Getting help within STAT 545

What to do when you’re stuck? First, try a little harder to help thyself. Use the strategies given here. Still stuck? Ask for help!

While you are getting started, I recommend you seek help within the STAT545 community first, before, e.g. posting to external forums. We are more cuddly.

The instructor and TAs stand ready to assist you, but your peers will also be a great source of good questions and answers. For that reason, we encourage you to seek help in ways that are visible to others. Your instructors/TAs are more likely to seize opportunities for public heroism, plus others can benefit from seeing the discussion.

The options are sort of listed in order of preference. But I realize every situation is different and your comfort level with these approaches will change as you learn more.

GitHub issue

Basic issue workflow

Example: you are working on homework and some code is not working, despite your very best efforts to troubleshoot. Open an issue on our Discussion repo (more below):

  • Give it a specific title.
    • BAD: “aaaaaarrrrrrgh!”, “things not working”, “i need help”
    • GOOD: ‘error when indexing a matrix: “incorrect number of dimensions”’
  • Stay specific and be complete-but-concise in the body of the description. Don’t expect your helper to play 20 questions with you.
  • (Optional) Tag someone or some group of people. Start by typing the @ symbol and GitHub will generate some good suggestions. You can also type or paste in the GitHub username yourself. Examples: to tag Jenny, use @jennybc; to tag Dean use @daattali; to tag all instructional staff tag @STAT545-UBC/owners. This may be superfluous depending on which repo the issue is opened on, because all watchers will get notified of issue activity anyway.
  • Don’t forget to click “Submit new issue”!

Typically, this will trigger an email to the person/team you tagged. The title of your issue will be in the subject line, so I repeat, make it specific. Your description will become the body of the email. At the bottom will be a link to the issue on GitHub.

If all goes well, your helper will respond. I almost always do this directly via GitHub, though simply replying to the email basically works. In any case, this back-and-forth will show up as a series of comments on your original issue. It’s like an email dialogue but better:

  • It’s embedded in a relevant Organization/project/repo, so it will be easier to find later vs. digging out of your giant vat of unfiled email.
  • It’s potentially visible to others (depending on the repo), which could save us from asking/answering the same questions repeatedly.
  • The whole discussion will be mirrored via email, so that still serves as a great way to prompt participants to tune in.
  • Later you can get fancy and refer to commits and other issues within the repo in slick ways.

Once the problem is resolved, the issue can be closed. Note that closed issues remain accessible, in case anyone needs to consult them in the future.


New to 2017, STAT 545 is implementing a Slack team! Slack is an instant messaging software to facilitate discussions within teams.

Within the first two weeks, you should expect to receive an invitation to the stat545-2017 Slack team. Use slack to talk to your classmates and members of the teaching team about anything related to the course.

This is not public! Only those involved with the course can see your messages – and only still when those messages are in a team-wide channel. If you think your question would be useful for the world to see, make an issue in the “Discussion” GitHub repository (see below).

Our STAT545-UBC/Discussion repository

We have created a special repository within the STAT545 GitHub Organization for Discussion. It is public so note the world can read it, which is overwhelmingly a good thing.

By default, you should open your help-seeking issues here by clicking “New issue”:

You can provide links to, e.g. specific files or even lines within them, in the body of your issue, so you can still focus your helper’s attention on your repo (which will remain private, i.e. those links won’t work for people outside the STAT545 Organization).

There is an issue where you are welcome to post a “Can you hear me now?!?” comment if you wish.

Note how the issue names appear in the issue list and remember: make it informative! FYI you can edit an issue’s title.


NOTE: Fall 2017 iteration of STAT 545 won’t be using twitter actively.

Twitter’s New User FAQ gives a good orientation.

Two options:

  • Public Tweet directly at @STAT545 by starting your tweet with @STAT545. This is called an @reply because it usually occurs when you reply to a tweet but you can also initiate a conversation this way. This conversation will be public but it will only show up in the feed of people who follow both conversants.
    • This method will be great for short questions about, e.g. homework. Basically anything you could hope to handle in 140 character chunks and that others might benefit from.
    • Check this sample conversation between @STAT545 and @sjackman to see how this looks. If you are following both @STAT545 and @sjackman, you should see an initial tweet from @STAT545, followed by a reply from @sjackman.
  • Private Direct message @STAT545 by clicking on the envelope icon in the upper right. This will only work once @STAT545 is following you. This conversation will be private. Use this sparingly.


On the People page, you see all of our emails. See the GitHub section above about writing a good subject and body. Use this sparingly.