By Debra Page (PhD student in the School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences)
I’m writing this post from the trenches of academia, from the dark abyss that every PhD student knows all too well – learning a new skill for your research. And not just any skill, but learning to tame the unruly beast known as R.
Ah, R. That single ominous letter in the alphabet that has given me more sleepless nights than a newborn baby. It was minding its own business nestled in the alphabet until it decided to take up a side gig – a programming language. The so-called Holy Grail for us PhD aspirants, particularly those messing with the shenanigans of data analysis. You’re not just a letter, you are a headache, a Pandora’s box of problems and paradoxes, a whole other alphabet of afflictions, all wrapped up into one character. It casts a shadow on my screen like a menacing thundercloud ready to unleash a storm.
My well-meaning, yet devilishly smiling supervisor dropped the bomb: “You need to conduct your analysis on R.” It seemed innocent then, just a single letter. How much of a trouble can one letter be?? If the letter is ‘R’, then the answer is a lot! So much so that the urge to send my computer on an unscheduled flight through the window became a daily struggle.
But R isn’t just about riddling you with dilemmas. It lures you in with its shiny packages. ‘ggplot2’, ‘dplyr’, and ‘tidyr’ promised to be the cool kids on the block, the ones who’d make everything easier and promised to be the superheroes of my data analysis. However, once I found myself down the rabbit hole of dependencies, troubleshooting, and unexplained errors, I began to suspect these shiny packages were wrapped in shiny lies. They morphed into Trojan horses, bringing with them yet more cryptic errors messages. But R is not all sneers and scoffs. Let’s focus on the bright side – those plots do look like they belong in an art gallery.
Did I mention the community yet? It’s like a cult – a well-meaning, helpful cult, but a cult, nonetheless. They thrive on this chaos. A motley crew of well-meaning individuals, they’re united by their shared struggle, each bearing their own R war stories.
Through the trials and tribulations, there’s been a silver lining. Despite its ability to torment me, R does have a magical side. It brings a strange joy, a euphoric moment of triumph when your script runs error-free. It’s like you’ve conquered Everest while surviving on a diet of instant noodles and late-night coffee. It’s shown me that some of the best things are the ones we have to work the hardest for. Yes, my relationship with R has been a rollercoaster, and even though it’s been more ‘The Exorcist’ than ‘The Notebook’.
In retrospect, the ordeal was worth it, or so I convince myself. The journey with R mirrors childbirth – strenuous and challenging yet culminating in something truly beautiful. Much like a mother forgetting the pain of delivery until her next child, the frustration with R fades until I find myself facing another inscrutable error. So, here’s to R, my solo-lettered nemesis, defining the peaks and valleys of my PhD journey. You’re no longer a sharp pain in my R, but a lingering ache in my academic muscles, a reminder of battles fought, and victories won. To those contemplating a foray into this wild jungle of brackets and packages, don’t be deterred by the tall tales of hardships. Yes, taming the beast that is R can be challenging, but the spoils of victory are undeniably rewarding. If I—a chronically caffeinated, perpetually multitasking PhD candidate—can conquer R, you absolutely can, too.
So, my dear readers, that’s the tale of my turbulent love-hate saga with this ostensibly simple letter of the alphabet. Buckle up for the enthralling, unpredictable R-odeo of PhD life. R you strapped in?