we had to switch to a fully online format, where the kickoff meetup was held via Zoom and participants organized themselves into groups through breakout rooms. Our 2021 datathon explored judicial patterns in Philadelphia courts, including bail, sentencing, and the concept of ‘judge harshness’. Participants worked together using Zoom, Slack, GitHub, and a shared Google doc for Q&A that also allowed the partner organization to answer questions asynchronously. Our conclusion meetup (view the recording here) showcases some of the highlights of this year’s datathon findings and the work that participants have put into analyzing a large and complex real-world dataset. 

Insights from a virtual year

Overall, we are looking forward to returning to our pre-pandemic format when it is safe to do so. Being forced to adapt our approach has had some benefits. We were able to reach a broader audience that was not previously able to travel to our events. We were also able to try new event formats and new technology. For example, we held two virtual social events where we experimented with different formats to get to know each other remotely. We also used tools like breakout rooms in zoom for our datathon and online tools like sli.do for polls and Q&A sessions for our panel and datathon events. We also tried to keep our events as interactive as possible with lively chats and the usage of Google docs to track and answer all participant questions during workshop events. These practices will be useful for all future workshops, whether virtual, in-person, or hybrid.

We are looking forward to continuing to build our online presence with more YouTube and blog posts, even when we are able to meet again face to face. If you are interested in joining us, please look for upcoming events on our meetup page. We are also seeking volunteers to plan and lead hands-on workshops for the remainder of 2021. Please learn more by visiting our website.

Some photos of our in-person meetups before the pandemic. We look forward to eating pizza together again one day.

Tidyverse Overtakes For Loops in Melbourne, Australia

By Blog, Events

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. The wealth of knowledge in the community and the drive to learn and improve is inspiring. We had a chance to talk with Jiun Siew, Data Scientist and organizer of R User Group Melbourne, to find out more about the R community in Melbourne, how they’re holding up during the pandemic, trends in R, and what the future holds. 

If you are interested in applying to the RUGS program for your organization, see the How do I Join? section at the end of this article.

RC: What is the R community like in Melbourne?

Melbourne has a vibrant community, with a mixture of students, professionals, and industries involved. Our R Meetup has almost 3,000 members who are interested in R and Data Science. We do get a little support in organizing from some of the companies in the area.

RC: How has COVID affected your ability to connect with members?

Melbourne had a very strict lockdown happen. We had a 5km travel radius where we were allowed to travel, restrictions on going to grocery stores, and the like. Because of that, we couldn’t meet in person. To get around this, we did our meetings primarily on Zoom.

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

In the last meetup in November, WhyHive, who does analytics using Shiny, did a presentation for the work they did for the International Women’s Development Agency. It was amazing to see, and they were such a young crew. WhyHive is a social enterprise that works with non-profits to analyze and make data-driven decisions. Typically, our Zoom meetings with higher turnout tend to be around 30 to 40 people. For this one, we had 70 to 80. The conversation for this was so good that we had to cut off questions to them at the end due to time.

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

The overall trend where more of our users are going is Tidyverse and all things Tidy. For better or worse, it is where our users tend to be going. We have seen a lot of time series, tidy objects, tidy models, and the like. In our organization, it has become almost the de facto method, to the point where people don’t usually use For loops anymore.

RC: When is your next event? Please give details!

We are currently in the planning stage, and we are looking for a speaker. More details to come soon!

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

Due to my work, Mater 2.0 stuck out to me. It would be very nice to deal with larger data frames. It would help with scaling projects to a larger size.

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

The ones that I saw, distributive computing, were really interesting. Being able to scale is one of the problems and one of the limitations that our members run into. You can multithread it or hack parallels or distribute a job, but it would be awesome if it were more native. This would also help with scaling projects up for people who work in industry.

RC: There are four projects that are R Consortium Top Level Projects. If you could add another project to this list for guaranteed funding for 3 years and a voting seat on the ISC, which project would you add?

I think there should be more put into diversity and inclusion. This is a really important field that I believe should be emphasized. Another one would be looking into scalability in R and making it more usable in work environments. I attended an R User Conference in Brisbane some years ago, and what I saw showed a lack of scaling. In industry we try to use R in production, and the lack of scalability is an issue in R. This issue is becoming more important.

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 4 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!

Brazil’s R Community is Vibrant and Active

By Blog, Events

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. The wealth of knowledge in the community and the drive to learn and improve is inspiring. We were able to talk to Adriano Belisario, program manager at School of Data Brazil (Open Knowledge Brazil) and associated researcher at MediaLab.UFRJ to find out more about the da R community in Brazil, how they are dealing with the pandemic, what trends are happening in R in Brazil, and how they are heading forward.

RC: What is the R community like in Brazil?

The R community in Brazil is very vibrant and generous. There are a lot of initiatives like meetups, events, open classes, and tutorials for people who want to learn to program in R. Personally, I would like to highlight three initiatives from the Brazilian community: R Ladies Brazil, Curso-R, and R Brasil Telegram group.

In a country with so many levels of inequality, the R Ladies Brazil does an amazing work on making sure that R would be accessible to women and other underrepresented groups. Curso-R creates courses, free books, tutorials and a lot of excellent materials for those who use R in Brazil. They also have a YouTube channel that provides live streams, debates and live coding in Portuguese in R. Finally, the Telegram group has more than 2000 active members currently. It is a very active channel for the community, where people discuss, exchange information about events, support others with technical issues, and offer help to other users. 

RC: How has COVID affected your ability to connect with members?

Since 2016, the School of Data Brazil has organized the Brazilian Conference on Data Journalism and Digital Methods (Coda.Br), the main event of this area in Latin America. This conference and most of our activities used to be in-person before COVID. The exception was an experience doing online courses (MOOCs) with the Knight Center for the Journalism in America (University of Texas), but since the beginning of the pandemic we needed to reinvent all of our methodologies, courses and community activities towards the online environment. Although we miss in person meetings, this change has allowed us to work with people all across Brazil. We had excellent results with the last conference, which was also supported by R Consortium.

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

Talking about Coda.Br and R-Ladies, I will mention the presentation of Gabriela de Queiroz on AI Bias. She introduced the topic explaining for a broad audience some critical implications of AI nowadays. In the talk, Gabriela presented the general issue of dealing with bias in data and went over how to mitigate these biases using open-sources programs. She introduced toolkits, software, and libraries that are used to address this problem, like Fairlearn, Lift, What-If Tool and AI Fairness 360.

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

Thinking about not only my organization, but the entire field of data journalism and the use of R language by journalists, I would say that with the general election for the government coming up, access to election data, governmental budget might be an important topic. While we have access, it is not always easy to query it. There is a lot of work in collecting, preparing, cleaning, and transforming the data so it can be analyzed for public use. That’s why the work done by initiatives such as Brasil.IO or Base dos Dados is so important. They offer open data well structured, cleaned and ready to use. The last one also has a package in CRAN. So we might see some impact in terms of academic research and data journalism, since it is becoming easier to realize more complex analysis merging several datasets. Finally, along with the election, environmental data will be important as climate change is an urgent topic globally and locally. In School of Data Brazil, we have created a course about environmental data journalism, in partnership with the Earth Journalism Network.

RC: Do you know of any data journalism efforts by your members?  If not, are there particular data journalism projects that you’ve seen in the last year that you feel had a positive impact on society?

Since the School of Data is focused on data journalism and data literacy, there are a lot of people across the country in our network with experiences in these fields. We also have a membership program with hundreds of journalists, researchers and developers. The program offers benefits such as webinars, dedicated channels and free entry in Coda.Br, for those who support our activities through a fee, as we are a nonprofit organization.

Another way we support data journalists is through the Claudio Weber Abramo Award. This awareness recognizes and stimulates high-level excellence in data journalism in Brazil. The award and this open forum we’ve created help to highlight the best works in the country and keep the community engaged. One of the highlights of the Award is the fact that the summary of all subscriptions of the last edition are available on the website. 

RC: When is your next event? Please give details!

Our conference – Coda.Br – is going to be held online, November 8-13. Second online convention due to the pandemic.

RC: There are four projects that are R Consortium Top Level Projects. If you could add another project to this list for guaranteed funding for 3 years and a voting seat on the ISC, which project would you add?

I would love to see an effort to promote data literacy. Not just for journalists, but for everyone. We need to make sure that most people have access to the basic mindset to properly understand, analyze, and criticize data.

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 4 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

Checking in with R-Ladies Taipei

By Blog, Events
 Kristen Chan, R-Ladies Taipei organizer

R Consortium’s R User Group and Small Conference Support Program (RUGS) is made to support R groups around the world by providing grants to help R groups organize, share information and support each other. Unlike many groups over this past year, the R groups in Taiwan did not have as long a disruption as other groups did. Can they provide a glimpse of how the rest of the world can hold regular meetings? Do they have a way to mix the wave of virtual meetings along with local meetings? We talked with Kristen Chan, current R-Ladies Taipei organizer, to find out more.

RC: What is the R community like in Taiwan?

In Taiwan, we have two R communities, one is R-Ladies Taipei which I host, and another one is Taiwan R user group. Both of the R communities promote and build up venues for friendly data discussion. We welcome talks on any data topics such as Machine Learning, Deep Learning, Data Analytics, Data Engineering, and meet every Monday night. The last Monday of every month is reserved for women.

RC: In the past year, did you have to change your techniques to connect and collaborate with members?  

In Taiwan, at the very beginning of 2020, we stopped the face-to-face meetup and started thinking about how we can continue to maintain the meetup. But how lucky we are! Taiwan’s CDC has the pandemic under control, so we can do everything as normal. So we still have the regular meetup, but we require everyone to wear masks to protect each other during the event.

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

In October 2020 we held a satRday conference. It was the first time we had this satRday event and also it is the first one in Asia. And it was tough to make this conference happen during the COVID-19 pandemic. Fortunately, we had invited Yihui Xie who works for RStudio to give us a wonderful talk. We are using the online meeting to make this happen. The topic is R Markdown. It was an interesting and unforgettable presentation because most of us don’t have the experience to talk to the author directly, so all the attendances were learned a lot.

Photo from satRday Taiwan, Oct 2020

RC: Do you know of any data journalism efforts by your members? If not, are there particular data journalism projects that you’ve seen in the last year that you feel had a positive impact on society?

Yes, some of our members are reporters. They are learning R and some BI tools to help them deal with the data cleaning and make some graphs to let people know more about information. 

And we also have a community called “知了新聞 Cicadata.” It’s a community about data journalism and its goal is that they want the data journalism field more open. By the way, one of the founders of 知了新聞 is also Taiwan R user group’s current organizer.

RC: When is your next event? Please give details!

We are still planning the event. But I think we will have a series of beginner  tutorialmeetups to let more people know R.

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

My favorite project is “Consolidating R-Ladies Global organizational guidance and wisdom”. Because of the diversity issue, it touched me more. 

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

My favorite is “Distributed Computing.” Because the data becomes bigger and we need to deal with that and also want to save some time, what we need is Distributed Computing.

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 4 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

Spectacularly Prescient – satRday South Africa Covered COVID Data Before Pandemic Hit

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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. The wealth of knowledge in the community and the drive to learn and improve is inspiring. With the wide disruption of events due to COVID-19 this year, we are interested in how groups are getting on despite the disruption in normal communication. The pandemic has focused our interest to look at how we communicate both at conferences as well as communicating with people outside of the main events while navigating the new challenges that the pandemic has created.

We talked with Andrew Collier, Data Scientist, Fathom Data, and satRday conference organizer, to find out how the R community in South Africa is faring. 

RC: How has COVID affected your ability to connect with members?

Well, we have run our conference for four years in succession. Actually, in 2020 we had the conference on the day that they announced the first official COVID case in South Africa. It was an in-person conference, but basically it was immediately before lockdown. That’s completely derailed our plans to do anything this year. I don’t really think I have the appetite for organizing an online conference. If I’m going to organize a conference I want to see people in the flesh.

That’s on the conference side, but as far as the meetups are concerned they are still soldiering on. Actually, I gave a talk for R-Ladies Cape Town towards the end of last year and they are still holding fairly regular meetings. It doesn’t seem to have a massive impact on them. If anything, I suspect that they are finding the logistics of organizing the meetings easier because they don’t have to organize a venue or eats or that kind of thing.

RC: How did the technology to connect change over the last year?

It varies. I know that we did the talks to R-Ladies Cape Town on Google Meet. But, I’ve also seen them using Zoom, and I’ve also seen them using Microsoft Teams as well. All kinds of platforms.

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

If I could pick out a talk I really enjoyed, and was spectacularly prescient at the time, it would be a talk at satRday last year where Robert Bennetto told us about COVID and what was going to happen before it happened!. So he had done a bunch of modeling, and everyone else was thinking “Hum, what’s the COVID thing all about,” and he stood up on stage and told us and within days what we had been told at the conference was our new reality. People didn’t see the relevance at the time, and they didn’t realize the enormity of what was about to happen.

RC: Do you know of any data journalism efforts by your members?  If not, are there particular data journalism projects that you’ve seen in the last year that you feel had a positive impact on society?

I’m not aware of anyone who has been to the conference who is a data journalist. I have a couple of contacts in Cape Town who are data journalists but they don’t use R as their main platform. The other thing that I have seen a lot of journalists do is that they go so far in R but then they take it across to another tool … to tweak the presentation. Like take it across into inkscape, and then actually build the visualization in inkscape, which to my mind kinda defeats the object of having a reproducible system if component of it has to be done by hand.

RC: When is your next event? Please give details!

We don’t have any immediate plans. I don’t think we are doing it this year. February, March, April worked out to be a good time relative to school terms and public holidays and things. It was a time where we could find a weekend when most people didn’t have any commitments. And the rest of the year that tended to be tricky. If it was to happen again it would be the same time next year.

RC: On social distancing on possible future events

I would prefer not to do that, but I think that realistically we would have to. Unfortunately it does make social interactions more difficult.

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

The R-Ladies group is my favorite, and I am a little bit awed by how successful that group is. I have tried to run meetups myself, and it’s hard work. And it’s not particularly rewarding because at least where I live people will sign up for a meeting, and say I’m coming and on paper you’ll have 50 people coming to your meeting, and you’ll arrive having catered and only a few people arrive. I’m not exaggerating, that’s a realistic scenario. So, that’s a little bit disheartening. But the R-Ladies are well attended so, I don’t know what the secret sauce is, but it does work.

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 4 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!

Find out about the R Community in Zurich, Switzerland

By Blog, Events

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. The wealth of knowledge in the community and the drive to learn and improve is inspiring. We had a chance to talk with Muriel Buri, Statistical Scientist and organizer of Zurich R User Meetup, to find out more about the R community in Zurich, how they’re holding up during the pandemic, trends in R, and what the future holds. 

If you are interested in applying to the RUGS program for your organization, see the How do I Join? section at the end of this article.

RC: What is the R Community like in Zurich?

We started with the RUG in 2015 and by now we have just 2000 members. However, looking at Switzerland, there are smaller communities based in Lucerne and Bern and there is one R-Ladies group in Lausanne, which’s the French part of Switzerland. They all are a bit smaller, however, it’s a nice exchange between the groups and as you might be aware, the Zurich team is very much involved in organizing the Global User R Conference.

Zooming back in on the R community in Zurich, it’s a very diverse community. As mentioned, the Zurich RUG was founded in December 2015 and has been growing substantially since. The frequently organized Meetup events regularly gather a crowd of over 100 people and foster a very lively and intensive exchange among the R community in the Zurich region. The diversity regarding the applications of R, as well as the different occupations of the useRs in the community, such as data journalism, academic research, different insurances, official statistics, foundations, etc. are unique and outstanding characteristics of the Zurich R community.

The diversity is also what I enjoy the most at all these meetings. Not just having an exchange between the group you usually interact with, but having a broader exchange with different people, professions, levels of useRs, application fields, etc. To summarize, the community is very inclusive, and there is no such thing like a stupid question.

RC: How has COVID affected your ability to connect with members?

The Zurich RUG has shifted its focus a bit as many of the RUG members are now actively involved in the virtual global useR! 2021 conference. This has already started when we originally applied for the (planned) in-person useR! 2021 which has by now became the global virtual useR! 2021 conference. Hence, for me, it is challenging to distinguish between how COVID has affected us and how our engagement in the organisation of the useR! 2021 has affected our local activities.

At the start of the pandemic, we did not organise anything. After two or three months into the ‘lockdown’ (which in Switzerland was quite soft in comparison to other countries), the small group of the RUG Zurich organizers met in a park for lunch. At that time, I do recall that we all were a bit Zoom-fatigued. We then waited for a while and organised our first virtual event in October 2020. It was nice and many people attended it. However, what we always enjoyed best was having the beer part afterwards. Having this all virtual just wasn’t the same. It is very difficult to get that socializing part going in a virtual space.

Luckily, the Swiss R community is still active thanks to the Lucerne useR! group (@lucerne_r) which have actually started during the pandemic. They nicely promote their online events on Twitter, and we’d always retweet these tweets for our own community. It is nice to see that the community isn’t asleep.

RC: Can virtual technologies be used to make us more inclusive?

I personally do believe that virtual technologies do have the power to make us more inclusive, yes. As an example, the useR! 2021 conference will be the first R conference that is global by design, both in audience and leadership. Leveraging a diversity of experiences and backgrounds helps us to make the conference accessible and inclusive in as many ways as possible and to grow the global community of R users giving new talents access to this amazing ecosystem. New technologies make the conference more accessible to minoritized individuals and we strive to leverage that potential. Additionally, we pay special attention to the needs of people with a disability to ensure that they can attend and contribute to the conference as conveniently as possible. 

That being said, we will surely do our best to use these innovations also later within our own Zurich based community.

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

There is no specific presentation that I would like to highlight. To me it seems our audience always appreciates events with learning tutorials very much.


For example, we once had a presentation on Docker for R users. Another time, we were able to encourage Martin Mächler to give a talk. That was also really great. His presentation was entitled “What I find important in R programming and recent cool features in R.”

The way we often organize our meetups is that we will have one specific topic and two speakers presenting. As mentioned, the R community in Zurich is very heterogeneous so that we would for example have a financial theme for one meetup and would then look for a bank to sponsor and/or host our event. Or we’d have an insurance related topic and try to organise this event at an insurance company.

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

In the age of this pandemic, virtual meetups have become an indispensable tool for the community. Based on this, I was wondering if the local R community groups will still be as important as they used to be. It seems to me that the community is moving closer globally and even more (virtual) exchange is happening. 

The question of predicting a specific trend in R language affecting our organization over the next year is challenging. From my personal perspective, as I now work in the pharma industry, I see a big trend moving away from SAS towards R. With this, the promotion of friendly end-user Shiny Apps to present and discuss data analyses to people who are less familiar with the concepts is a big trend too.

RC: Do you know of any data journalism efforts by your members? If not, are there particular data journalism projects that you’ve seen in the last year that you feel had a positive impact on society?

Yes, indeed, there are at least two members at Zurich RUG, Timo Grossenbacher (@grssnbchr) and Marie-José Kolly (@mjKolly). They have both presented their work at our meetups and the community has been very interested in their talks.

Marie-José writes data journalism articles for the Republik magazine in Zurich. One of her articles is about the protection of unborn life and the woman’s right to self-determination. The article allows for a visual journey through the weeks of pregnancy. The article is also nominated for the Swiss Press Award and can be accessed here (paywall, in German).

RC: Of the funded projects on R Consortium, what is your favorite project and why?

To be honest, I wasn’t aware that there are so many different funded projects on R Consortium. What a great effort!

The satRday conferences are events that I enjoy very much. The support of the R-Ladies groups is surely also a project that I personally like a lot.

RC: There are four projects that are R Consortium Top-Level Projects. If you could add another project to this list for guaranteed funding for 3 years and a voting seat on the ISC, which project would you add?

That is a challenging question. I worked myself in Uganda and taught statistics to veterinary medical doctors. R as an open-source program for statistical computing is fantastic as everyone with internet access can make use of it. I think I would personally promote more such projects to promote the growth of the global community of R users by advancing its accessible and inclusiveness. I’d initiate a project that promotes the global use of R. This vision is motivated by my experience of seeking sponsors for the global useR! 2021 conference. We did experience some challenges to gain access to all global communities, e.g. R is used in so many parts of the world but not everyone yet might be aware of the great resources, the worldwide community and the global exchange… Yes, I would suggest a project that pursues this vision.

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 4 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

Upcoming Event: The role of data journalism in the COVID-19 pandemic

By Blog, Events

Join us March 18, 9:00 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. PDT. More information!

The role of data journalists in the scientific process has traditionally been overlooked. However, the most recent pandemic showed how journalism shapes scientific responses and public policy. Thousands of journalists rose to the challenge when the public needed information in order to respond to the rapidly spreading COVID-19 pandemic. Journalists acquired COVID-19 data, visualized it and disseminated their work to help the world contain the virus and flatten the curve. 

In order to effectively respond to the pandemic, the world needs a coordinated response driven by accurate, complete data. The data must encompass local outbreaks and be released quickly so action can be taken. Journalists, with experience collecting local information and releasing articles in a timely manner, were well suited to help inform the public. However, by visualizing and analyzing COVID data, journalists became participants in the scientific process rather than simple conveyors of results. Their efforts help data scientists, inform decision-makers and shape a new role for data journalism in crisis situations. 

On March 18 the COVID-19 Data Forum, sponsored by the Stanford Data Science Initiative and R Consortium, will host a meeting to discuss how a new breed of data journalists collected quantitative data that helped fight the pandemic. The forum will also discuss how data scientists utilize their resources to create better models. 

Speakers: 

The event is free and open to the public!

Join us March 18, 9:00 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. PDT. More information!