R Ladies Montevideo, Uruguay, Explains How to Create a High Quality Conference in the Southern Hemisphere
R Consortium talks to Daniela Vázquez of R Ladies Montevideo on how they are building community in Latin America and trying to host a conference that people would attend. The initiatives they have done are helping create a sense of community and encourage people from different places to attend conferences together.
RC: What is the R community like in Latin America?
Our community is mostly Spanish speakers, but we also have English and Portuguese members. We have guests, especially keynote speakers, that only speak in English, but most of the talks are in Spanish. We would have rooms for related fields in different languages. The main talks were then translated into different languages. Because most conferences are in the Northern Hemisphere, we tried to have a great quality conference of the same quality as those up north but without the traveling. The idea is to foster community by having a conference where people are close to each other. We also translated the R for the data science book. We are in a space where we have a community and we share similar idiosyncrasies. When we attend a conference in the Northern Hemisphere, we have the same baseline of interests and act the same.
RC: How has COVID affected your ability to connect with members?
We were pretty active before COVID. In Montevideo, we didn’t have a mandatory lockdown. Luckily, both LatinR and our local R Ladies groups were able to stay active while socially distant. The organizers tend to be very busy, so we don’t meet in person as much. I haven’t even seen my mother except over the fence. We had to stop because we didn’t have time. In the little time we did have, we had to work. I’m a consultant myself, so my work time was very erratic. It was crazy. Everyone was having the same difficulties.
That was one thing, but the other thing was that you felt that we were all together. We were all in the R Ladies Group, and we were meeting regularly and had good communication. Others were not so talkative and were muted with cameras off. We did most of the talks because we did the introductions for the speakers. It was hard for us because it was difficult to build something where people felt comfortable talking. When you have 20 boxes where people are just looking at you, it can be very daunting. We did reach more people because you didn’t have to be in the city – which was good. The bad part was that you didn’t know the people because they were from different countries. On the one hand, it was good that you could take advantage of this. On the other, the people who always came to the meetups didn’t know any of the new people so they were more withdrawn and didn’t interact.
One added benefit was that we were able to invite and bring in speakers from far away. We were able to invite María Teresa Ortíz to talk about geospatial data, which we have never done before so that was good.
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 tried a Slack channel where we were encouraging people to join, but we had very little interaction there. This may be a cultural thing. I was a founder of the Buenos Aires chapter, and everyone talked on the Slack channel there. But, here it is the exact opposite. We were unable to take these relationships and make them digital. We would talk about one specific project and come up with a solution in person. We haven’t tried doing this online. We also didn’t know about meetup. People just joined so they knew when the meetings were. It was just popular for people working in the software industry but not for others. Most of our community is academics. It wasn’t easy but we are making progress. Most people are on Twitter so we are using that now. We have a repo where we put the presentation and the materials so that others can review it if they miss the meeting.
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 only had one speaker this year, Teresa. She gave a talk on geospatial data. We had a lot of interest in that presentation. It was great, because it was a subject that not many people knew how to use, and it was a way to facilitate many different topics for our members. She was great. It was great we were able to bring her on virtually, due to the pandemic. We are contacting two more speakers to talk about things that we don’t have locally.
RC: What trends do you see in R language affecting your organization over the next year?
One of the biggest issues that our members have is reproducibility. This is mostly because our members work in academia. They need to be sure that the results can be independently reproduced.
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 love data journalism and it started to be a thing a few years ago. We have a newspaper that works with people who are specialists, like water, and lets them work in their field. They are trying to do things with data, and they are gradually acquiring the skills. That is something that people are improving on.
We also have an initiative called ILDA (Latin American Initiative for Open Data). They are conducting research based on femicide, among other things. Here, it is hard for a homicide to be cataloged as femicide, and they are trying to make the statistics comparable between Latin American countries because all countries have different ways to catalog those. I think they are trying to do some data journalism on that. I don’t know if they are doing any other topics, but they are trying on this front now.
RC: When is your next event? Please give details!
We are planning on having a new event by the end of June. Probably about reproducibility, but we still need to clarify and find the details. It’s not written in stone, and we have to book our slot on R Ladies Zoom.
RC: Of the Funded Projects by the R Consortium, do you have a favorite project? Why is it your favorite?
I had to read about that because I wasn’t aware of all the initiatives. I’ve seen tweets about some of them, but I’ve not checked them on Twitter. I like R Ladies Global, which I think is crucial because, when we have an R User Group we feel that women feel more comfortable being around other women and ask more questions. It’s been key for the R-ladies to go to LatinR. Natalia was very interested in the visualization project because she works with that topic. I wasn’t aware of all the things that you do, but it’s awesome!
RC: Of the Active Working Groups, which is your favorite? Why is it your favorite?
I was interested personally in R Certification. I think it’s pretty cool and would love to have that available. It was something that I was looking at before.
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