P&N Person of the Week: Hannah Moshontz

Wednesday, July 10, 2019
PhD student creates publicly-available course modules for learning R statistical program

P&N's person of the week, Hannah Moshontz, recently conducted a workshop for undergraduates that introduced them to the statistical software package R. Moshontz, a 6th-year PhD student, was invited to teach the workshop as part of P&N's VIP program. VIP is a summer research program for Duke Psychology majors that gives participants a head start on work that may culminate in a senior thesis.

Previous VIP statistical workshops have focused on using SPSS. This is the first year that R has been taught.

"R is very different from other statistical software in ways that make it an ideal tool for science and an increasingly popular choice in P&N," Moshontz said. "One unique feature of R is that it is open-source, which means that it is free to use, that anyone can see and build on its source code, and that many people contribute to it. In keeping with R's spirit of openness, most R resources are free: it is easy to find excellent books, blog posts, communities, and help forums. In contrast, SPSS (and many other programs that social scientists use like SAS and STATA) are proprietary: they are created by a for-profit companies, they must be purchased, and they don't share source code so it's sometimes difficult to know exactly what a particular function is doing."

As part of the workshop, and in the spirit of the open-source-software movement, Moshontz created online course modules which she has made available for public consumption through this wiki page. These course modules are appropriate for anyone with some basic knowledge of statistics and little or no experience working in R. The modules, which include code samples, start with the very basics of R, such as writing simple scripts and creating new variables. They end with more advanced concepts such as simulations and statistical tests.

"Although many psychologists and social scientists agree that R supports useful data analysis and useful science, not everyone uses it," Moshontz said. "Many people are interested in using R, or would like their trainees to use it, but do not know how. R can be intimidating, especially for people who have never done any kind of programming. My workshop was designed to help students get started using R, and it assumed absolutely no knowledge of programming or R. I also designed the slides and materials, like example scripts, to be usable by people who weren't at the workshops and for students to reference in the future! So, the workshop materials can function as standalone tutorials."

Moshontz works with P&N Professors Rick Hoyle and Beth Marsh. Her work focuses on how and why people quit personal goals in daily life. 

As R becomes the statistical program of choice for many researchers in P&N and the broader Duke Community, Moshontz's course modules will continue to be an invaluable resource.

VIP workshop