EMBL’s Corporate Partnership Programme celebrates 10 years of impact

As EMBL’s Advanced Training Centre passes its 10th anniversary, Corporate Partnership Manager Jonathan Rothblatt reflects on the ATC Corporate Partnership Programme and how it promotes training for outstanding scientists.

Jonathan Rothblatt, Corporate Partnership Manager at EMBL. PHOTO: Jonathan Rothblatt

Since its opening in March 2010, the EMBL Advanced Training Centre (ATC) has served as a forum for the scientific exchange of new ideas, data, approaches and tools. An important component of this is the ATC Corporate Partnership Programme (CPP), which aims to connect companies with the latest developments in molecular biology and build successful long-term relationships between EMBL and corporate partners.

EMBL Advanced Training Centre built in 2010. PHOTO: KARL HUBER FOTODESIGN

Supporting outstanding scientists

The support that industry partners provide through their membership in the CPP, ensures that outstanding scientists – from PhD students to established investigators – are not excluded from attending a course or conference, or working in an EMBL laboratory as a visiting scientist, because of a lack of funds to cover conference fees or travel expenses. Since 2010, CPP funding has provided fellowships covering registration fees and travel costs to more than 2,100 participants from over 90 countries, attending more than 350 EMBL or EMBO courses, conferences, or symposia.

In addition to the significant impact of their financial support, the engagement and collaboration of corporate partners is crucial in the development and delivery of EMBL’s courses and conferences. For example, of the 33 training courses held at EMBL Heidelberg in 2019, 11 were co-organised with CPP partners. Another example is the EMBL Conference ‘Expanding the Druggable Proteome with Chemical Biology’, which took place in February 2020. This conference, co-funded by the CPP, explored advances at the interface between academic and industry research. The scientific organisers included two CPP partners alongside academic leaders in the field (read the interview with one of the organisers Gerard Drewes here and check out the winning posters here).

Building mutually beneficial relationships

The strong involvement of EMBL scientists at all levels is another crucial factor in enabling the CPP to establish and develop mutually beneficial relationships with its corporate partners. The alliance of the CPP with its corporate partners is one facet of EMBL’s engagement with industry – in particular the life sciences business sector. This compliments the activities of EMBL’s technology transfer partner EMBLEM, the EMBL Course and Conference Office, the EMBL-EBI Industry Programme, and direct interactions with industry partners by EMBL group and team leaders and heads of core facilities.

With two new partners joining the CPP in 2019 and another already this year, the CPP has grown to 19 members, bringing together EMBL and global leaders in a range of business sectors, including biopharmaceuticals, diagnostics, information technology, research and clinical instrumentation, and laboratory products.

Members of the EMBL ATC Corporate Partnership Programme

We look forward to seeing the programme continue to evolve and grow in future years, always striving to deliver outstanding value and maintain its impact on the future of science.

For further information, contact Jonathan Rothblatt (jonathan.rothblatt@embl.de, +49 6221 387 8799), or visit embl.org/cpp.

This article was originally published in Issue 95 of EMBLetc. magazine.

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How speed networking could work at your next virtual conference

With events going digital, professional training has become increasingly convenient and accessible. While getting the latest scientific research developments from the comfort of your home has never been so easy, sitting alone in front of a screen significantly diminishes the chances of meeting new people and collaborators – a benefit of on-site meetings that is considered one of their most important assets.

Most meeting organisers realise that and offer various networking opportunities and socialising incentives as part of the programme. One of the methods we have implemented to facilitate social interaction at our onsite as well as virtual conferences is the so-called speed networking – a networking session where people swap conversational partners every 5 minutes with the aim to meet as many people as possible and exchange information about their research or the project they are currently working on. The session is normally scheduled  for the first day of the conference so that participants can later go back to the people they have met during the speed networking session and continue the discussion.

What should you talk about during the speed networking?

5 minutes doesn’t seem like a long time, so it is important that you focus on the essentials. Start by introducing yourself then go into more detail. Are you looking for collaborators? Or maybe a new job or a postdoc position?

How can you do that in just 5 minutes?

  • Prepare a 20 second blurb about yourself
  • Keep aware of the time factor – there should be a countdown on your screen
  • Stick to the vitals
  • Make sure to take notes next to their name so that you can later go back to them for reference
  • Most importantly, have fun and relax! 🙂

What if you don’t finish your conversation within the allocated time slot?

  • Before the time is up, make sure you suggest the next step
  • Message them directly on the available discussion platform with a suggestion for a follow-up meeting
  • After the meeting, be sure to e-mail them with a suggestion for further exchange.

Why not check out our list of upcoming virtual events to see where you can try out your speed networking skills!


For tips on how to do speed networking at onsite events, check out this video.

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How to turn your conference into a virtual event

The current pandemic has forced many event organisers to freeze all ongoing projects with no end date in sight. The impact on the events industry has been dramatic, but it has also provided the opportunity to rethink how we do events and explore other avenues such as virtual conferencing. 

The EMBL Course and Conference Office has just successfully completed its first virtual conferencewhich we managed to put together within a couple of weeks with the tireless work of the scientific organisers, the EMBL IT and AV teams. It has been an interesting experience, not without hiccups of course, but we have learned a lot and are looking forward to applying those learnings to our next online event in May. 

We are happy to share with you some of the steps we followed to quickly turn an onsite conference into a virtual format and how we dealt with the challenges we were faced with.

Commit all your speakers

Once it was clear we were going to try to go virtual with this event, we had to make sure we had all the invited speakers on board to be able to pull together a high-quality programme. Of course, not all of them could join, but if you manage to get the majority of the originally planned speakers, you are good to go!

Explore the technical limitations

One critical thing of course is the technical setup that needs to be tested and working properly during the conference. If you have a dedicated IT and AV team, you are in a good position, as they will be the supporting pillars of your virtual conference. Involve them early on, as they can best advise on and set up the streaming platform. Also, should there be any unexpected technical problems, they will be able to fix those quickly or come up with a working alternative.

Behind the Scenes: The AV team getting ready for the virtual conference.

For instance, in our recent virtual conference, the server crashed due to an automatically scheduled password change on the EMBL media site (talk about bad timing!), and it was only thanks to our great AV team that we managed to migrate the conference to a new platform (Zoom) within the hour.  The programme was adjusted accordingly to accommodate the break and things ran smoothly from then on.

Define the programme

Now that you have the speakers and the software established, it is time to consider the programme. Originally, you would have had 2 or 3 days full of talks with the occasional coffee break and meals in between. However, in a virtual event, it is just not possible to do that. When you define your programme, ask yourself “How long would you sit and listen to online talks?”. Probably not longer than 3-4 hours, so consider this when assigning the speaker slots.

Make it widely accessible

Ideally, your choice of timing of the programme would cover at least 2 time zones so that more participants can join in (e.g. start in the afternoon for CET, which would be morning for ET). For participants in other time zones, you could consider recording and streaming the talks on-demand.

Cover all presentation formats

Live streaming of all talks (invited, short talks and poster presentations) may be what you would expect in an ideal world, but for the reasons we described in the previous two points, it is just not possible. Therefore, in our case, we decided to live stream only the invited talks, while giving the participants the chance to access the pre-recorded short talks and digital posters in a dedicated time slot in the main programme as well as on-demand. Q & A were then taken to the main discussion platform. 

Provide a discussion platform

One of the great benefits of in-person conferences are the peer discussions and networking opportunities which can result in great collaborations and career advancement. 

In a virtual event, these are of course a bit limited, but a dedicated discussion platform outside of the main streaming software can help foster collaborations and knowledge exchange. We chose Slack as the main discussion platform for Q & A which worked very well, but there are many other applications out there that can offer a similar experience.

Involve your sponsors

If you have committed sponsors to support your event, you would want to provide them with opportunities to reach out to the community. Depending on what package they have booked, you can replace the onsite services with online benefits, such as a pre-recorded short talk, a discussion channel, online banners, logo placements or adverts. 

Test, test, test!

Most importantly, before you launch the online conference, make sure to test everything. Schedule test sessions with each of your speakers and chairs to make sure that all works well on their end as well before going live.

Behind the Scenes: The AV team getting ready for the virtual conference.

But remember that even if you follow all the steps and make sure that every tiny detail is thought of, you may still end up having some unexpected problems during the live stream, just as you may encounter difficulties at an onsite event. The truth is that for all of us (both event organisers and participants) this is a new experience from which we can only …

…Learn and improve

For our first virtual conference we are extremely grateful to have received so much constructive feedback that we are currently working on implementing in the future.  Our participants have been amazingly understanding and willing to help us improve. At the end of the day, despite some technical difficulties during this test run, looking at the feedback we realise that we have managed to achieve our goal to connect the community and get the science across.

“Congratulations for organising this very first virtual meeting. It was really great despite some technical issues. It was really good and thus too short.”

“Science and technology help people in good and bad times. This conference was for me a fresh breeze of exciting science and a taste of life normality during forced social distancing. Thanks!”

“The Four-Dimensional Genome EMBL Symposium was great! Many inspiring talks on chromatin & nuclear organization with partially unpublished data. I couldn’t have participated hadn’t it been VIRTUAL: thanks to @EMBLEvents team & all organizers for making it possible!”

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5 Years Quantitative Proteomics Course

 

Meet Christina Ludwig (CL), Jeroen Krijgsveld (JK) and Mikhail Savitski (MS) – organisers of the EMBO Practical Course: Quantitative Proteomics: Strategies and Tools to Probe Biology (21 – 26 June 2020). This year marks the course’s 5th anniversary and since 2016 it has grown in popularity and application numbers, reaching 164 applications for 24 seats in 2018. Christina, Jeroen and Mikhail share with us how the course has developed over the years and what their vision is for its future.

 1.  This year marks the 5th anniversary of the Quantitative Proteomics course. Back in 2016, why did you decide to organise it?

JK: The main motivation to initiate the course was because proteomics has become a mature technology that is increasingly being used by biologists to identify proteins, their modifications, interactions etc. However, few biologists have direct access to mass spectrometers, so they use them via collaborators or core facilities. They then get the results in a tabular form, often in a large excel sheet, from which they extract biological interpretation of the experiment. Importantly, we felt that the area between handing in a sample for mass spectrometric analysis and receiving the results was largely a black box. So in the course we aimed to demystify this, and explain the principles and strategies to generate information from raw MS data, and to train them in the use of computational tools to achieve this. Also, we aimed to give insight that proteomics can be done in various ways, so that participants may design their experiments such that they best address the question they are looking to answer. Finally, we aimed to equip participants with some terminology that will help them to communicate with their MS-collaborators, and ask the right questions. Because in many cases proteomics remains a team effort!

2. How has the course developed since?

JK: Proteomics is a very broad field with many mass spectrometric approaches, methods for data analysis and biological applications, making it impossible to cover this in a 1-week course. While in all editions of the course we have maintained a core that explains the main principles in proteomics and covers all of the current state-of-the-art quantitative technologies used in proteomics. Additionally, we have included other elements that varied over the years, to highlight emerging topics or specific application areas, e.g. in structural biology or immunology. This year, we are happy to include a module focusing on statistical analysis of large-scale proteomic data, which is a recurrent issue in almost any proteomics experiment.

3. How do you choose which bioinformatics tools to cover in the course?

JK: There is an increasing number of bioinformatic tools that can analyse the same data using different underlying algorithms. Several of them have matured a lot over the years, making them more robust or have additional functionality. It is not always easy for anyone to know, when looking for an ‘analysis pipeline’, which tool can be best used. It can actually be a bit confusing that the same data can produce different results depending on the tool that is used, while at the same time none will be wrong. So instead of telling which tool is the best, we explain some of the underlying assumptions and the influence one has by choosing certain settings. I think for a researcher it is more important to justify how the data were processed, instead of saying that they used a certain software tool.

4. What could the techniques in this course be used for in the bigger picture?

CL: Proteomics technologies have reached a level of comprehensiveness, throughput and quantitative quality that was inconceivable just a few years back. However, applying proteomics to biological projects still requires lots of knowledge about experimental design, optimal sample preparation, most suitable mass spectrometric technologies and statistical interpretation. If we manage to bring both worlds together and teach biologists about the power, as well as the caveats, of proteomics, I think this will really impact life science in many aspects and truly transform the way how scientific projects are carried out for many scientists all over the world.

JK: I agree. Demonstrating the versatility, and thereby the potential and broad utility of proteomics in different contexts is sometimes an eye-opener for course participants. Actually, it is interesting and useful that participants come from all corners of biology, from paleobiology to clinical biomarker discovery. Having those together in a room for a week and interact, with proteomics as the common interest, is fascinating to see as an organiser. And we explicitly facilitate such interactions in discussion groups – it is an important goal of the course.

5. How do you see this course growing in the future?

CL: I think one special feature of this course, compared to other proteomics courses, is that its rather familial in character due to the small number of 24 participants, and that they come from purposefully different countries and research institutes. This rather small group size is optimal in terms of group dynamics and allows lots of personal exchange between participants and speakers, as well as an optimal support during the practical sessions. Therefore, I hope also in the future the small and familiar atmosphere of this course will remain.

JK: What I also hope, and what we’ll try to achieve, is to remain up-to-date and include novel technologies that are emerging. After 20 years of steep development in mass spectrometry, one would expect that this levels off at some point, but this is not the case at all – it is actually difficult to keep up with what is happening, and with what is possible today that you would not dare to think about yesterday. Therefore, a remaining goal for us is to invite speakers and trainers who work at the forefront of technology, but who can also bridge this to important biological applications. This is what excites us as organisers, and we hope that this will help to make this one of the courses to go to for younger generations of scientists, and get infected too.

6. What motivates you most about your work?

CL: What I really love about heading a proteomics core facility is the huge variety of cool scientific projects you get exposed to, as well as the fact that you work closely with lots of very different scientists coming from completely different scientific disciplines. Every project and every collaboration partner challenges you in terms of diving into a new research area, providing an optimal proteomic workflow and also teaching and educating your collaboration partners in understanding their proteomic data.

MS: The fact that you have the constant possibility to come up and implement creative ideas is incredibly rewarding. Also the fact in research you are constantly generating results that are the first of their kind. There is always an experiment done that has not been done by anyone before and you are the first to see the results. I also love the academic environment the freedom and craziness of it all.

7. Why did you end up in the field of Proteins and Proteomics?

CL: Already during my Chemistry studies all the “biochemistry” lectures and practicals that focused on proteins and life sciences were by far the most interesting subjects for me. During my PhD, which I did in the field of protein engineering at the TU Dortmund, I studied a specific class of proteins, so called inteins, but I hardly applied any mass spectrometry during that time. However, for one specific experiment I used for the first time MALDI-MS to identify the reaction products of a set of purified inteins. My MALDI measurements showed the occurrences of an unexplainable loss of 18 m/z for one of my inteins. First I thought I did a mistake and was very frustrated. But when I repeated and further investigated my samples using also ESI tandem mass spectrometry I could proof the existence of a very interesting cyclic protein-intermediate, which actually helped me explaining the underlying protein splicing mechanism. This turned out being the most interesting result of my whole PhD.

MS: I originally was very focused on pure mathematics. By chance I had an encounter with Roman Zubarev who was a new professor at Uppsala University at the time. His drive, energy and passion for science convinced me to switch fields from mathematics to mass spectrometry and proteomics, which I never regretted.

8. What could you not do without in your life?

CL: Well, as a mother of two beautiful kids the very first thing I could not do without in my life is of course my family :)! And together with my family we love being outdoors, ideally in the Alps, either on (mountain)bikes, rock climbing or hiking. Living without mountains and outdoor activities would be very hard.

MS: First and foremost, my family! Second is physical activity. I love science and I love working a lot, but it takes its toll physically and mentally. My perfect way of recovering and getting the energy back is ideally by rock climbing, running and being out in nature in general.

9. If you would get the chance to meet a famous person – no matter if this person is still alive or not – who would that be?

CL: As a hobby climber I would really like to once meet Alex Honold, who is a world famous free-solo climber who climbed many of the most difficult and exposed climbs in Yosemite National Park without rope. Alex seems in interviews and videos like a really nice and funny guy, but I believe his brain must function very differently than mine when it comes to fear of height, so I would love chat with him about that ;).

MS: I was always interested in mathematics as well as computer science. It would have been fascinating to meet Alan Turing and discuss his vision of how things would develop based on what he knew back then. Incidentally, he was also a really excellent long distance runner with sub 3 hours’ marathon times. It would have been exciting to have a discussion over a run on the countryside :).

10. Which was the best decision in your career so far?

CL: I think the best decision for my career was to perform my Postdoc in the group of Professor Ruedi Abersold at the ETH Zürich, because this has really been the door opener for my career so far. When I finished my PhD it was actually not easy for me to decide for a postdoc in the field of mass spectrometry, because I hardly had any MS experience (I only performed this one MS experiment that I already described above ;)). And starting in a proteomics expert lab as a postdoc who had never really done proteomics before was definitely not easy in the beginning. But I did learn a lot of new things fast and ultimately this allowed me to bring together the two different expertises from my PhD and my Postdoc, which I do believe is a big advantage for any scientific career.

MS: Professionally, I think doing PhD in mass spectrometry was probably the best decision I have made so far. That early in your career, one still knows very little of the world and some luck is definitely required.


Interested in this course? Apply by 22 March!

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Financial assistance available for all EMBL courses and conferences

You’ve just found the perfect training to help you in your research or career. You excitedly scroll through the programme looking at all the relevant topics and big names, and already envision the breakthroughs you are going to make after attending the training course or conference. You can even make the application deadline! Just one last thing – how much will it all cost? Can you or your lab even afford that? This is where we come to the rescue!

EMBL offers various types of financial assistance in cooperation with the EMBL Corporate Partnership Programme, EMBO and Boehringer Ingelheim Fonds.  We support scientists wishing to attend our events by waiving their registration fee, reimbursing part of their travel and childcare costs or providing onsite childcare. In 2019, a total of 410 fellowships were granted to help train scientists from around the globe. So, prepare your conference abstract or course motivation letter well and your chances to be awarded a fellowship are pretty high.

For our virtual conferences and courses organised by EMBL Heidelberg, there is also the possibility to apply for a childcare grant provided by the EMBL Advanced Training Centre Corporate Partnership Programme, to offset childcare costs incurred by participants or speakers when participating at a virtual event. Eligible costs include fees for a babysitter or childcare facility or travel costs for a care giver. For more information visit the Financial Assistance website of the respective virtual conference or course.

For a more detailed overview of the types of fellowships EMBL offers, go to our website. And if it so happens that your application to receive a fellowship is unsuccessful, consider approaching your institute, as well as other organisations that can support your attendance. A list of some of these organisations is available here.

Here is what some of the past fellowship awardees have to say about their experience:

Thierry Jarde, Research Fellow at Monash University, Australia. Attended the EMBO|EMBL Symposium: Organoids: Modelling Organ Development and Disease in 3D Culture, 2018. PHOTO: Thierry Jarde

“It was an honour to receive a fellowship from such an important scientific organisation. By attending the Organoids symposium, we acquired a snapshot of the current advances in the field and also a flavour of what would be the future technologies. We realised that the next step in terms of methodology for our organoid work was the development of robust imaging and drug screening capabilities. Our Institute is located in Australia, which means the cost of attending conferences in Europe is very high. Receiving financial support to attend a scientific conference is critical, especially for early-mid career researchers with limited funding capabilities.”  


Preeti Kute, Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, India. EMBO|EMBL Symposium: The Complex Life of RNA, 2018. PHOTO: Preeti Kute

I study activity mediated translation in neurons with focus on the role of RNA binding proteins such as FMRP in regulating translation downstream of glutamate receptors such as mGluR and NMDAR. 

While I was at The Complex Life of RNA symposium in 2018, held at EMBL, I was able to present my work as a poster to several researchers. One such researcher from Norway got interested in my work and offered to host me for a short term in his lab to enhance my current project. After several correspondences, I was able to design a project that could also potentially start a collaboration between my home lab in India and his lab in Norway. I applied for the EMBO-STF (Short Term Fellowship) and I was successful in securing this grant for my visit to Norway. So, I believe attending this conference was a great boost for my scientific career.”


Paula Checchi, MARIST College, USA. EMBO|EMBL Symposium: Principles of Chromosome Structure and Function, 2018. PHOTO: Paula Checchi

“My research focus is on genetics of DNA repair and meiosis. As faculty of a teaching-focused liberal arts college (undergraduate only) I am reliant upon conferences to keep up-to-date with recent discoveries in my field, to develop new collaborations and to gain valuable feedback on my research. I consider these experiences pivotal to my success as a researcher, both for training our next generation of scientists (most of my students I work with go on to get PhDs) and for my ability to secure grant funding. By far the most stimulating conferences I’ve been to as a PI have been EMBL and EMBO-sponsored.”


Abir Mondal, National Centre for Cell Science, India. EMBO Practical Course: Extracellular Vesicles: From Biology to Biomedical Applications, 2018. PHOTO: Abir Mondal

My research is focused on understanding the role of exosomes in the progression of glioblastomaWhile working on this particular area, I found significant difficulties in getting a pure population of exosomes as it is often contaminated with other biomolecules. As a result, we were in delusion whether the data which we were getting was the effect of exosomes or other biomolecules.

Fortunately, I found this course focusing on the isolation and purification of extracellular vesicles, which was extremely important for my research work. We were trained to use cutting-edge research tools for extracellular vesicles and learned bioinformatic analysis of biomolecules that are present in exosomes. I also got an opportunity to interact with world-leading researchers and discuss my research. ”


Taylor Cooney, Ferrier Research Institute, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. EMBO Workshop: Chemical Biology, 2018. PHOTO: Taylor Cooney

“Financial support for scientists within my institute is vital in ensuring we are able to travel overseas to make new connections and learn more about the happenings within our respective fields. New Zealand is geographically isolated, so travel can be expensive which means all financial support is beneficial in helping us to travel beyond Australia and New Zealand and learn more.”

 

 

 

 


Aleksei Tikhonov, Engelhardt Institute of Molecular Biology, RAS, Russian Federation. PHOTO: Aleksei Tikhonov

“The Liquid Biopsy course gave me plenty of new insights for different applications of the technique in cancer research. I learned new techniques, discussed my project with top peers and met a lot of highly motivated young professionals. I incorporated the learned applications in my research and this really improved my current project.”

 

 

 


Juan Pablo Jauregui, Purdue University, USA. PHOTO: Juan Pablo Jauregui

“I study how changes in chromatin during ageing regulate transcription and cell survival in Drosophila photoreceptor neurons. I attended the ATAC-seq course, which helped me get a hold of a new genome-wide technique that we have not used in my lab before, and I got to apply it to my PhD thesis. Also, thanks to the course and meeting one of the course instructors, I will go back to EMBL in April to take part in the scientific visitor programme.”

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