R Learning Plan – Thoughts on Learning R Programming

You may need R knowledge for your work or for some business or scientific project you are conducting.

It may be tempting to search the web for a powerful code which could solve your problem. While this may be a short term solution, it will definitely not increase your R skills and you will soon be desperately searching for another code.

I am well aware that most of the schools do not teach you a proper understanding of R and it is up to you to get all that info on your own. While this is hard, especially at the beginning, it is by no means an unbreakable hurdle. I suggest a two-step approach to R mastery:

Step number 1 – your solid foundation

This step should give you a solid understanding of R. In this step you will need to focus on the commands which are needed in nearly any R code. If you master this step you will be able to understand any code you may receive for your work and you will be able to manipulate that code to some extent.

This step is the same for any R user. No matter if you are a biologist, a statistician or a data analyst, the underlying technique is the same for any field. Therefore, the materials are the same for anybody willing to master step one. R Tutorials is focusing on this field and enables anybody willing to invest energy and time to get a solid understand of R.

Here is a list of R items you should know to complete step no. 1:

  • downloading R
  • getting along with the Rstudio interface
  • using the help functions
  • theory about objects and data types
  • how to handle packages
  • importing/exporting data from/to programs you are also using (Excel, Stata, SPSS, etc.)
  • basic graphs and how to format them
  • handling and creating data frames
  • creating vectors/matrices/lists
  • using loops and the apply family of functions
  • using functions
  • random number generation


Step number 2 – getting in depth knowledge for your specific field

Only after you completed step one you are ready for the next level.
A very limited group of people will be dealing with your specific problem. When I am working on combined clinical phase I/II designs, there is only a handful of people on this planet dealing with the same question. The code I am using for my simulations needs to be tailored in many ways and it is quite unlikely that the person who created that code is willing to change it according to my specifications. Only if I gained a solid understanding of the basics can I now start to change the loops the way I need them.

Here are some information sources that may inspire you in this step:

  • specific online discussion boards
  • your colleagues
  • university courses
  • scientific papers
  • conferences

Unfortunately, I see many R users that skipped step one and just focused on step two. Those people will always have to ask for advice as soon as a problem reveals itself differently than last time. Do yourself a favor and get a solid understanding first. This way you will become a precious member of your team and your colleagues will most likely come to you to ask for your invaluable advice. On the long run this will push your career and save your time.

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