Five Takeaways from rstudio::conf 2018

11 May 2018 10:27 AM | Deleted user

Thanks to an R Studio Diversity scholarship, I was able to attend rstudio::conf 2018 and the pre-conference Training Days which was held in San Diego. The pre-conference Training Days were on January 31 and February 1st, while the conference took place from February 2nd to February 3rd.  I also attended the conference to participate in a poster session. I was a first-time attendee and I found this conference to be one of the best conferences I attended! While there is a lot I can say about this conference, I will condense it to five takeaways.

Training Days
I found the training days to be extremely valuable. There were several courses offered which ranged from introductory courses for those new to R to intermediate and advanced courses for more experienced users. For my research, I am using the Shiny web framework to create mapping apps and have relied on tutorials created by people such as Dean Attali, an R-Shiny consultant and expert, along with comments left on the Shiny Google Group(which has migrated to the RStudio community board) by Joe Cheng, who created the Shiny web framework and is currently the Chief Technology Officer for RStudio Inc. I signed up for the Intermediate Shiny workshop which was actually taught by Dean and Joe! I found the class to be both informative and challenging. While I do have experience with Shiny, I found that I have much to learn. During the more challenging portions of the class, both the instructors and classmates who sat near me were very receptive in helping me get through those portions. Given there were a mixed level of learners, I felt that the Intermediate Shiny workshop was well ran.

Commitment to Creating and Cultivating a Diverse and Inclusive Environment
On the first day of the conference, Hadley Wickham, Chief Scientist at RStudio, set the tone and talked about RStudio’s commitment to increasing diversity and inclusion along with the specific actions RStudio Inc. has taken to achieve this such as providing diversity scholarships. In addition, this commitment to diversity and inclusion is also shown in the make-up of the sessions for there was a significant number of women speakers. Overall, I felt that this conference was very successful in cultivating an inclusive environment.

Exciting and Engaging Talks
I felt that the talks were great in terms of the content they presented and relevance to my work. One talk that was particularly relevant to me was Edzer Pebesma’s talk on tidy spatial data analysis with the sf, dplyr, and ggplot2 packages.

Also, these talks gave a glimpse in showing the personal interests of the speakers which allowed me to stay engaged during the talk.   One example of this is Mara Averick’s talk on communicating data science. Her presentation was themed around the animated series Archer, which is one of my favorite shows and she had me at her first slide! She is also a superfan and showed ways she used R to explore various aspects of the show. Such talks show how one can become a better “useR” through using R to explore their personal interests and using such interests to communicate information in a fun and engaging way which attracts a wide audience.

Birds of a Feather Groups
With large conferences such as this one, it can be difficult to interact with the speakers or people with shared interests. The Birds of a Feather (BoF) groups gave a chance for people with shared interests to meet up. Once people started networking either through the conference app or the RStudio community board, the number of BoF groups increased throughout the duration of the conference. Conference attendees were able to indicate the BoF group they were a member of through putting stickers for a BoF group on their conference name tag. One BoF group that I attended was the spatial BoF group. I was able to have the opportunity to not only network with fellow “mappeRs,” but also interact with the creators of spatial R packages.

Connecting with the RLadies
One opportunity I had during this conference as to meet up with members of the RLadies organization which mission is to promote gender diversity in the R community. I feel that such groups play an important role in not only getting more gender minorities in using R but also providing a pillar of encouragement and support in participating in the R community in terms of creating R packages and applying to be speakers at R conferences. I was able to connect with members of RLadies not only at the BoF meetups but between sessions as well. There are RLadies chapters all over the world and there might be one near you!

Wrapping Up
I gained a lot from attending rstudio::conf 2018. I not only gained knowledge in various aspects in R, I gained a network of “useRs” which I did not have before attending the conference, many whom are women. The sense of community present at the conference did not end once the conference ended; I have kept in touch with many of the contacts I have made and have been presented with more opportunities to attend R meetings or educational opportunities. If you are an R user or are interested in learning R, I highly recommend attending this conference, if you can. 

-Dorris Scott is a PhD Candidate at the University of Georgia whose research emphasis are GIS, data science, and public health.

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