Workshop recap: Introduction to Programming and Data Analysis with R

Day 1, section Introduction to Markdown (Photo: Katharina Stefes)

From March 29-30, the Methods Lab organized a workshop on the use of the programming language R for working with data, led by Roland Toth. The focus was on the main principles of programming in order to understand what is happening under the hood when working with data.

Day 1 focused on the advantages of using a programming language to work with data over dedicated software such as SPSS or Stata. In the course of this, the most important principles of programming in a research context, such as functions, classes, objects, vectors, and data frames were covered. Before going into the specific tasks in the context of data analysis, the markup language Markdown in combination with R was first introduced. This allows data analyses to be not only performed, but also reported in a directly reproducible and seamlessly interrelated manner, so that entire research papers can be written using R and Markdown. The day concluded by covering the key steps and techniques in data wrangling and performing calculations of typical descriptive and inferential statistical measures, tests, and models. At the end of each section of the day, there were small tasks to be solved by the participants to apply what they had learned.

On Day 2, the data analysis section was wrapped up with a demonstration of numerous visualization methods. This was followed by a longer section in which participants were allowed to think about their own research question based on a freely available data set from the European Social Survey (ESS) and answer it in R using all the techniques they had learned. They were supported by the workshop leader, since at the beginning of working with a programming language there are often many small, unforeseen problems that can quickly lead to frustration without prior experience. Lastly, an outlook was given on what techniques and packages to familiarize oneself with once beginning to dive deeper into data analysis in R and programming in general (for example, custom functions, loops, and pipes). The workshop was concluded with a Q&A where remaining questions could be asked.

For the purpose of optimizing the training offered by the Methods Lab, a short, anonymous evaluation was conducted at the very end of the workshop. Thankfully, the participants were very satisfied with the workshop throughout and only commented that more frequent and smaller tasks might have been even better. Although this is in parts difficult to reconcile with the concept of the workshop, this feedback is appreciated and will be used to improve future offerings in this regard.

The Methods Lab would like to thank all participants for their participation and commitment and hopes that the skills learned will be of benefit to them in future research projects and other application scenarios.