My experience at EMBL Barcelona: the wonder of going through the different stages of its life


I still remember how, the day I joined EMBL – one of the world’s leading research institutions – as a legal advisor, I was informed that its Council of Member States wanted to open a new site in Spain, and I would be responsible for its legal set-up. For a specialist in international law, being so fortunate to participate in the establishment of a brand new site of an intergovernmental organisation is a rare gift.

Only a few days later, my colleagues and I were already in Madrid negotiating with the Ministry. Over time, the Host Site Agreement was approved, and I finalized a complex set of agreements for the use of the premises and for the collaboration with other on-site institutes. Of course, that was not the end, there was plenty left to plan and prepare before the day when the international treaty establishing EMBL Barcelona was published in the Spanish Official Gazette!

That happened on 12th May 2017 and EMBL Barcelona was officially born. The site started a new phase, and so did my career. I was charged, as the first Head of Administration and Senior Legal Advisor of EMBL Barcelona, with turning the plans we set on paper into a reality – and to deal with every challenge that could come along the way.

This is how one day I left the busy EMBL Heidelberg headquarters to arrive to an empty basement in Barcelona. I was alone, with just a table, a chair and an office, not even a working phone line yet. I was looking forward to work with the beautiful sea views of the PRBB building, but the refurbishment was still in progress. And yet, my makeshift workspace somehow contributed to the feeling of adventure.

With the invaluable advice of my colleagues at EMBL and at other international organisations, I started planning the administrative strategy and team composition, networking with national authorities and research institutions, making sure that EMBL’s legal status as an international organization was correctly implemented. I delved on everything from legal topics, human resources, budgets, purchases, new grants, ethics… even helped follow up the refurbishment of the site!

Little by little, EMBL Barcelona was taking shape. James Sharpe, the Head of Unit, and his group, joined in October 2017 and we started to grow together as a team, as a site. Researchers and administration working together towards the same goal, with a true interest in what the other was doing, supporting each other and with this feeling of purpose that one could sense in the air. We set our sights high and made every effort to achieve the goal of establishing a collaborative and pioneering scientific site.

EMBL Barcelona now has three research groups and an imaging facility up-and-running, two more to arrive during this year, and two more to be recruited next year. We still encounter new set-up challenges, but now we also have to meet the needs of an operating site that is ramping up very fast. Getting here would have been simply be impossible without my fantastic administration team, who capably deals with those unexpected challenges that every day brings and reliably manages our day-to-day needs.

I am still filled with excitement, and a myriad of ideas and initiatives for the future of EMBL Barcelona. Seeing it growth and getting progressively embedded with the national scientific and institutional landscape has become a great source of personal satisfaction, team pride, and motivation to keep on developing it.

When I stop and look at it, I realise that, someday soon, this embryo that grew so fast into an adult will be key in contributing to unveil the unknown processes behind how tissues and organs function and develop, in health and disease. Everyone who directly or even obliquely participated in the creation of EMBL Barcelona should be proud; I know I am.

Amaranta Amador Bernal

Head of Administration EMBL Barcelona / Senior Legal Advisor



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