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Why do biomedical researchers learn to program? An exploratory investigation.



As computer programming becomes increasingly important in the biomedical sciences and more libraries offer programming classes, it is crucial for librarians to understand how researchers use programming in their work. The goal of this study was to understand why biomedical researchers who enrolled in a library-sponsored workshop wanted to learn to program in R and Python.


Semi-structured in-depth interviews were performed with fourteen researchers registered for beginning R and Python programming workshops at the University of California, San Francisco Library. A thematic analysis approach was used to extract the top reasons that researchers learned to program.


Four major themes emerged from the interviews. Researchers wanted to learn R and Python programming in order to perform their data analysis independently, to be an informed collaborator, to engage with new forms of big data research, and to have more flexibility in the tools that they used for their research.


Librarians designing programming workshops should remember that most researchers are hoping to apply their new skills to a specific research task such as data cleaning, data analysis, and statistics and that language preferences can vary based on research community as well as personal preferences. Understanding the programming goals of researchers will make it easier for librarians to partner effectively and offer services that are critically needed in the biomedical community.

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