In 2014 we launched the EARL (Enterprise Application of the R Language) Conference aimed at connecting and inspiring business users of R, the increasingly popular open source statistical programming language. With the pre-eminence of data science, the adoption of data-driven approaches to commercial decision making and R’s versatility for modelling, machine learning, report generation and interactive visualisations, we have been fortunate in attracting some fascinating presentations in the past six years.
We are now planning for EARL 2021 and we are looking for an eighth conference-worth of inspiring and interesting presentations within any of the following categories:
- Business use cases of R
- Python and R
- Green R – using R to better the environment
- R in Production
- Using R to understand COVID
- R for Automation (automation of data pipeline, automation through package building etc)
- R Packages developed for business
We are also looking for 10-minute lightning talks on:
Data for good – the use of R in addressing, measuring or solving issues to better the world.
We asked some of 2019’s presenters what prompted their decision to speak, to share their experiences as presenters and for their advice to others who may be considering submitting an abstract for EARL 2021.
For Mitchell Stirling, Capacity and Modelling Manager at Heathrow Airport, the opportunity to present helped fulfil a professional ambition. “I discussed with my line manager, slightly tongue in cheek, that it should be an ambition in 2019 when he signed off a conference attendance in Scotland the previous year. As the work I’d been doing developed in 2019 and the opportunity presented itself, I started to think “why not?”, this is interesting and if I can show it interestingly, hopefully, others would agree. I was slightly wary of the technical nature of the event, with my exposure to coding in R still better measured in minutes than hours (never mind days) but a reassurance that people would be interested in the ‘what’ and ‘why’ as well as the ‘how’, won me over”.
Dr Zhanna Mileeva, a Data Scientist at NBrown Group confirmed that making a contribution to the data science community was an important factor in her decision to submit an abstract: “After some research I found the EARL conference as a great cross-sector forum for R users to share Data Science, AI and ML engineering knowledge, discuss modern business problems and pathways to solutions. It was a fantastic opportunity to contribute to this community, learn from it and re-charge with some fresh ideas.”
In past years EARL has attracted speakers from across the globe and last year, Harold Selman, Lead Data Scientist at Ordina (NL) came from the Netherlands to speak at the conference. His motivation? “I knew the EARL conference as a visitor and had given some presentations in The Netherlands, so I decided to give it a shot. The staff of the EARL conference are very helpful and open to questions, which made being a speaker very pleasant.”
Some of our presenters have enjoyed the experience so much they have presented more than once. Chris Billingham, Lead Data Scientist at Manchester Airport Group’s Digital Agency MAG-O, is one such speaker. “I’ve had the good fortune to present twice at EARL. I saw it as an opportunity to challenge myself to present at the biggest R conference in the UK.”
What did you enjoy about presenting at EARL?
For many people, the idea of delivering a presentation before a large audience can be a pretty scary prospect, but our presenters all enjoyed the experience. Chris Billington commented that “It allowed me to focus in not only doing a great piece of work in R, but also to ensure I could communicate that work (in front of a load of R experts). It was nerve wracking but a brilliant experience,” whilst Mitchell Stirling noted that “While any public speaking should make anyone a little nervous no matter how many times they’ve stood up and done it, it was good to get past it and realise there was an appetite to hear what we had been doing at the airport “.
Zhanna Mileeva clearly suffered no nerves and “enjoyed every aspect of presenting at EARL: the atmosphere of the conference, its interactive audience with diverse background and experience, and brilliant organisation”.
Were there any specific goals you were seeking to achieve by presenting at EARL?
Presenter’s motivations for submitting an abstract vary for a conference can vary widely; some are motivated by personal development goals whilst others are keen to contribute to the community. Zhanna’s motivations covered a range of objectives: “As a Data Scientist my goals were to learn as much as possible during three days of the conference to advance my personal and professional development and to bring the highlights and most interesting business stories back to my team at NBrown. Another aim I had in mind was to grow my network of professionals passionate about Data Science. And, of course, I wanted to take the opportunity to shout out about our company, its recent success and why we are different from other retailers.”
Harold Selman had a goal of “expanding my horizon as an international speaker” and Mitchell’s objective was “to almost prove to myself that I could do it in an environment where people didn’t know me and wouldn’t have been the type of audience that I’d have hand-picked to give a talk to on this subject”. Chris, meanwhile, had professional development in mind, “I knew that speaking at EARL was an environment conducive to trying new things out so felt comfortable continuing to push myself to be better.”
What benefits (personal or professional) were achieved by presenting at EARL?
Whether for individual gain or the greater good, there are many benefits available for those whose abstracts are accepted for the EARL agenda. One immediate benefit is a free conference pass for the day on which the presentation is to be given, along with a free ticket for the popular Conference Evening Reception. In Mitchell’s opinion, “the R community must talk about the work its members are doing. I was glad to play a small part in that. I hope that some people who saw my presentation would consider Heathrow as an employment choice in the future after understanding what we are looking at achieving through this type of work.”
Zhanna reported that she was “pleased with the outcomes of my participation as I achieved what I aimed for. Informal breaks allowed me to meet like-minded people and expand my professional network. And I have some new ideas of what I would like to try next in Data Science” whilst a second presenting opportunity allowed Chris “to build on all the good things I learned the first time and really nail the delivery, whilst talking about a much more technical subject (albeit a humorous one!).”
Our final ask of the presenters was would they recommend speaking at EARL? On this, they were unanimous: Harold’s advice was “I would recommend you apply this year if you think you have an interesting story to tell. And don’t let keynote speakers scare you out of submitting an abstract, not all speakers can be keynote!”
Chris is already planning his third appearance at EARL, “I cannot recommend enough taking the opportunity to talk at EARL. It’s really well organised by the Mango team who ensure that everything goes to plan, the attendees are great listeners and challenge you with some of their questions but also you’ll learn so much about communication and how best to do that as a Data Scientist. I’m already thinking about what my next talk might be!”
Zhanna was equally enthusiastic “I highly recommend presenting at EARL. It is a great opportunity for learning, networking, talking to subject matter experts and sharpening your presentation skill” and Mitchell enjoyed the opportunity to present so much that he’s agreed to deliver his talk again in March at the LondonR user group.
Hopefully, the candid comments and experiences of this small selection of 2019’s presenters will provide just the inspiration and encouragement that you need to submit an abstract for EARL 2021. The deadline for submissions is the 31st March. EARL 2021 will be held online on Friday 10th September.
We look forward to hearing from you!