My unforgettable time at rOpenSci unconf 2018

Last week I was honored to be one of the persons invited to attend rOpenSci Unconf 2018. I still find that words are not good enough to thank the rOpenSci team (particularly, Stefanie Butland, who took care of every possible human aspect you can think of so everyone felt included and welcome), and the sponsors for making the unconf an option for me.

rOpenSci Unconf 2018 represents a lot of firsts for me

  • First R-related event outside Buenos Aires (I co-organize R-Ladies Buenos Aires, Argentina). Reading the tweets after seeing them happening IRL was 💯.

  • First time meeting IRL all but one of the other unconf participants. I am not a fan of unknown crowds. In spite of my initial insecurities, it turned out I totally belonged in this crowd, so it was very enjoyable. This is the first non-R-Ladies event where I don’t feel repeatedly awkward when introducing myself and engaging in all kinds of conversations. Meeting, working, and hanging out IRL with R-Ladies from all over the world was one of the unconf’s hits for me and as special and fantastic as I expected.

  • First non-competitive hackathonish event. The unconf format is something I will be vocal about from now on. I have already been spreading the wonders of this format among my fellow R-Ladies in Argentina and among my data science colleagues at Fundacion Sadosky. Having 1) a relatively small group of greatly motivated and diverse participants, and 2) a ton of cool ideas generated by the group to hack together in a non-competitive way, is a format that allows fostering better human relations than any other event I know.

  • First time working intensively with the self-imposed obligation of having a product to present in three minutes by the end of the second unconf day. One of the unconf experiences that fascinated me most was to see an initial idea evolve at an amazingly fast pace until reaching the final product. The project happened at fast forward speed. This made me wish every of my work days would be this productive. The times I am used to in academia are nothing like this.

  • First time collaborating with an as-interdisciplinary-as-it-gets workgroup. Our commonalities were R, working in the open, and the idea that a welcome community is the best asset you can have. This is another unconf experience that fascinated me. It was very easy to work with people with whom I’ve never worked before. Even though our backgrounds went from biostatistics to history, passing by ornithology and psychology, and that a number of different nationalities (e.g., Argentine, Mexican, American) sat at the table, our experiences as science educators that include R in our curricula were comparable. We all felt quite alone as educators and in need to generate a sharing community to teach R for open science - more about this here. Please join us!

But the unconf is a lot more than all these firsts. Sam gave this great example of other things that happen at rOpenSci unconfs. Lunch breaks and social events were yet another highlight for me.

On day one I got to discuss at length how to join efforts to make international R-related events flourish in Latin America - a true luxury to chat with Leo Collado-Torres, one of the Latin American R/Bioconductor Developers Workshop organizers, from my role as LatinR2018 organizer. I also polished organizational details with Jenny Bryan, one of LatinR2018’s Keynote Speakers.

On day two I joined a table where I was able to tell Hadley Wickham how much we ❤️ R for Data Science in Argentina. I even got to ask him about the Spanish translation of the book, which is definitely a possibility 🎉 (if you want to know more about this, a post is coming soon). Same lunch had Bob Rudis telling us about how Mary Rudis and him teach undergrads Data Science followed by interesting inputs from others at the table on best ways to teach practice-driven Data Science. As a passionate applied biostats educator for audiences to whom English can be an additional barrier to learn these contents, you can guess this lunch was a total blast.

You never forget your firsts. My participation in rOpenSci unconf 2018 goes directly to my list of unforgettable experiences. If R is part of your life in some way but you are not yet part of the rOpenSci community, I urge you to get involved in it NOW. You will find opportunities apt for everyone here.

PS: this is an edited version of the originally published as a gist when I did not have a webpage.

Laura Acion
Associate Researcher