Designing training using competencies

The European project team was initiated in the EMBL-EBI training team to build training frameworks on pan-European projects funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 programme.

Some of these projects include BioExcel, CINECA and EOSC Life, featuring EMBL-EBI as an active partner co-leading on training activities, secondments and best practices to deliver project goals. The training programme often includes a mix of face-to-face and remote courses, webinars and a range of online tutorials developed from a competency-based needs analysis.

Supporting biomolecular scientists

Competency mapper is an online tool developed by the EMBL-EBI training team using the BioExcel competency framework as a primary use case, to support professionals working in biomolecular sciences. Documenting competencies allows course providers to assess the effectiveness of their training model and obtain a better understanding of trainee needs.

Front page of the competency mapper website featuring projects
The new look of the competency mapper website

In the initial phase, the competency mapper was designed to map existing courses to identify significant gaps within training programmes. With its diverse potential, the tool has expanded into the area of career development where individual professionals can create profiles, document their competencies and seek further training to fill gaps in their portfolio.

In the future, learning pathways with curated sets of training resources will be added to achieve specific development goals. As this tool is currently in the early stages of development, the team are seeking feedback to improve and adapt to fit community needs.

If you have comments or suggestions, please contact the team at

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Meet the EMBL Events Team: Meredith

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

Meredith standing in front of one of the 'm' signs in Amsterdam
Meredith standing in front of one of the M signs in Amsterdam

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.

EMBL-EBI south building - home to the EMBL-EBI on-site courses
EMBL-EBI south building – home to the EMBL-EBI on-site courses

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. 

Upcoming events Meredith is organising:
Structural bioinformatics 2020 – Virtual
Applications close 18 September

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Meet the EMBL Events Team: Charlotte

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.

This is a picture of Charlotte Pearton, Events Lead at EMBL-EBI
Charlotte Pearton, Events Lead at EMBL-EBI

At EMBL-EBI since: 2015
Number of events organised:

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.

Cath Brooksbank wields a sword to cut the top off a bottle of champagne at an event to celebrate 10 years of the EMBL-EBI Training programme
Cath Brooksbank at the ‘sabrage’

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!

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What is the Societal Impact of Infectious Disease?

There is no question that COVID-19 will have a profound and lasting impact on the world as we know it. For most of us, the pandemic is as unprecedented as it is distressing. I have a strong visceral image when I think of the current state of affairs – it is as if an unwelcome, shadowy presence has resolutely taken a seat at the head of the table, and is refusing to leave.

We are clearly not the first generation to witness the societal fallout of a devastating infectious disease, nor will we be the last. It feels to me that this pandemic has affected every area of our lives, but I often wonder how accurate this interpretation is. How can one measure the social, economic and political consequences of this virus? Is there really a ‘before’ and ‘after’ COVID-19, or are we simply repeating history? And how does the impact of the current pandemic compare with other infectious diseases – throughout time, or across different geographies or groups of people?

New seminar series

These questions both complement and contextualise the many scientific discussions which have taken place at EMBL since this pandemic emerged, and they provide insight into the ethical, legal, and social implications of scientific research into infectious diseases.

In light of this, the Science & Society Programme is launching a special seminar series, “Infectious Disease and Society” to explore these issues through the lens of the life sciences. The series will consider the scientific and societal impact of infectious diseases, examining not only the COVID-19 pandemic from a number of angles, but also other infectious diseases such as salmonella and malaria. The first six of these talks are outlined below, and the page will be frequently updated with new seminars over the coming months.

Infectious Disease & Society: Seminars 

As the Science & Society Programme has explored the issue of infectious disease many times over the years, we are staggering the re-release of a select number of related talks from our archive. We will also complement these previous talks with a series of new virtual lectures, reflecting on the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

Selected talks from the archive:

The links below will transfer you to our Mediasite catalogue, where you are able to revisit these talks in your own time.

1) “Why have we not been able to eradicate Malaria’ – Prof. Dr. Friedrich Frischknecht, Department of Parasitology, Hygiene Institute, Heidelberg University School of Medicine [recorded May 2014]

2) “The open source outbreak: how can data prevent the next pandemic?”-  Jennifer Gardy, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Deputy Director of Surveillance, Data and Epidemiology (formerly of BC Centre for Disease Control, and the University of British Columbia’s School of Population and Public Health, where she held the Canada Research Chair in Public Health Genomics) [recorded November 2018]

3) “1918 to 2018: a hundred years of influenza pandemics”- Prof. Kanta Subbarao, Director of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza, Doherty Institute [recorded November 2018]

New infectious disease & society talks:

These new virtual lectures require registration, and are limited to 500 live participants. After the event has taken place, the talks will be added to our Mediasite catalogue, and can be accessed at any time.

1) “International frameworks for infectious disease control: past, present, and future” – Claire Standley, Assistant Research Professor, Center for Global Health Science & Security, Georgetown University Medical Center, Georgetown University [21st August at 14:00 CEST], REGISTER HERE

2) “Salmonella & Society” – Olivia Steele-Mortimer, Deputy Chief of Laboratory of Bacteriology, Chief of Salmonella-Host Cell Interactions Section, NIH Institute of Allergy & Infectious Diseases [8th September at 16:00 CEST], REGISTER HERE

3) “Livestock, the Global Environment, and COVID-19: a reflection on Livestock Systems before and after the Pandemic” – Alessandra Falcucci, Lead Geographic Information Systems Analyst, Global Livestock Environmental Assessment Model (GLEAM), Food & Agricultural Organisation of the UN [11th December at 11:00 CEST], REGISTER HERE

We want to hear from you!

Future Infectious Disease & Society talks will cover a variety of topics – from economics to the environment and beyond. If you have any ideas for future talks as part of this special seminar series, or have any wider feedback about the Science & Society Programme, please email me at

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A sneak peek into the upcoming training programme

It’s safe to say that 2020 has been – and continues to be – a strange year! We have all been forced to adapt the way we live and think, and at EMBL it is no different.

Download our 2020 / 2021 poster!

Traditionally we would now be presenting a sneak peek of our 2021 training programme. However, since we have had to make a range of changes to adapt our programme to the current circumstances, we are doing things a bit differently this year! Our new poster includes the updated 2020 events (virtual of course!), as well as the planned training courses and conferences for the first half of 2021.

We hope to welcome people onsite in 2021, but have back-up plans in place should this not be possible! Our EMBO | EMBL Symposia series continues, and we continue to offer a range of EMBL Conferences, EMBO Workshops, and Courses – both established and new.  Ever wondered what all these different event types are? Here’s an explanation!

Our online training offerings are more popular than ever, so you also have the option to learn at your own pace with our train online and webinars to make sure you stay up-to-date with the latest scientific techniques!

The complete 2021 EMBL Course and Conference Programme will be published in November – if all goes to plan!

If you’d like to keep up-to-date with the latest news from the EMBL Course and Conference Office, please sign up to our mailing list. You can also follow us on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn or Facebook.

Download our 2020 / 2021 poster here!
To see the full list of upcoming events, please visit our events website.

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