We bring together all things related to scientific training
Author: Rebecca Nicholl
Rebecca joined EMBL-EBI in 2019 as an Event and Marketing Officer for the Training Team; managing a variety of events, courses and exhibitions as well as having responsibility for the team’s marketing and social media presence.
Today’s interview is with EMBL-EBI’s Marina Pujol. Marina is one of the event organisers in the team, with a focus on the on-site and virtual training courses as well as assisting with the delivery of events for the CABANA project.
At EMBL since: June 2018 Number of organised courses: 21
Favourite place in Hinxton area? Audley End House. This is a gorgeous Victorian country house surrounded by beautiful gardens. They host many activities throughout the year, which my family and I love to go to, for example during Christmas they have their gardens decorated with lights and it looks magical.
What is the first thing you do before a course starts and first thing you do after a course finishes? First thing, getting a large coffee and checking calls and emails. Last thing: take a deep breath, smile and relax.
What are the challenges/differences of organising a virtual course? In my opinion, before the course starts everything is similar to an onsite course. The moment of truth arrives when everybody logs in the call. If any of the organisers or the speakers have technical issues at that moment… time stops! I am always crossing fingers wishing that everybody’s connections work fine!
You’ve been working from home for nine months now; how have you adapted your role during this time? To me, the positive part of working from home is that you don’t have interruptions usually, and can concentrate more. However, I have to make sure that I still have that “human” contact with my colleagues. Breaking for a chat it’s always nice and much needed!
If you weren’t a course officer what would you be? Anything to do with animals, but especially with dogs. I always had dogs around me and I love to spend time with them. Going for long walks together or cuddling them is priceless.
What is the strangest/funniest thing that has ever happened in a course? In the middle of a keynote lecture, a delegate’s phone went off and Siri said ‘Sorry, I don’t understand’. Everybody laughed!
If you were a superhero what power would you like to have? Flying. Just last night I dreamt that I was flying above a kind of a Disney lookalike castle.
You may have heard the name CABANA floating around the EMBL training programme, but you may not know exactly what it is. Here we present a handy guide to the project, its origins and where it stands now almost three years on from its launch.
CABANA is a capacity strengthening project for bioinformatics in Latin America. It aims to accelerate the implementation of data-driven biology in the region by creating a sustainable capacity-building programme focusing on three challenge areas – communicable disease, sustainable food production and protection of biodiversity.
Want to know more about the project? Check out this video from the CABANA consortium.
With just over a year left of the project, funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) – part of the UK Aid Budget, the capacity building element of the project is ramping up. A big part of the project is running a series of training events for the Latin American audience, something that began with the centralised events team within EMBL-EBI, but is now increasingly being operated in Latin America by the partners themselves.
CABANA has virtualised its training programme for the rest of 2020 and has committed to a fully virtual 2021 programme too. Check out the latest events on offer, or visit the new virtual training portal for the e-learning options.
Follow the CABANA project on Twitter or Facebook for the latest news and updates.
Ada Lovelace is often regarded as the first to recognise the full potential of computers and as one of the first computer programmers.
In honour of Ada Lovelace Day 2020, we are shining the spotlight on some of the remarkable women that we have met during our training courses this year.
Who? Hema Bye-A-Jee Job title: Senior Scientific Database Curator, EMBL-EBI Where to find her? Hema is delivering the webinar ‘A Guide to UniProt for Students’ via the EMBL-EBI training website tomorrow (14 October 2020). It is full, but the recording will be available the next day.
Tell us a bit about your work, what are you researching currently?
I am a scientific curator for the UniProt team and I primarily sift through scientific publications to annotate C.elegans proteins, but I get to find out about lots of proteins in many organisms. Engaging with scientific and non-scientific communities is a very important aspect of what we do. Not only does my role feed my scientific curiosity, but it also enables me to help others to look at their data in different ways; we prepare specialised workshops and webinars, such as the “guide to UniProt for students” which I shall be presenting tomorrow.
What does it mean to you to be a woman in STEM today? It means a lot because I know that many struggles and injustices have been endured, and it is unsettling that battles are still ongoing in many respects. I believe that science is for everyone and earning a place at the discovery table shouldn’t be based on gender, age, race, or even who shouts the loudest. If you can see beyond what’s right in front of you and can question it, surely you should at least be deserved of an invitation to be in the same room as the table!
What are your aspirations for your career in the future?
I am very fortunate because I get to read about something new every day. I hope to continue working at the forefront of scientific discovery and innovation and take forwards my skills in communicating complex scientific principles, and wish to help others achieve the most from their data in the intellectual property law field.
Who? Rea Antoniou-Kourounioti Job title: Postdoc at the John Innes Centre Where to find her? Rea was a recent speaker at the EMBL-EBI Mathematics of Life: Modelling Molecular Mechanisms virtual course. You can find her slides on our ftp site.
Tell us a bit about your work, what are you researching currently?
My work combines mathematical modelling and experimental biology to understand how temperature affects when plants decide to flower. I am currently part of the groups of Martin Howard and Caroline Dean, and our work focuses on the gene FLC, which is epigenetically silenced in response to cold. We recently discovered one of the temperature sensing mechanisms that affect this gene and compared plants adapted to different climates. We found that the levels of the gene in autumn are very important for their different responses, and we are now trying to understand the mechanism that determines these levels.
Who or what inspired you to enter a career in STEM?
I was fortunate to grow surrounded by academia, because both my parents were at the University, my mother specialising in biology and my father in maths. Therefore, I had many role models, though the pattern of women in biology/men in maths was prevalent in my environment. However, I was very close to a woman mathematician (the first female professor of Mathematics in Greece) who would give me puzzles to solve at all the grown-up parties. Solving puzzles was my passion then, and so it remains, and there are so many unsolved puzzles in biology!
What do you hope the future of working in STEM looks like?
More focus needs to be put towards understanding the complex reasons that women leave science at all career stages such as a different perception of worth, both from the outside and the inside. Hiring and assessment procedures favour characteristics associated with men, e.g., I still remember the lack of confidence I have had to battle to make my voice heard in meetings. This is deeply rooted in the differently promoted values for boys and girls and needs to be battled there and in its consequences. Events such as the Nobel prize recognising women this year helps girls to see that science is (also) for women and gives them inspiring role models like I was lucky to have.
Tell us about your work, what are you working on right now? As a part of the HADDOCK team at the Utrecht University, I focus on dissemination and training of our software as well as my own research. In training, we prepare tutorials, organise workshops and summer/winter schools, answer questions on public forums and make software easier and more approachable to users. In my own research, I look at how the combination of a traditional docking approach with molecular dynamics simulations and machine learning can improve the prediction of protein-protein interactions. This is then applied in areas like antibody design, where we can engineer antibodies in pharmaceutical research.
What are your aspirations for your career in the future? I would like to stay in the biomedical field, where I also started when I decided to study pharmacy. Working in research, more specifically academia gave me a lot such as critical thinking, data management and project planning which I would like to take further into a more applied area. Thus, working in a pharmaceutical company or research institute where I could focus on not only the first theoretical stages of drug development but also on the further use of the drugs and biologics on the market would be a good option for me.
What does it mean to you to be a woman in STEM today? To be honest I have never thought about my gender as a key element for my career choice. However, I realise that women are still somewhat underrepresented in computer or technical sciences in general. This is also why I think it is important that we talk more about women in science which can be a great example and inspiration for younger generations. And the more recognition we get, the more it becomes a norm to take women as an equal, respectable and knowledgeable part of the society.
Tell us about your work, what are you working on right now?
I was educated as a chemist. Early in my career, I realised that I was very interested in solving biophysical problems, thus I decided to do it using molecular modelling and computer simulation. My work focuses on improving molecular models to better describe how macromolecules interact. This can deepen our understanding of their function. Higher-education teaching has also played a key role in my career. Currently, I am working at the European Center of Excellence BioExcel, applying my expertise to promote and improve the use of advanced scientific tools.
What are your aspirations for your career in the future? My aspiration is to contribute to building a lively environment that combines high-level teaching and research and to move to a coordination role with more decision power.
What does it mean to you to be a woman in STEM today? To be a scientist in STEM means to be able to understand, to contribute, to deepen our knowledge and to teach/disseminate on how nature (in my case molecules) function. In addition, it also means to be able to critically evaluate any new information and to be curious about things in general. To be a woman in STEM is to be a scientist in STEM.
In the later stage of my career, I have realised that as a woman in STEM I always had to really demonstrate what I know. I was evaluated for what I did and not for what I could do, and further steps in my career may be full of “unpredictable” obstacles.
Name: Molly Gasperini
Job title: PhD Scientist, Octant
Where to find her? Molly was a speaker at a recent EMBL-EBI Industry Programme virtual workshop: High Throughput of Assessment of Functional Human Mutations. EMBL-EBI Industry programme members can download the slides from the members area.
Tell us a bit about your work, what are you researching currently? I am developing high throughput functional assays to screen drugs against neuropsychiatric receptors at a scale and speed never before achieved. Find out more.
What does it mean to you to be a woman in STEM today? I am extremely fortunate to be a part of science at a time where women generations before me (like Ada) have broken down many previous gender-based barriers. Though improvement is still required, most parts of science are largely welcoming for female scientists. Now, it is our responsibility to break down existing barriers for scientists who don’t identify with the racial, sexual-identity, or economic majority of the scientific community.
What are your aspirations for your career in the future? I have always struggled with whether to climb the traditional ladder of leadership, though such job advancement takes you further from the bench and Rstudio, and into more meetings! Fundamentally, I hope to always continue working on thrilling tech dev as part of a rigorous and fun team.
Follow #ALD20 on Twitter to celebrate even more women, advocates and educators in STEM.
This week we meet Meredith Willmott, one of the Course Organisers at EMBL-EBI focussing on organising the on-site, and now virtual, courses. Meredith is no stranger to the team, previously having done an internship in the training team in 2017 before returning to a new post in 2019.
At EMBL since: April 2019 Number of organised courses: 9 to date
Favourite place in Hinxton area?
My favourite place in Hinxton is the grounds on the campus, it really is beautiful and it’s so nice to be able to go for a walk during lunch and take a break from my desk.
First thing you do before a course starts and first thing you do after a course finishes? First thing I do before a course is to double-check my to-do list to ensure I have completed everything before the delegates arriving. The first thing I do after a course has finished is to give a big high five to the scientific organiser for another successful course.
If you weren’t a course organiser what would you be?
A wedding planner! I love the thought of being involved in someone’s big day and making it perfect for them.
What are the challenges/differences of organising a virtual course?
I think the biggest challenge is not meeting the delegates in person as this is one of my favourite parts of an onsite course. Also remembering to smile while on camera!
How have you adapted your role during lockdown?
My role has changed a lot in lockdown, going from onsite courses to virtual courses has its challenges, and it takes a lot of testing and back and forth. Another adaption which isn’t part of my role, but sharing an office/spare room with my partner has been a big change.
If you were a superhero what power would you like to have?
I would like to be able to be in two places at once! Running the courses is often very busy and it would be great to be able to do 2 things at the same time.
And finally, what is your favourite film?
Father of the Bride, I have loved this since I was young and it still is my favorite film.
This week we meet Charlotte Pearton, Events Lead at EMBL-EBI. Charlotte manages a team of eight events, marketing and administrative staff who work on the EMBL-EBI training programme.
At EMBL-EBI since: 2015
Number of events organised: 39
Favourite place in the Hinxton area?
The campus is beautiful. The woodland paths are great to walk through in all seasons, but especially autumn. In summer, the flowerbeds are a real burst of colour.
Across EMBL, the events teams have been facing the challenge of virtualising their work and events.
What are the differences in organising a virtual course compared to the usual face-to-face format?
Firstly there was the timeframe! We had to put a structure together very quickly. Also how to adjust the content to make it workable and engaging, and how to maintain good comms and networking. Our first virtual course was a great success and we will continue to build on this experience; we are embracing the challenge.
How have you adapted your role during lockdown?
I have maintained a daily structure and routine. I am in almost constant contact with the team via Slack, Zoom etc. We have all become increasingly proficient in the art of the on-line meeting over the last few months!
What is the first thing you do before a course starts:
I’ll run through my checklist of preparatory tasks, make a note of anything I need to remember, take a deep breath, a sip of coffee, and also some comfort in the fact that our events are a real team effort and I’m not in this alone!
And how about the first thing you’ll do after a course finishes?
At the end of each course, I enjoy the sense of job satisfaction. I love the cyclical nature of events, at our face-to-face events I love waving people off knowing they have had a great experience. You really build a rapport with your speakers and delegates – it starts months before they arrive, then really develops during the week they are actually with you on campus. By the time they leave you can really feel the sense of warmth and genuine appreciation. It’s a great indicator of our success.
That is something we are still finding with the virtual courses I am pleased to say. Even if the wave goodbye at the end of the course is now through Zoom!
If you weren’t a course organiser what would you be?
A world-famous author of fiction… probably something dark like crime or horror, and writing under a pseudonym to keep an air of mystery! In reality, I’ve always veered towards events in an educational field.
What is the strangest/funniest thing that has ever happened in a course?
We organised a ‘sabrage’ to celebrate 10 years of training – seeing Cath (Brooksbank, Head of Training) wielding a sword to slice the top off a bottle of champagne outside the training rooms isn’t something you see every day. It was great fun.
If you were a superhero, what power would you like to have?
Teleportation! An early morning walk on the beach in the Seychelles, fine dining and shopping in Paris in the afternoon, party all night in New York. Green travel!
And finally what is your favourite book or film?
I couldn’t choose a favourite book or film very easily, but I did revisit a 2008 documentary recently which always has me gripping the sofa – ‘Man on a Wire’. The story of Phillippe Petit, who tight-roped across the US twin towers in 1974. Just a fascinating story on many levels – watch if you dare!