R-Consortium talked to Dr. Sydeaka Watson of the Dallas, Texas chapter of R-Ladies Global about turning the challenges of the pandemic into opportunities for the group. She shared the initial struggle of finding an appropriate platform for the online events. R-Ladies Dallas overcame this temporary setback and hosted virtual events with both an international audience and speakers.
Sydeaka is a Data Scientist currently working remotely for Eli Lilly and Company (a pharmaceutical company) in Indiana. Her educational background is in mathematics and statistics. Before transitioning to Data Science in 2016, Sydeaka worked as a biostatistician for several years.
What is the R community like in Dallas?
We have two different R User Groups in Dallas. I organize the R-Ladies Dallas group, and then there’s also the Dallas R Users Group. When the Dallas R Users Group temporarily went on hiatus, several guys from the Dallas R Users Group joined R-Ladies so they could maintain their connection to the local R community.
During COVID, the two R groups hosted a joint event leveraging Zoom, thus allowing the members in both groups to learn from each other. I also cross-posted events in both groups so that we could attend group events together.
Most of the R users in our communities are from the industry sector. Some of them have been working in industry for a long time, and others have just started working in industry. Many of these people have heard a lot about R. They want to leverage the power of R for their personal and professional work projects.
How has COVID affected your ability to connect with members?
Before COVID, we hosted monthly in-person events at various venues. We primarily hosted events at Improving, a local tech business that makes its space available to Dallas tech meetups that need a place to meet. Multiple meetups hosted their events at this place pretty much every night of the week. Improving also provided audio-visual support as well as free beverages and pizza. Hosting events in this space provided us with the opportunity to socialize with the other tech meetups in Dallas. At the time, R-Ladies was one of the smaller meetups, with up to 10 attendees per session. Most of our members were women or non-binary, but we would have a few men attending now and again.
During COVID, when we hosted our monthly virtual events, I tweeted our event invitations on Twitter. People from across the U.S.A. and all over the world started joining our events. It was amazing! We also had speakers from other states and around the world. We went from up to 10 attendees per session to maybe 20-50 attendees per session. So I would say we significantly increased the size of our audience during the pandemic.
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?
At first, we were using free Zoom, Skype, and Jitsi accounts for our virtual meetups, as we didn’t have a budget for video conferencing platforms. Later, Improving gave us access to a Microsoft Teams Pro account, and eventually R-Ladies Global provided access to a Zoom Pro account. These allowed us to better connect with our members. It was difficult at the start because we had to take time to get familiar with these platforms. However, eventually, we figured out how to leverage these platforms so we could stay connected and make it work. We continued to share content and conversation over Slack and GitHub as we had been doing before the pandemic. However, during COVID, we started posting recordings of our events on the RabbitHole AI YouTube account.
I have been thinking about whether we should continue using these technologies in the future. We received such a brilliant response from other parts of the world to our virtual events. When we had speakers joining from other cities in the US, they brought their audiences with them. Our remote speakers promoted their talks by sharing them on their Twitter accounts so that their Twitter followers also signed up and joined our events. That was a nice side effect. It was so nice to find that we weren’t restricted to having speakers who weren’t physically present in Dallas. I think there’s an opportunity for us to leverage what we learned during COVID for sure.
I just have to learn what’s the best way to do that because honestly, that can be a bit of a challenge. In a hybrid event, how do I pay attention to the room and also make sure that the online audience is also engaged? There are a few considerations that we need to think about, but I think we should definitely explore that idea.
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?
My favorite and our most popular event was Data Science Portfolios 101 with Dr. Rachael Tatman. She was a dynamic speaker, had a strong following, and brought her audience with her. She connected with all attendees at all levels. As a long-time statistics and data science professional, I walked away with several tips that I felt were helpful in my career stage. It was the most popular event we have hosted, and the response was overwhelming.
What trends do you see in R language affecting your organization over the next year?
Given the high competition for data science talent these days, I think we’ll see shifts from “how to get a DS job” talks to “how to stay competitive and maintain my leverage” talks.
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 had a couple of talks related to Data Journalism. There was a talk titled Digital Story Telling by Amber Thomas. She discussed the journalism efforts involved in transforming a simple idea into a data-driven, visual essay. Another interesting talk was “Flexible reproducibility in data workflows “ with Brooke Watson Madubuonwu. She works for the ACLU and talked about some projects she was involved in and her challenges with accessing and cleaning data from various sources. Brooke shared how she used those methods to get some superb insights that helped in their social justice efforts. She was one of the finest speakers we had. In pre-COVID times I would have never been able to get this caliber of the speaker. I would have never had a chance to know her or invite her to speak in our meetup.
Of the Funded Projects by the R Consortium, do you have a favorite project? Why is it your favorite?
My favorite project is “deposits: Deposit Research Data Anywhere.” As a researcher, I understand the need to make datasets available to the general scientific community. I really appreciate this effort to create this data repository that people can access and contribute to and would like to learn more about.
Of the Active Working Groups, which is your favorite? Why is it your favorite?
This is the first time I’m hearing about these working groups. However, I applaud the mission of R IDEA, particularly regarding its emphasis on diversity and inclusion. That aligns well with the R-Ladies mission. This is a group that I would really like to learn more about.
RC: When is your next event? Please give details!
We are working with the Improving venue to book the space and transition back to the in-person meetup format. For details about future events, visit https://www.meetup.com/rladies-dallas/events
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 four 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!
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