Enhancing Graduate Education Through Cross College Workshop

All this week, a cross-college workshop, R Statistics Bootcamp, was offered at Michigan State University, giving graduate students and researchers the opportunity to learn more about the statistical methods using the programming language R.

This five-day practical course provided participants with important transferable programming and statistical skills with a wide range of applications within and beyond academia.

Participants learned how to use R to code and analyze a variety of data types, including corpus linguistic data, experimental data, and more. The bootcamp instructor, Dr. Stefan Th. Gries (University of California, Santa Barbara), is a world-renowned corpus linguist, an experienced teacher of statistics, and the author of “Statistics for Linguists with R.” The course took place May 14-18 at the MSU International Center.

three students all staring at a laptop
R Statistics Bootcamp participants and Linguistics graduate students
(from left to right) Cara Feldscher, Scott Nelson, and Kaylin Smith. 

“In almost every quantitative field of academic inquiry, researchers have been moving away from SPSS, STATA, and other licensed packages to R,” said Dr. Suzanne Evans Wagner, Associate Professor of Linguistics and Chair of the bootcamp organizing committee. “It’s become the new standard, because it’s free, it’s flexible, and it allows for a lot of replicability and data-sharing.”

Dr. Laura Dilley, Associate Professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders, and a bootcamp participant, agreed. “It’s been an incredible opportunity to learn cutting-edge skills for doing linguistics. And those skills translate well to the job market for our students.”

But as Bronson Hui, Ph.D. student in Second Language Studies and R Statistics Bootcamp participant, pointed out, “The learning curve is steep.” That’s why, according to Tatevik Avetisyan, Ph.D. student in Community Sustainability, it was helpful to get a full week of instruction. “And when the semester’s over, you have time to focus,” she said.

The bootcamp was intended for graduate students and researchers with basic knowledge of statistics and a working knowledge of using R for statistical analysis. Individuals with little prior background in R or statistics were offered a free one-day preparatory workshop in April, led by Dr. Karthik Durvasula, Assistant Professor of Linguistics.

a classroom full of students
The R Statistics Bootcamp took place May 14-18 at the MSU International Center.

Rachel Stacey, a Linguistics major, said she was at the bootcamp because she wanted to “have a better understanding of tools I’ll be using in the future for my MA in Linguistics.” But although many of the participants were in language-related fields, others were attending in order to apply their new knowledge in other domains, such as machine learning.

“I’m an associate editor for a journal,” said Dr. Erik Altmann, Professor of Psychology, “and I want to be better prepared for the advanced regression analyses that we increasingly see in submissions.”

Participants will be acknowledged on the R Statistics Bootcamp website for their completion of the workshop and will receive a certificate of participation.

R Statistics Bootcamp was made possible by the support of the College of Arts & Letters; Department of Linguistics and Germanic, Slavic, Asian, and African Languages; Council of Graduate Students; College of Communication Arts and Sciences; MSU Center for Interdisciplinarity;  Second Language Studies Program; and Cognitive Science Program.