Return to onsite: our first in-person meeting in 2 years

A little over 100 participants from over 20 countries attended the first on-site meeting since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Europe in March 2020. And since then, we have been preparing for this moment. We just didn’t have a clue when it would come. And the rules of the ‘game’ kept changing.

Railli Pall

Raili Pall was the conference officer for the EMBO | EMBL Symposium ‘Biological oscillators’. She was in charge of the logistical side of the meeting.

“There were many last-minute changes and cancellations due to the ongoing pandemic and travel restrictions, and we had to adjust rapidly to the changes in the programme. In addition, there was an extra layer of complexity as we had to accommodate a mix of safety protocols and added regulations.”

But then the moment was there. Nervously, we were waiting for the first bus to arrive. Checking the screens, the rooms, the badges. We have done this countless times. But this time was different, after two years of only virtual events, we were back onsite.

Having started her position in 2020, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, this was also Raili’s first on-site meeting

“I was very excited, but definitely a bit nervous before the event began. As it was the first on-site conference for many participants after more than 2 years, I wanted everything to run smoothly.”

And it did! The atmosphere was great and everyone was in high spirits. The overall feedback from all the participants and speakers was extremely positive as well. Everybody was happy to be finally back to in-person meetings. The symposium helped delegates to discuss and develop new ideas together. There was plenty of interaction and space for interesting and inspiring discussions. In addition, the programme consisted of outstanding talks by leading experts, covering a broad range of topics. The on-site poster session was highly appreciated, with a lot of lively informal chats about science.

With this event, we adapted for the first time to a new hybrid format. Apart from the 100 participants attending in person, we also had around 70 virtual participants logging on to our virtual platform. Hybrid events open up participation to a broader group of people that otherwise would not have been able to attend due to lack of resources, busy schedules or difficulties travelling across the world. But like everything new, it also brings challenges. For us, that means trying to integrate things like poster sessions and networking sessions into the virtual event. So, we accept the challenge and look forward to welcoming more scientists to our events, both onsite and virtually.

Raili: “I am looking forward to my next hybrid event to bring together scientists from across the world. Build up my knowledge organising hybrid events with new ways of interaction and exploring more opportunities to create virtual options for in-person events.”

Group photo Biological oscillators, photo by Stuart Ingham/EMBL

The EMBO|EMBL Symposium ‘Biological oscillators: design mechanism and function’ took place 6 – 9 March 2022 at EMBL Heidelberg.

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EMBL-EBI Training website: one year on

A profile picture of Anna Swan is shown


Author
: Anna Swan, Scientific Training Officer, e-learning at EMBL-EBI.

 


In February 2021, we launched the new EMBL-EBI Training website. Read more about that in our previous blog post.

Since then we’ve had over 600,000 visitors from around the world using the site to discover our live courses and learn from our on-demand training.

What does EMBL-EBI Training’s site offer?

  • Listings and registration pages for all of our live training, including face-to-face courses and webinars
  • Access to on-demand training, such as self-paced online tutorials and recorded webinars that are available anytime, anywhere
  • A simple search box on the homepage to help you search for training on a topic of interest
  • Support for trainers in using our materials and expanding their training skills
A screen shot of the EMBL-EBI training homepage
The homepage allows users to search and browse for training of interest.

What’s new since we launched in 2021?

After releasing the new site, we continued with further development. In line with EMBL’s mission to provide the world with #OpenData, we now provide sets of course materials from live courses, open to everyone, not just those that attended. You can find these in the on-demand section of the website.

Course materials can be in a variety of formats: lecture recordings, slides and practical instructions.

A screen shot of EMBL-EBI training, on-demand listings
Sets of course materials are now listed in our on-demand section – available for you to access anytime.

The materials are presented with overviews and learning objectives for each session of the course and are searchable to help you find the specific materials that are of use to you.

Not only that, all sets of course materials are labelled CC-BY, so you can use them for your own learning, or to train others. We encourage you to use our training far and wide.

As we continue to run live courses, the materials will be updated with the latest science and analysis methods to help you stay up to date.

A screenshot of the EMBL-EBI course website for bioinformatics for immunologists and its course materials
There are a range of topics covered by our course materials, including bioinformatics for immunologists.

What’s new for 2022?

With the site now a place many people come to find and complete learning, our next focus is on the community around bioinformatics training and learning.

If you are someone who teaches about EMBL-EBI resources, we’re keen to hear from you! Complete our short survey to join our community focus group.

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Meet the EMBL Events Team: Sophie

Meet the newest member of the EMBL-EBI training team, Sophie Spencer. She joined the team in October 2021 with a focus on the on-site and virtual training programme.

PHOTO: Sophie Spencer
PHOTO: Sophie Spencer

We sat down with Sophie to get to know her and find out about some of the other career paths she could have taken.

Welcome to the team, Sophie. Now that you have been able to visit the EMBL-EBI campus, what is your favourite place in the area?
The campus is absolutely amazing, and I have to say Hinxton Hall is a fantastic venue. I can’t wait to run an event there once restrictions allow.

As an experienced events organiser, what is the first thing you do before a course starts and the first thing you do after a course finishes?
Just before a course starts, I take a deep breath and visualise how the day will run. It might sound odd, but it helps me to work through my on-the-day checklist. The first thing I do after a course finishes is to take another deep breath and smile!

Sophie poses with an alpaca
Sophie poses with an alpaca

Changing tact, if you weren’t an events organiser what would you be?
I absolutely love working in events, but I do have a dream of running an alpaca farm with a cute little café when I retire. Of course, I will need to learn about how to care for alpacas first…

 

What is the funniest thing that has ever happened in an event?
That’s a tricky one! I’d have to go with this time I was running a virtual conference a year or so ago. During the event, we had some unforeseen technical issues which, unfortunately, disrupted the entire event. I managed to fix the issue and came on screen to explain to the audience what had happened and to apologise for the disruption. A little while later I was running a session with our keynote speaker who happened to be a polar explorer. He proceeded to invite me to join his next polar exploration because of how calm I am under pressure! Can’t see myself traversing the Antarctic any time soon but nice to know I’ve got options if my event organiser career doesn’t work out.

We think events organisers are already superheroes, but if you were a fictional superhero what power would you like to have?
It would be wonderful to be able to talk to animals, imagine if you could know what your pets are thinking!

And finally, tell us, what is your favourite book?
I’m going to cheat and give a series rather than a single book… I’ve just revisited “His Dark Materials” by Philip Pullman which I loved as a child, and still do today!

You can connect with Sophie on LinkedIn or join her at the following events she is currently working on:

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Meet the Trainer – Jonathan Manning

PHOTO: Jonathan Manning

The Introduction to RNA-seq and Functional Interpretation course (21 – 25 February 2022) is now open for applications and we thought we would introduce you to one of the course trainers, Jonathan Manning.

Jonathan is a Bioinformatician in the Gene Expression group. His role is to expand capacity for single-cell RNA-seq analysis, the Expression Atlas resource, in dialogue with the Human Cell Atlas project. Jon gives us his tips for when looking for scientific training and some inside information on what he would be if he wasn’t a Bioinformatician.

What is your research focus and why did you choose to become a scientist?

My answer here is going to be awkward, in that I don’t have a research focus! Much of my career has been as a ‘service’ Bioinformatician working in various bioscience institutes performing custom analysis for a variety of different experiment types in different biological fields. In my current role at EMBL-EBI I build and maintain RNA-seq pipelines we run the same way over a large number of experiments. In both cases, I use the outputs of other people’s research (tools as well as data) to produce the best results I can for the questions at hand.

I actually started out in Biochemistry due to a fascination with the molecular machinery of life. But I discovered early on that the lab was not for me, and I’ve been on the ‘dry’ side of things ever since.

Where do you see this field heading in the future?

In common with many other fields, machine learning and artificial intelligence will play progressively bigger roles in this field in the coming years, with ‘Big Tech’ companies such as Google having ever greater involvement. I’m sure this will be a double-edged sword, and people such as myself will have to run to keep up, but there’s no denying the potential of these techniques and I foresee some exciting results.

How has training influenced your career? 

I’d say my early Bioinformatics training (a Masters by Research and PhD after that) was pretty pivotal for me, setting me on a whole new path. After that my training was more incremental, for example, some introductory RNA-seq analysis similar to that offered at EMBL-EBI, followed up with a lot of self-teaching.

What is your number one tip for people looking for scientific training?

Be focused, choose courses that are related to your immediate objectives, and have clear goals about what you want to get out of the training. If you don’t have ways to immediately apply and expand what you’ve learned then the training quickly fades. I often find it more useful to do training only once I’ve tried to do something myself, so that I know which bits are tricky for me and what questions I need to get answers for.

If you weren’t a scientist, what would you be?

I’d really love to study historical linguistics, an interest I’ve picked a bit late in the day. I also learned to dance a bit over the last several years, maybe I’m a professional dancer in another universe where I started earlier!


Interested in this course? Apply by 12 November 2021

For more upcoming events on cancer research take a look at our event listing.

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Meet the Trainer – Varsha Kale

PHOTO: Varsha Kale

Meet Varsha Kale, a Bioinformatician in the Finn team: Microbiome Informatics at EMBL-EBI and one of the trainers at the EMBL Course: Metagenomics Bioinformatics (08 – 12 November 2021).

We virtually sat down with Varsha and quizzed her on where she thinks the field of Metagenomics is heading in the future; and some inside information on what you can expect from the course.

What is your research focus and why did you choose to become a scientist?

Using metagenomics to characterise the chicken and salmon gut microbiome and its functions.

I enjoyed learning about bacteria and how they thrived in various environments. This opened a world of different microbes from symbiotic, commensal to pathogenic and highly resistant. It was exciting! When working in a lab, we would receive pre-analysed sequencing data from bioinformaticians. My mentors at the time were supportive to indulge my curiosity as to how the analysis was performed and hence I chose to study bioinformatics. At EMBL-EBI I have the opportunity to learn about new tools and analysis methods frequently.

Where do you see this field heading in the future?

The continued expansion of novel genomes and annotations deposited in public archives will give us more and deeper insight into some elusive environments. Additionally, as statistical modelling becomes more popular, many of the methods we use for annotation are adopting machine learning techniques. The challenges will be the integration of different data types, judging the optimal cutoffs for accurate annotation, and continuing to ensure that all of these new types are easily available through community-adopted public repositories.

How has training influenced your career?

I have been lucky to have opportunities to attend training courses which helped tremendously with understanding the basics of a new subject. Also, a field such as metagenomics is progressing so fast that training gives a great snapshot of the recent updates and methods that others are using for similar research.

What is your number one tip for people looking for scientific training?

Keep up to date with upcoming courses which are interesting to you. Twitter or LinkedIn can be useful for this, or even the webpages of some of your favourite institutions. However, I found that asking colleagues and peers about training courses they have attended is most informative.

If you weren’t a scientist, what would you be?

To be honest, I went home one day from school and startled my parents with the news that bacteria are the new “cool” – so I’m not sure that I would have done something else! I enjoy singing and it might have been fun and challenging to pursue that.

Which methods and new technologies will be addressed in the course?

There is currently a lot of interest in generating metagenome assembled genomes (MAGs) from microbiome data, so we will work through this process including potential tools you might use for the various steps, as well as things to consider in controlling the quality of your data. An introduction to MGnify will also highlight the specialised pipelines used to analyse different types of microbiome data: amplicon, WGS reads, and assemblies.

What are the highlights of the course?

The course will give an overview of metagenomic data analysis including, browsing public data, quality control, and assembly of sequenced metagenomes, tools, and methods to analyse metagenomic data and submission to public archives. There will be a mixture of live and recorded talks, practicals, and Q&A’s with lots of opportunities for discussion. A personal highlight is the chance to learn about the research projects of others attending the course!


Interested in this course? Apply by 03 September.

For more upcoming events on cancer research take a look at our event listing.

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