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Advanced Courses in Life Sciences

1st Edition

Building Better Graphs with R: ggplot2 and base

November 5th-9th, 2018, Barcelona (Spain)

Statistics and Bioinformatics

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Building Better Graphs with R- ggplot2 and base

Spatial visualization of the percent change in the number of no flow (streamflow = 0) events in the baseline and projection datasets for each subbasin within the Upper Yadkin-Pee Dee Watershed in North Carolina. Each facet represents a different climate model run.

Course overview

The goal of this course is to train students to create publication-quality graphics in R.

The course will emphasize the relationships between data structure and graphical elements so students can apply what they learn to other R package extensions not covered in the course.  A mix of lectures and in-class exercises provide a thorough overview of two primary graphics packages in R: base and ggplot2.

In addition to plot customization basics (e.g., color, symbology), students will learn more advanced data visualization techniques (e.g., multiple axes, insets, transformations).  The final day of the course is dedicated to guided practice;  students may work with their own data or choose from our set of example projects.

Learning Outcomes

  • Customize code from base and ggplot2 packages
  • Apply the “Grammar of Graphics” system underlying ggplot2
  • Manage data structure with dplyr and tidyr to facilitate graphing
  • Write functions to automate data preparation and generate graphics
  • Transform default graphics into beautiful, customized, publication-quality graphics


Can Carol

C/ Font de la Reina, 5
08786 Capellades, Barcelona (Spain)

How to get there


November 5th-9th, 2018




35 hours on-site.

This course is equivalent to 2 ECTS (European Credit Transfer System) at the Life Science Zurich Graduate School.

The recognition of ECTS by other institutions depends on each university or school.


Places are limited to 20 participants and will be occupied by strict registration order.

Participants who have completed the course will receive a certificate at the end of it.


Ashton Drew instructor for Transmitting Science

Dr. Ashton Drew
KDV Decision Analysis LLC
United States of America

Sheila Shaia instructor for Transmitting Science

Dr. Sheila Saia
United States Forest Service Center for Integrated Forest Science
United States of America


Ana Rosa Gómez-Cano coordinator at Transmitting Science

Dr. Ana Rosa Gómez-Cano
Transmitting Science

Soledad De Esteban-Trivigno instructor at Transmitting Science

Dr. Soledad De Esteban-Trivigno
Transmitting Science


Previous completion of an Introduction to R course and/or some experience using R is required.

Students must bring their own laptops with current versions of R (v3.4.3) and R Studio (v1.1.423) installed.  We also recommend students pre-install the following packages: ggplot2, tidyr, dplyr, lubridate, scales, forcats, and sf.


Monday, November 5th, 2018. R Review and Introduction to Graphing in R.

  • Quick review of R and R Studio.
  • High-level overview of graphing in R.
    • Principles of good graphic design.
    • Descriptions of main graphic packages in R.
    • Data structure and graph design.

Tuesday, November 6th, 2018. Base graphics.

  • Modifying base graphics.
    • Data style (color, shape, line type, etc.).
    • Text (add/remove text elements, change text font).
    • Structure (layer plots, arrange multiple plots on page).

Wednesday, November 7th, 2018. Basic ggplot2 graphics.

  • Introduction to elements of a plot per the “Grammar of Graphics”
    • Aesthetic mapping, geometries, coordinates
    • Groups and facets
    • Scales and guides
  • Data structure and data management tips
    • Using dplyr and tidyr to prepare data for ggplot2
    • Organizing structure of ggplot2 functions

Thursday, November 8th, 2018. Advanced ggplot2 tasks.

  • Common advanced features of publication-quality graphics.
    • Applying user-defined statistics.
    • Incorporating multiple axes (e.g., time series of temperature and precipitation).
    • Managing complex legends and other text annotations.
    • Fine tuning thematic elements.
  • Helpful tips to automate and standardize plot construction.
  • Extensions and add-on packages for base and ggplot2.

Friday, November 9th, 2018. Guided practice.

  • The last day of this course will emphasize hands-on practice coding publication-quality graphics.  Instructors will provide datasets and associated exercises designed to give students more practice at building base and ggplot2 graphics.  Exercises will include examples from a range of biological and environmental fields.   Alternatively, students may choose to work with their own data to practice designing and building graphs specific to their research projects.


  • Course Fee
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  • Early bird (until July 31st, 2018):
  • 490
  • Regular (after March 31st, 2018):
  • 612
  • This includes course material, coffee breaks and lunches (VAT included).
  • Course Fee + Accommodation Package
  • {{content-1}}
  • Early bird (until July 31st, 2018):
  • 490 + 330 = 820
  • Regular (after March 31st, 2018):
  • 612 + 330 = 942
  • This includes course material, coffee breaks, transportation from and to Barcelona city, accommodation from Sunday to Friday, breakfasts, lunches and dinners (VAT included).

20 % discount will be applied to your fee If you belong to any of the Institutions listed HERE. Discounts (see Funding below) are not cumulative and apply only on the fee.

We offer the possibility of paying in two instalments (contact the course coordinator).


Accommodation Package

If you take the Accommodation Package you will be hosted in the Rural House Can Carol, in single-sex shared dormitories (2 – 4 people) with bathroom en-suite.

A supplemental charge will be added if you prefer to stay in a single room. The number of rooms is limited and if you prefer to have a single room, let us know it as soon as possible. If you want more information on this please contact the course coordinators.

Accommodation is included from Sunday (check-in) to Friday (check-out). Breakfast, lunch and dinner are also provided during the week, starting from the dinner of Sunday to lunch of Friday (included).

Other accommodation options

If you do not want the Accommodation Package, accommodation is available in places other than Can Carol: Where to stay near the Venue.

Rural House Can Carol

Rural House Can Carol (Capellades, Barcelona, Spain)

Rural House Can Carol

Rural House Can Carol (Capellades, Barcelona, Spain)

Rural House Can Carol

Rural House Can Carol (Capellades, Barcelona, Spain)


Course Schedule
  • Monday to Friday:
    • 9:30 to 13:30 Lessons.
    • 13:30 to 15:00 Lunch (included).
    • 15:00 to 18:00 Lessons.
Accommodation Package Schedule
  • Sunday:
    • 19:00 Meeting point in Plaza Catalunya (Barcelona) to take the bus to Capellades. If you are planning to arrive later, you can find more information in How to get there.
    • 20:00 Registration in the Hotel.
    • 20:30 Dinner.
  • Monday to Thursday:
    • 8:00 to 9:00 Breakfast.
    • 20:00 Dinner.
  • Friday:
    • 8:00 to 9:00 Breakfast.
    • 18:30 Meeting point in the Hotel to take the bus to Barcelona city.
    • 19:45 Arrival at Plaza Catalunya (Barcelona).

The schedule is approximate; it is possible that the content of one day may run into the next and a working day may be longer than advertised.



Former participants will have a 5 % discount on the Course Fee.

Furthermore, a 20 % discount on the Course Fee is offered for members of some organizations (Organizations with discount). If you want to apply to this discount please indicate it in the Registration form (proof will be asked later).

Unemployed scientists living in Spain, as well as PhD students based in Spain without any grant or scholarship to develop their PhD, could benefit from a 40 % discount on the Course Fee. If you want to ask for this discount, please contact the course coordinator. That would apply for a maximum of 2 places and they will be covered by strict inscription order.

Discounts are not cumulative and apply only on the fee, not to Accommodation Package or other options.


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