The brilliant nightmare that is ‘R’

For those of you that haven’t heard of ‘R’ before, it is a very powerful and brilliant statistical computing program that as a marine biologist I have to use. As good as it is, it is a nightmare to learn to use. Unlike other stat programs you may have seen ‘R’ is entirely code, if you want to find the standard error of some data you need to create a function that employs the needed calculations to do so. If you want to create a graph you need to write the code that sets all the parameters – how wide, what colours, where the legend is, the font size and type. As someone with no coding experience all this is a lot to take in. Just take a look at the screenshot below, a glimpse of some of the code I used (with the help of my supervisor) last year for my undergrad capstone project.

Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 11.29.24 pm

As you may or may not have guessed, this particular bit of code was used to graph 4 simple line graphs in one easy to compare panel. This was the work of my supervisor Josh, who wrote it in about 5 minutes. I’m fairly sure I would still be trying to make it today if I had’ve been tasked to do it alone.

Believe it or not learning to code is probably not the worst part about ‘R’. My biggest issue is that it is so picky with everything. Put a space in the wrong spot in your data – you get an error, type something with a capital letter, when its lower case in your data – you have another error, use a character that ‘R’ doesn’t like – you get NA, which means ‘R’ has no idea what it is and basically every function you run the answer will be NA. This wouldn’t be a problem except most of the time ‘R’ doesn’t tell you where the problem is. Which shift through your data to find the issue, trust me this is not fun and can take many hours especially with hard datasets.

So there you have it, ‘R’ is essential for running stats but man is it a pain to use. Luckily for me uni puts on a few loooooong (9-5) sessions each year that aim to give you basic ‘R’ knowledge. I have attended the first so far and I have to admit it really did help. With a bit of luck by the third and final session I will be slightly proficient at ‘R’ and be able to get by without needing too much help.