By Maren Rothfritz
As someone who always thought that anything related to computing languages was beyond my grasp, I now find myself fascinated by digital research tools and I really enjoy working with them. This newfound interest was fueled by attending the 2023 CUNY GCDI Digital Research Institute (DRI). The DRI is a wonderful way to dive into the world of coding.
This year, the DRI took place virtually over the course of 5 days and it felt to me like a multi-course meal, allowing me to try different cuisines in each serving. The institute offered two different tracks: one about R and one about Python. I participated in the Python track and over the course of several days, we covered the basics and gained glimpses into many different fields and uses of Python for research.
We did a lot of practical learning, coding along with the Digital Fellows—GC graduate students from across various disciplines—who led us through the material at hand. Frequent discussions also brought the material into a broader context, not only relating it to the everyday life of researchers in the room, but also raising important bigger questions about the role of technology in research and society. I found it inspiring to hear everyone’s thoughts, to learn more about other people’s research projects, and I felt a part of the bigger community at the GC.
My favorite parts usually involved data visualization. I loved seeing how my commands created pictures that enabled me to instantly understand a lot of information about my data. I suddenly found myself playing around during down time. For instance, even though text analysis does not relate to my own research, I had a lot of fun analyzing some books I thought I knew well but learned so much more about during the process.
Whether you had previous knowledge or were entirely new to coding did not matter. The team of Digital Fellows created a warm and welcoming environment and were always there to help if someone needed extra attention. They made it fun, engaging and used examples that were interesting to work with. Throughout, I felt there was an emphasis on demystifying the coding world. The Digital Fellows not only showed us how to use the tools, but they also explained how they acquired their own knowledge and how to figure out problems on our own in the future.
Overall, I walked away from the DRI feeling empowered and confident about my ability to continue my journey using Python in my own research. If you’re interested in exploring the world of coding and digital research tools, I highly recommend the Digital Research Institute.
Maren Rothfritz is a Ph.D. candidate in music at the CUNY Graduate Center.