[R] Giving a first good impression of R to Social Scientists

Rau, Roland Rau at demogr.mpg.de
Thu Aug 12 11:36:40 CEST 2004

Dear all,

in the coming Winter Semester, I will be a teaching assistant for a course
in Survival Analysis. My job will be to do the lab sessions. The software
used for these lab sessions will be R. Most of the students have a
background in social sciences and the only stats package they used so far is
most likely SPSS.
So I assume they might be quite surprised the first time they see R ("where
is my rectangular data window?", "where do I have to click to make a new
variable?", ...).

That is why would like to ask the experts on this list if anyone of you has
encountered a similar experience and what you could advise to persuade
people quickly that it is worth learning a new software?
I imagined to give them a short presentation about the nice capabilities
what R can do which would be impossible or troublesome with conventional
software like SPSS.[1] The reason is that I want to create an atmosphere
where people have a positive attitude towards learning a new software right
from the beginning. This would make it easier for me and I guess also the
students learn more and faster if they have a positive first encounter with

(Afterwards I plan to introduce them to the basics of R with the help of
Venables/Smith/R Core Team: "An Introduction to R", Dalgaard "Introductory
Statistics with R" and Krause/Olson "The Basics of S and S-Plus" before
doing any survival analysis relevant exercises.)

I would appreciate any suggestions!

Thanks for your help,

[1] I originally thought to show them how easy it is to estimate in R a
Kaplan-Meier-Survival curve in the presence of left truncation, whereas I
have seen no possibility so far to do that in SPSS (that could be also due
to my lack of knowledge using SPSS) but the KM-estimator is a topic during
the course, so I can not use this example.

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