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Murcia R Users Group (UMUR) in Spain Didn’t Let the Pandemic Break its Momentum

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R Consortium recently talked with Aurora González Vidal of UMUR Asociación de Usuarios de R Murcia (Also on Twitter). She covered the historic involvement of Murcia in the evolution of R in Spain and the progressive nature of the R community in Spain. Although the original community spirit of the group has suffered during the pandemic, shifting events online has also significantly increased the reach of the group. With two future events already planned, the group has held on to its pace and is also hopeful to host hybrid events in the future.

Aurora has been the president of the R Murcia Users Organization since it was established in 2017. She is also a postdoctoral researcher in the Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence at the Faculty of Computer Science, University of Murcia. In her free time, she enjoys playing sports, including climbing and krav magá (self-defense). She is also an avid reader and loves playing the saxophone.

What is the R community like in Spain?

I consider that the R community in Spain is very active, and it consists of multidisciplinary researchers and people in business. Some of my colleagues also work for banks and engineering companies and they are introducing R in their work environment. Adoption of R in industry is still in its early stages and mostly as a personal effort from the employees.

I was told that in 2009, before I started at the university, there were some individual R users spread through Spain that belonged to Linux mailing lists and statistical forums. They gathered here in Murcia for the first time to share knowledge and experience at a national R conference. It was special because here in Spain, bigger events happen in Madrid and Barcelona. Since then, there is an annual conference that grows more every year. 10 years later, in 2019, we celebrated the Xth conference again in Murcia and there were 144 attendees, 32 talks, workshops, posters, a prize, and 2 invited speakers that are prominent references in the R-world: François Husson, who was there in person, and Julia Silge, who gave her talk remotely from Utah. I think in Spain we are very passionate about R and the ecosystem around it because it relates to progress and sharing. 

How has COVID affected your ability to connect with members?

Our original community has suffered a lot because the main activities that we performed, the bi-monthly workshops, had a powerful component of being present. Seeing each other’s faces and getting to know the people, getting to share ideas by having a coffee together after the workshop, was an important part of our spirit. So the original idea of the workshop has suffered. 

In the past year, did you have to change your techniques to connect and collaborate with members? For example, did you use GitHub, videoconferencing, online discussion groups more? Can these techniques be used to make your group more inclusive of people that cannot attend physical events in the future?  

We are using Zoom, and some of our speakers have decided to publish their code on GitHub. It’s something we promote, but not something we ask for. Normally, how it works is that we work a lot through mailing lists. So when someone wants to become a member, they fill out a questionnaire, and we communicate through email. If there is any discussion, it goes through email. We normally provide a doodle to select days for workshops so that every member can vote. In other words, apart from video conferencing, there is nothing new in particular that has happened during the pandemic.

Since we started offering the workshops online because of the pandemic, we have enlarged our community. We engage people not only from our region but also people from other local groups in Spain, and even in Latin America. We also started a YouTube channel that gives our content a projection. It’s great because we get to analyze the interests of the audience from the views on your YouTube channel. For those things I am happy, and the idea is to continue with a hybrid setup in the future, once it is safe to gather again. 

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? 

Our most recent workshop was very interesting. Jose Vicente Yago, a colleague of mine, who is a data analyst in the Computer Sciences Faculty of the University of Murcia, gave it. It was about creating R packages and deploying them as APIs for machine learning applications. I think this is especially interesting because once we create a function, a set of functions, or even a package, there is the possibility of exposing them to any platform or to any client that does not want to be aware of how R works. It was great, and it is currently available on our channel and also the code is on GitHub. This is not something we ask for because every talk is different, but we encourage the speakers to publish their content, and we support them.

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

I see that people at the organization are very interested in R for education, R for ecology, and artificial intelligence. A more transversal interest is always developing Shiny apps. Our vice-president already gave a workshop about flexdashboards, and we are thinking of offering a talk about shiny extension packages for theming, UI components, visualizations, etc.

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?

There is a local R organization, named R-Quixote, from Toledo with which we collaborate frequently. Through them, the editor of the digital journal “The Data Science Magazine” contacted us to help in a section that is an R course. Some members of UMUR, the organization, especially the ones on the directive board, have collaborated previously, providing R courses to Ph.D. students, professors at the university, and other professionals. I will try to get many members involved in this project. 

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

Personally, from my research and academic view, I would say that the Google Earth Engine with R is amazing. In smart agriculture, satellite images are really useful for detecting problems with crops. 

And then also from a social point of view, the R Girls Schools network sounds amazing too. I think this is something we can also do as a local group. We could try to go to schools, teach what is coding and empower girls from school to choose Data Analysis and Computer Science as careers. So these two things would be my favorites from the funded projects. 

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

I think R Certification is very useful because at this point we use online courses, we try on our own but there is a lack of institutions or certification that can provide proof of proficiency in R. So that would be useful.

And also the Distributive Computing working group. Because many times there is this belief that we can only work sequentially in R. Of course parallel computing is possible but people aren’t aware, so these efforts are interesting and useful. 

When is your next event? Please give details!

We have already planned the following two talks. The first one will be about CARET from a predictive point of view and with a focus on biotechnology. There is a lot of expectation with that one. The second one will be a presentation of a package named mapSpain() that is in CRAN. The author himself will show how the package can create maps of the different administrative levels of Spain with R. 

Uniting Local R Users in Spain – Users Murcia R (UMUR)

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By Aurora González-Vidal (president) and Antonio Maurandi (vice-president), Users Murcia R (UMUR)

UMUR (Users Murcia R) is an association whose first official act was the organization of the X National Spanish meeting of R users in Murcia (2018) which established an inflection point in this annual meeting. We brought two amazing speakers: François Husson, who accompanied us, and Julia Silge, who participated by video call. Since then, we have been doing meetings every other month (workshops, talks…) with attendance of 35-45 people. We are trying not only to unite local people but also to provide them the chance to meet their references in the R community and make them participants in the R spirit. Recently we also had the opportunity to meet Max Kuhn, at the XI National meeting of R users celebrated in Madrid (2019)

Our secret as a young organization achieving great numbers of participation is that we are formed at least by 2 small groups and individuals that were independently “spreading the word of R,” each of them in their own environments.

The first informal group is called 00Rteam. We are based in academia and teach a large number of R courses aimed at specific audiences at the university level: PhD students (writing scientific papers with Rmarkdown, introduction to R and Rstudio, data tabulation in R, hypothesis contrast in R, multivariate analysis in R), teachers (automatic learning with R) and administrative staff (R4U). 

Another informal group is made up a group of mathematicians and economists from the Faculty of Economics and Business, who are working on integrating R in their daily teaching. They use R and RStudio to create interactive pedagogic materials by exploring packages like rmarkdown, shiny, swirl and exams for teaching Statistics on the courses offered by the faculty.

Apart from that, our board of directors includes professionals who are actively spreading R in engineering businesses and banks and who have personal blogs and have authored manuals about R. This mix of interdisciplinary and enthusiastic people being in charge of an association has been able to attract a pool of interested people that is bringing us a lot of joy and knowledge interchange in Murcia. 

An important characteristic of UMUR is that the number of women on the board is higher than the number of men. We are sensitive to gender equality, and we want to be an example of parity in the technology space showing that we are diverse in many ways. We think this fact is the key to success. 

Signed: Aurora González-Vidal (president) and Antonio Maurandi (vice-president)