R Consortium talks to Harvey Lieberman on their growth both pre and post COVID. They have adapted in a way that promotes R in Pharma as well as allowing them to be more inclusive.
R/Pharma is being held Nov 2-4, 2021. Register today! More information available here: rinpharma.com
RC: What is the R community like in R Pharma?
We have an amazing community! We have been able to pull together a group of like-minded people who wish to contribute to R/Pharma. Each year we hold a conference that is entirely community driven from the organizing and program committees to those who work on presentations and workshops.
As a community-led effort anyone who wants to help can do so. Last year we tried to identify people who work on R in smaller biotechs so that we do not become too polarized towards bigger pharma companies.
We also have an active slack group that helps build community.
RC: How has COVID affected your ability to connect with members?
A little history of R/Pharma so you can see how it evolved with COVID. We formed a few years ago with the main focus being holding a conference. It was clear that a lot of people were working with R in Pharmaceutical companies from early research through to production, but there wasn’t a conference focussed on this. There were many statistics-based conferences, several geared towards SAS, but nothing industry-based for R practitioners. The first two conferences we held were face-to-face at Harvard University in 2018 and 2019 with 150 attendees. It was clear that more people wanted to attend but we were limited in space. Late 2019 we started to think about how to expand, to accommodate more attendees, and then COVID hit. We quickly pivoted to a virtual event and ended up reaching far more people – with over 1000 registrations for 2020 and we are expecting more for 2021.
Our conference historically attracted attendees from USA and Europe. The benefit of going virtual is that we can bring together people from all over the World. The challenge in managing this post-COVID. R/Pharma has always strived to be a free conference without sponsors and we will be relying on our community to help put future events on in this spirit.
For 2022 we are hoping to host a hybrid event.
RC: In the past year, did you have to change your techniques to connect and collaborate with members? For example, did you use GitHub, video conferencing, online discussion groups more? Can these techniques be used to make your group more inclusive to people that are unable to attend physical events in the future?
We have an active slack group which has been growing steadily since 2018. For the conference we use a GitHub repo to archive presentations and workshops, linked to our website. We also have a YouTube channel containing recorded talks and workshops from 2020. We can look at COVID as a double-edged sword with respect to connection – we were able to reach many more people last year but we lost the interpersonal interactions. It’s important to us to be inclusive and virtual experiences break down many barriers.
With regards to the conference in 2020, we held workshops via Zoom and the main conference through the hopin platform. One way in which we promoted additional interaction was through virtual conference booths so that open source authors could showcase their packages and shiny apps. We aim to host the 2021 workshops and conference the same way.
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?
We have been blessed with so many great speakers over the past three years. In our first year Joe Cheng gave a talk on Using Interactivity Responsibly in Pharma. Joe is an amazing presenter who can take a topic that is complex and explain it in a way that everyone can understand. The R/Pharma community is amazing and we always have incredible workshops in addition to talks. One that comes to mind is Leon Eyrich Jessen’s workshop on Artificial Neural Networks in R with Keras and TensorFlow. It’s a highly complex topic which Leon teaches in a 3- or 4-hour workshop, from which you leave thinking “how can I now apply this to my own problems?”
RC: What trends do you see in R language affecting your organization over the next year?
I think the big one in Pharma, in general, is R for Submissions. This is a space that traditionally has been very heavily SAS-oriented. There is certainly a move in the industry to start to use R. It’s slow because it requires a large amount of retraining, changing infrastructure and dealing with regulations. Leaving college now, you are more likely to be an R expect than a SAS expert.
Another area of growth within the industry are shiny apps. This has democratized the ability to communicate complex statistical outputs. Couple that with shiny modules and you have the ability to build complex interactive graphical apps rapidly.
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?
Externally I do not but everyone in the industry uses these as a way to communicate internally on a daily basis. I’m working in a group that has started using data stories as a way to communicate complex information in a digestable way. As a Brit I tend to read the BBC a lot and like how they are embracing data journalism. FiveThiryEight too is a great site.
RC: When is your next event? Please give details!
R/Pharma 2021 will be held from November 2-4. Workshops will be running the week before. The event is free and you can find registration details on our website at rinpharma.com.
RC: Of the Funded Projects by the R Consortium, do you have a favorite project? Why is it your favorite?
R Ladies is my favorite, mainly because it was something very conscious. We did have an imbalance in our industry Ladies is a favorite. Our industry is trying to address a gender imbalance and R/Pharma, as an organization, is very conscious of that.
RC: Of the Active Working Groups, which is your favorite? Why is it your favorite?
The R Validation Hub is heavily connected to R/Pharma. Having a way to validate packages is very important to our industry. Members of the R Validation Hub regularly present or host workshops at R/Pharma.
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?
R for submissions. The R Consortium is spearheading an effort that is complex but important to our industry. Having a way to bring multiple companies together to work with regulatory bodies is essential.
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!