A pretty good year

by Danielle Navarro, 14 Dec 2018

One thing I’ve realised over the years is that I don’t spend enough time reflecting on my achievements. There’s a part of me that feels like it’s narcissistic to do so, but at the same time I am proud of a lot of the things I’ve done. Sometimes it’s nice to take the time to look back, and feel pleased with what you’ve done. It can be a nice antidote to imposter syndrome, I suppose.

Grants and other funding

I suppose it’s traditional to brag about money, as though that were the important thing in academia. After a couple of lean years I did really well in 2018 in attracting research funding. In fact, it’s the best year of my career in that respect.

  • At the start of the year I frantically wrote two proposals for the ARC Discovery program, and much to my shock they were both funded. So that’s $800k in funding right there!
  • The UNSW internal schemes were kind to me this year too. In collaboration with Kristy Martire and others, I think I have my name on about $60k of internal money, though admittedly I’ve mostly taken a back seat on those projects. Still nice though.
  • I was involved in two ARC Centre of Excellence bids, one of which - the proposed CoE for Computational Behavioural Science - has made it to the second round.

Oddly, though, the thing I’m most excited about is the one thing that might not get funded. The Center for Computational Behavioural Science bid is really exciting. I’m trying not to get my hopes up, but I would really love it if that one got funded. Mainly because my role within that Centre would be to be the Project Leader for Capacity Building, and I’m starting to realise that’s the thing I’m most passionate about in academia. If we did get funded, I’d have access to a source of funding that I could use for the kind of community outreach and training that I’m really keen about. I’d love to have a justification to put more of my effort into R-Ladies, developing Summer School content, building more links between psychology and the R open science community, developing teaching materials and so on. For the most part, the academic system doesn’t seem to fund this stuff, but I think that all this probably has a much greater real-world impact than most of my own research, but it’s so much harder to find resources to do it.


I ended up doing a lot more teaching this year than I have in quite a few years. It feels hard for me to remember right now, but Semester 1 was actually pretty light, and I only had one programming class. The only reason it felt intense is that I spent a lot of time writing documentation and tutorials. Semester 2 was a lot heavier though, and trying to take on four classes at the same time as doing my research and various other outreach activities really had a negative effect on me.

  • I ran the a six-week R programming for 3rd year psychology students class twice. The class resources are here.
  • As I have for the last two years, I taught an elective for the 4th year class, on Minds and Machines. I updated the content a lot though because I wanted the students to get some more hands on experience with modelling. I experimented with moving some of the class content to GitHub here
  • Again, continuing with previous year, I taught a six lecture series in the 2nd year Perception and Cognition class. Although it was easily the largest class, it was the easiest one because I left the content the same as the 2017 class.
  • By the time the Cognitive Science class rolled around, I was getting exhausted. This is a really fun class to teach, because it’s a nice size and it has students who are really interested in the topic, but I’ll admit to being frustrated. I was just filling in for a colleague on sabbatical, and so I had to write a whole lecture series that I might not get to use again. There’s a big overhead in writing a good lecture series, and it really sucks when you only get to deliver them once.

Academic research

It’s been an okay year for research. I got a lot done in the first six months of the year, but I’ve been so fixated on teaching since July that everything is on hold right now and my inbox is filling up with emails from collaborators. Not much I can do about it though, other than slowly try to dig through them now that I’ve finally got some free time.

As I have done since the beginning of my career, I’ve been posting preprints on my publication page, but this year I started using PsyArXiv as well, which is really nice because it provides a DOI for preprints. The papers I managed to get out this year (including in press papers) are listed here:

I’m really happy with the journal papers, more than usual I think. They’re quite varied in their goals and the topic area, but I like each of them in their own way :-)

R-Ladies Sydney

All of the above notwithstanding, the thing I’m happiest about and proudest of this year has been my role in helping to found the Sydney chapter of R Ladies. The idea to do this came from Jen Richmond, and with amazing colleagues like Lisa Williams and Steph De Silva how could I not want to be involved. The R Ladies Sydney website tracks all the events we’ve run, and in just six months we’ve reached almost 400 members on Meetup. I even got to run one of the events myself (the Little Miss Tidyverse workshop). It’s not just that I’ve had a chance to do something that I love in Sydney, but having had a chance to participate in the global R-Ladies community has been one of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had. Not to gush too much, but it’s easily the most amazing community I’ve ever been a part of.

The CHD Summer School

Another initiative I’ve been super-excited about is the Complex Human Data Summer School, which ran for 5 days and had about 60 attendees. We covered a pretty wide range of topics (see the website!) and I had the privilege of speaking to an incredible group of students. Plus I taught myself all sorts of new things in the process of preparing for the event!

I’m hoping that we’ll have a chance to run it again next year. I think we’re all really keen to do it, but there are some pragmatic (and mildly political) concerns floating around in the background that I’m hoping will be resolved. We’ll see. It was such a great experience though and I was so happy to have been involved!

Other service roles?

There’s a lot of other things to comment on too. I feel like there’s a lot I’d want to say about outreach and service activities such as these…

  • Co-founder, Sydney open research network
  • Panellist UNSW Science Wear it Purple Day event
  • Associate Editor, Open Mind: Discoveries in Cognitive Science
  • Organiser, School colloquium series

… but some of them are a bit predictable and others I haven’t really finished thinking about. I don’t know how I feel about being “the trans lady academic” who pops up when a successful trans person is needed for institutional purposes. I still need to spend the time thinking through my own messy feelings about transgender topics, and it worries me that I’m already starting to get more visibility than I feel ready for.

Odds and ends

  • I wrote a strange 100 days of code series of blog posts that people seemed to find interesting.
  • I wrote a bizarrely popular ramble about my experiences with Bayes factor
  • I was invited to the rOpenSci OzUnconf which was an interesting experience, which led to very peculiar gganimate tutorial, and somehow I’ve agreed to organise the 2019 event in Sydney…
  • I released Learning Statistics with R as an Open Educational Resource, which was super rewarding. As strange consequence, I’ve also ended up as an author on Learning Statistics with Jamovi despite knowing almost nothing about Jamovi!
  • For some absurd reason I started using Twitter sometime in April and there are now 3000 people following me there as if I had something interesting to say!
  • Oh, and I was invited to give a keynote address at the use-R conference. So that was nice! (Even if I do have to live with the fact that it was recorded).

A year of web programming

Looking back, one thing that does pop out at me is that - besides spending a lot of time learning more R - I’ve spent a surprising amount of time learning about web programming. It’s not like I hadn’t built websites before (I’d had to just to get my experiments online), but I’ve spent a lot more time this year really trying to understand what I’m doing a little more deeply.

  • My first attempt was https://unsw-psych-women.org/, which came about as part of an attempt to help out with the School equity and diversity folks. It’s a plain bootstrap site hosted through Google App Engine, coded by hand in a huge rush so that we could have something together in time for International Women’s Day. Looking back at it I’m amazed at how clunky it is relative to what I can do now, but I was so proud of myself at the time (and still am - learning a new thing is never easy)
  • From there, I realised that I could move my lab website over to bootstrap. It took a little effort, but it finally got me out of having to pay Weebly for a website I didn’t like very much. There’s a lot of things I’d do a little differently now, but they’re mostly minor ones and I’m really happy on the whole with how https://compcogscisydney.org/ has worked out
  • My third foray into websites this year was into blogdown. When we started setting up R-Ladies Sydney we felt like we should have a blogdown site. The result was https://rladiessydney.org/, which I built using a minor adaptation of the Xmin theme. I’m still a little wary of blogdown, and so I really like the simplicity of this theme.
  • The natural extension of this was to convert my personal blog https://djnavarro.net/ to blogdown. This page has been a little hit and miss, just because the Academic theme is so much more complicated and I feel like my knowledge of the Hugo system underpinning blogdown is still a little weak, but I really like having this site around because it’s a place where I can experiment.
  • The next development was learning R Markdown websites. I really like the idea behind these, because they’re so much simpler in design than blogdown or bookdown, and you can generate nice looking bootstrap-themed sites from R without a lot of effort. I’ve used this both for the “R for Psychological Science” website https://compcogscisydney.org/psyr/ and (later, after I worked out how to use GitHub pages) the “Complex Human Data Summer School” website https://djnavarro.github.io/chdss2018/. Both of these sites make me happy!
  • Finally, there’s https://sydneyopenresearch.org/ which I forked from Mathew Ling’s Melbourne site, and in doing so I learned quite a bit about how different Hugo themes structure their content differently. There’s a lot going on here!

Behind the scenes, I’ve had to learn bits and pieces from many different technologies. I’ve learned a lot more about Google App Engine, to the point where I can write my own python scripts to bulk download from a GAE site, and have begun to learn how to tinker with the server side code. When writing experiment websites I had to learn more javascript than I’ve ever bothered with before, and I’m really pleased I finally taught myself jsPsych. Understanding how bootstrap works, and how that ties in with R Markdown sites has been really pleasing, and I’ve managed to survive blogdown and Hugo. At the same time, I’ve somehow ended up learning bits and pieces of other tools

  • I’ve started to be able to use purrr to good effect
  • Learned roxygen, gganimate, xaringan
  • Finally started using RStudio projects and here
  • Tried Rcpp and wasn’t completely terrified
  • Not terrible at git/github, at long last
  • First steps towards comfort in Python

Doing okay

There are other things I feel like I want to say (and maybe I’ll add to this post later), but one thing that really stands out at me is how much it’s felt nice to be able to be myself for the first time in my life. Living in the closet is hard. I spent much of 2017 gradually coming out to people here and there, and wrestling with all the demons that tends to summon, but 2018 has been a little better in that respect. I’ve been living as an openly trans woman for this year, and it’s been less terrifying than I thought (though still pretty terrifying). There have been lots of little things here and there that have helped. I was accepted into the UNSW “academic women in leadership” program for 2019, which is just amazing to me because I’ve felt so adrift, scared and unable to speak for so long (did I mention that being in the closet is terrible??), and I’ve taken the first steps towards fixing my documentation, which is a huge thing.

Strangely, despite being such an objectively terrible year in so many ways, there’s a lot of things that have worked out well for me in 2018. To quote Tori Amos:

Well, still… pretty good year