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?’.
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 →
Scientific software is an increasingly important part of scientific research, and ecologists have been at the forefront of developing open source tools for ecological research. Much of this software is distributed via R packages – there are over 200 R packages for ecology and evolution on CRAN alone. Methods regularly publishes Application articles introducing R packages (and other software) that enable ecological research, and we’re always looking for new ways to enable even more and better ecological software.
This December, we will be teaming up with rOpenSci and special interest groups from BES, GfÖ and NecoV to hold our first Ecology Hackathon at the Ecology Across Borders conference in Ghent. The hackathon will be held as a one-day pre-conference workshop on Monday 11th December. Together, the attendees will identify some challenges for ecological research, and team up to build R packages that help solve them.
We’ve started compiling potential topics for new R packages in a collaborative document, but we need more. Are you having any difficulties in your research that could be solved with an R package? Is there a package that you wish existed but have never been able to find? If so, WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!