Meet Michelle, the Digital Strategy Officer in the EMBL-EBI Training team. She works with our European Commission funded projects such as BioExcel and CINECA. She is responsible for the social media and content for these projects along with organising scientific courses and conferences. Michelle has just returned back to the UK after spending 6 months with her family in Qatar due to the pandemic.
EMBL-EBI start date: August 2018 Number of organised events at EMBL-EBI: 12
What is your favourite place in Hinxton area?
The little nature walks spread across campus are my favourite. It is always refreshing to be able to take a break from work and be surrounded by greenery and beautiful flowers.
What is the first thing you do before a course starts and the first thing you do after a course finishes?
The first thing I do before I start a course is making sure I am well organised and I have everything I need to get started. The first thing I do after a course is finished, is to congratulate everyone on the team and have a long nap.
What are the challenges/differences of organising a virtual course?
I think one of the big differences for me is not to physically see if the delegates are finding everything alright. However, I do think virtual courses have opened up a whole new avenue for inclusivity and accessibility which means we get to reach a lot more people and that is always great.
You’ve been working from home for 13 months now; how have you adapted your role during this time?
Adapting to the new role was challenging at first and it took a while to find a new routine and way of working. I am working on developing better ways of communication to maintain my interactions with colleagues.
If you weren’t a Digital Strategy Officer what would you be?
I would be doing something in the creative or entrepreneurship field. So probably a YouTuber or a cafe owner in an alternate universe.
If you were a superhero what power would you like to have?
I love the Marvel series and recently watched WandaVision. So my superpower would be moving objects with the mind like Scarlet Witch from the show.
What is your favourite movie?
I don’t have a favourite movie but I am a big Bollywood fan, especially all the movies from the 90s and early 2000s.
If you’re looking for bite-sized learning opportunities delivered by EMBL-EBI experts, then our regular series of webinars might be just what you are looking for!
EMBL-EBI’s Training team has been running a series of webinars since 2013, featuring speakers from across EMBL and beyond. Over the years we have covered a wide range of subjects, but its roots are in the resources and databases made available by EMBL-EBI, as well as related biological topics. So far in 2021, we’ve heard from members of Ensembl, RNAcentral, EuropePMC, UniProt and the European Genome-Phenome Archive, with many more to come.
The webinars were started as a way to enable a much wider audience to access our training and interact with our experts. They provide attendees with an introduction to a topic and resource, along with the all important opportunity to ask questions directly to our trainers. If you want to know more about how to use a resource, or perhaps how to analyse or submit data, these are the people with the answers!
Exploring our upcoming webinar listings provides an overview of subjects to be covered. For the majority of webinars the only thing required is an interest in the topic, though some may be aimed at a more specific audience.
The series is currently organised by my colleague Ajay Mishra and I. One of us is on hand at every webinar, introducing the speakers and making sure everything runs smoothly. As well as ensuring questions are answered, we also provide an opportunity for all attendees to give feedback, so if you join us, please let us know what you think. You can also tell us if there’s a topic you are keen to see covered in the future.
Over the years we have run a number of focused webinar series, including programmatic access of EMBL-EBI resources and data management. From April this year, we will be running a new focused series, “A guide to…”, where we will introduce some concepts in bioinformatics and how they link to some of the EMBL-EBI resources. This series is aimed particularly at students and early-career researchers, but anyone with an interest will be welcome. We will be kicking off the series with topics such as “A guide to exploring genes and genomes with Ensembl” and “A guide to RNA families”. The first webinars in the series are available for registration now, but keep an eye out for future topics in this series, including drug discovery and pathway analysis.
If you are ever unsure about joining a webinar, you can always contact the team at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll happily answer any questions you may have. We’re also always thinking about what to include next in the programme, so let us know if there’s something you would like to see.
Finally, if there is a webinar that has taken place in the past or there’s one you cannot attend, it is not a problem! We record them all and make them available, along with the slides, in the on-demand section of our website. We always include details on how to get in touch with the trainers and their teams so you can ask the experts a question anytime. We also encourage other trainers to use our recordings and materials in their own training – check out these details on re-use of our content for further information.
We look forward to seeing you at a webinar in the future.
Written by Anna Swan.
Anna joined the Training Team at EMBL-EBI in March 2019 as a Scientific Training Officer (e-learning). She has a PhD in Bioinformatics from the University of Nottingham, where she focused on the bioinformatic identification of biomarkers of osteoarthritis. Following her PhD, Anna worked as a medical writer, spanning many therapeutic areas and working both on promotional and educational content for clinicians. Returning to bioinformatics, Anna worked as a data wrangler for the International Mouse Phenotyping Consortium at the project’s data coordination centre based in the Medical Research Council’s Harwell Institute.
Today’s interview is with EMBL-EBI’s Jane Reynolds. Jane is one of the event organisers in the team, and joined in December 2020. Jane’s focus is on the on-site and virtual training courses.
At EMBL since: December 2020 Number of organised courses: 1
Favourite place in Hinxton area? Having joined EMBL-EBI just before Christmas, I haven’t been able to explore Hinxton yet. I did enjoy a virtual tour of the conference centre though, which gave me an insight of where the course dinners take place.
What is the first thing you do before a course starts and the first thing you do after a course finishes? Before an event starts, I remind myself of the hard work and preparation that’s already been done and that the best thing I can do from here on in is be present and ready to deal with anything that might arise. After an event finished? Well, it sounds a bit dull but I usually make a quick list of things that could be improved (as well as those that went really well). Particularly working in new formats, it’s often only by running an event that you notice the small changes that can be made to improve the experiences of delegates or speakers. I like to capture these while they are fresh in my mind.
What are the challenges/differences of organising a virtual course? One of the major changes has been how big chunks of work have shifted closer to the start date of an event; for example, delegates tend to sign up later to online events than in-person events, even if they are advertised for the same length of time as usual, so the timeframe for dealing with the administration related to this is shorter. The work definitely has a different rhythm to it and the tools and systems have changed but the reason we’re doing it is the same. Remembering this has helped me to adapt. Although I have to say I am really looking forward to meeting delegates (and my new colleagues!) in person when the time comes.
You’ve been working from home since you started your role at EMBL-EBI; how has this been for you? As well as working from home, I’ve been lucky enough to start a new role in the past year, and it’s been an interesting (hopefully once-in-a-lifetime!) experience. Luckily the Training Team at EMBL-EBI have been wonderful in sharing their knowledge with me and given me a very warm virtual welcome.
If you weren’t a EMBL-EBI events organisers what would you be? Probably a teacher of some kind. Before I started working in events and engagement, I worked as an English Language Assistant, which I really enjoyed, so ideally I’d combine teaching and travel.
What is the strangest/funniest thing that has ever happened in a course? My birthday is in July and in my past jobs this has been the busiest time – either at Graduation events or summer events – so I have often spent it working, but never in an office! I’ve been organising table plans in Liverpool Cathedral, at a Massive Attack concert in a disused train depot or hosting tours of new exhibitions…one of my favourite things about working in events is that there is rarely a dull moment!
If you were a superhero what power would you like to have? I love learning languages but it’s hard to find the time…so definitely the ability to speak and understand different languages without having to learn verb tables!
What is your favourite TV show? Like everyone I’ve watched a lot more TV than usual over the past year, but The Sopranos – which has stood up to a rewatch or two – remains my favourite.
The EMBL-EBI Training website is the first port of call for many life scientists, bioinformaticians and computational specialists looking to further their knowledge of the field. We’re proud to offer world-leading bioinformatics training to users across the globe, with over 600,000 visitors to our online courses alone each year. Now more than ever before, we see the need to make our training easily accessible, visible and findable so that anyone, regardless of location, career stage or experience of training with us can find the resources they need.
We’re therefore very pleased to be able to introduce to you the brighter, smarter way to find bioinformatics training from EMBL-EBI.
Find relevant training more easily, in the format that works best for you
Flexible free-text search based on EMBL-EBI’s own search engine
Combine search and filters to quickly identify the course you need
A modern, clean look and feel with simple navigation
Site tour searching our virtual courses
Site tour searching our recorded webinars
How did we do it?
This project officially began in April 2019, when we discussed the brief and set things in motion for the next 12-18 months. Little did we imagine that an idea sketched out on a plane journey from London to Amsterdam in early 2019 would lead to such a large scale project. We constantly review our engagement with users and potential trainees, enabling us to think about how we can better provide the content and course information they will be searching for. This in turn enables us to remain world-class leaders in what we do. From the start we were led by user feedback and web analytics in order to define where improvements were needed.
The main purpose of this project has always been to enable and encourage you (our users) to engage with all our content and put the training into your (virtual!) hands.
We needed a new interface that works for a diverse user base, regardless of research needs, scientific interests or career stage. Given that we offer a mix of live training and on-demand content (freely accessible, anytime), this was always going to be a task requiring a lot of man-power from across the organisation to make it the best it could possibly be.
Team creation and adoption of agile methodology
Our ongoing collaboration with the EMBL-EBI Web Development team has been crucial to getting us from concept to a final product. They have not only provided us with several talented developers who make our ideas come to life on the web, but also user experience (UX) experts, who have helped us explore what our users really need.
We began the project with a plan to implement agile scrum methodology as our guiding framework, which was new to many members of the project team. As such we worked in two-week ‘sprints’ where the team would focus exclusively on the project, maximising efficiency and creating a potentially releasable product at the end of each sprint.
Our first task was to redesign the courses in our Train Online catalogue, our freely-available library of online tutorials. We took one of our most popular courses, called Bioinformatics for the terrified, and soon released a live BETA version for our users to try out and provide feedback to guide us as we worked on other course types and pages.
If you have used our website regularly, this image will look pretty familiar to you. This is what the team started with at the beginning of the project.
We then moved to this updated design which you can see looks very different from our old course pages. This is where the design really took off and we used this as a base to make other minor changes which took us to our final design which you can see below.
Here it is, our final design. The layout and functionality remained largely the same from the first design based on user feedback, but we updated the graphics which you can see in the page header. Read more about the background behind the graphic changes below.
The users and the EMBL-EBI training team gave very positive feedback on the layout and functionality of the new online course pages. However we quickly realised that we required some design expertise and our colleagues at EMBL Design were brought on board to assist with providing beautiful new graphics for the page headers. We also utilised the EMBL visual framework to create a look that was coherent and consistent with other pages in the wider EMBL brand. The EMBL visual framework is what provides the building blocks of this new look and feel.
New event pages
We followed up the creation of the online courses by implementing similar design and layout changes to our live courses. We gradually began to make the switchover with both upcoming live events and our extensive back catalogue of on-demand materials.
What’s next for the project?
Two years on, the whole of the EMBL-EBI Training site has been redesigned and deployed following an iterative and user-centered approach. We are thrilled to be able to release this to you – our users – so you can benefit from the new look and functionality.
Our hard work doesn’t stop now. Next up, we will be looking to enhance your experience even further by enabling you to track your personal progress, and enhancing the way you access past content to help you continue your learning journey with us.
We’d like to thank all those that have been involved in this project from across the EMBL and EMBL-EBI teams, as well as you (our users) that have feedback across the journey.