Hackathons have become a regular feature in the data-science world. Get a group of people with a shared interest together, give them data, food, and a limited amount of time and see what they can produce (often with prizes to be won). Translated into the world of academia as research hackathons, these events are a fantastic way to foster collaboration, interdisciplinary working and skills sharing.
The Quantitative Ecology hackathon was an intense day of coding resulting in creative and innovative research ideas using social and ecological data. Teams worked through the day to develop their ideas with support from experts in R, open science and statistics. We ended up with five projects addressing questions from, ‘Who has the least access to nature?’ to ‘Where should citizen scientists go to collect new data?’.
The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is#BalanceForBetter. So, we decided that we’d like to take this opportunity to promote an organisation that supports and empowers women and gender minorities in STEM fields that still suffer from underrepresentation. As a journal, we publish a lot of articles on software and code that are used in the study of different fields in ecology and evolutionary biology. We have a wide audience of R coders and R users who follow us on social media and read our blog. With that in mind, R-Ladies seemed like a fairly obvious group for us to promote…
R-Ladies is a global grassroots organisation whose aim is to promote gender diversity in the R community. The R community suffers from an underrepresentation of gender minorities (including but not limited to cis/trans women, trans men, non-binary, genderqueer, agender). This can be seen in every role and area of participation: leaders, package developers, conference speakers, conference participants, educators, users (see recent stats). What a waste of talent!
As a diversity initiative, the mission of R-Ladies is to achieve proportionate representation by encouraging, inspiring, and empowering people of genders currently underrepresented in the R community. So our primary focus is on supporting minority gender R enthusiasts to achieve their programming potential. We’re doing this by building a collaborative global network of R leaders, mentors, learners, and developers to help and encourage individual and collective progress worldwide.Continue reading →
In reality, code is often poorly commented (or not commented at all!), hard to reuse for other projects, and difficult to interpret. To add to that, most code isn’t actively maintained, so users are on their own if they try to commandeer it for new purposes. Further, ecologists with little or no programming knowledge are unlikely to benefit from methods that exist only as poorly documented code. In a positive development, some new methods are accessible through software with graphic user interfaces (GUIs) developed by programmers spending significant time and effort. But too often these end up as tools with flashy controls and insufficient instruction manuals. Continue reading →
In January 2018, Methods in Ecology and Evolution launched a Policy on Publishing Code. The main objective of this policy is to make sure that high quality code is readily available to our readers. set out four key principles to help achieve this, as well as explaining what code outputs we publish, giving some examples of things that make it easier to review code, and giving some advice on how to store code once it’s been published.
Last year, I introduced R to petrified first-year biology students in a set of tutorials. I quickly realised that students were getting bogged down in error messages (even on very simple tasks), so most of my time was spent jumping between students like a wayward Markov chain. I would often find a desperate face at the end of a raised hand looking hopelessly towards their R console muttering some version of “What the $%# does this mean?”. I instantly morphed from teacher to translator and our class progress was slower than a for-loop caught in the second Circle.
Imagine an ecologist. Now imagine a programmer. Did you imagine the same person? If you were at the Ecology Hackathon on the day before the Ecology Across Borders (#EAB2017) conference in Ghent, Belgium (a joint conference between the BES, GFÖ, NecoV and EEF), you probably did (or at least we hope you did!).
Ecology is becoming increasingly quantitative and, as a result, we can add one more item on our daily to do lists as scientists:
Think of questions
Go on fieldwork / run simulations
Meet with our own supervisors
Write articles and review manuscripts
And now code as well
A Coding Community
Coding doesn’t need to be a lonely activity – one of the areas where it truly shines is collaborative coding. This can take us across borders and bring us together to figure out the best way to answer our research questions. That is exactly what the EAB Ecology Hackathon set out to do. Continue reading →