Meet the EMBL Events Team: Michelle

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.

Michelle Mendonca, Digital Strategy Officer at EMBL-EBI

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.

PHOTO: Michelle in Qatar

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.

Upcoming events that Michelle is organising:
EMBO Workshop: Advances and Challenges in Biomolecular Simulations , 18 – 21 October 2021, virtual.

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Meet the EMBL Events Team: Diah

You’ve just got to meet Diah. She is one bright star whose sparkle shines when she speaks, and you’ll end up smiling every time you talk to her. She joined the Course and Conference Office in 2012, then moved to her home country of Indonesia in 2018 before re-joining EMBL in 2020 (yes, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic!). We are very happy she is back and can’t wait for you to meet her.

Diah Yulianti, Course and Conference Officer

At EMBL since: 2012 — 2018 and re-joined in 2020.
Number of organised conferences/courses: 29 conferences and 22 courses.

Favourite place in Heidelberg:
Königstuhl. The view of Heidelberg especially during sunset is so beautiful. And EMBL. It is not because I work there but the place itself and the forest and farm around it are so pretty in all seasons.

What are the challenges/differences of organising a virtual conference or course?
The learning curve in mastering different platforms and software as well as a different workflow was pretty steep. It is a challenging but also very exciting process — both rewarding and humbling at the same time.

How have you adapted your role during the pandemic?
I  try to stay connected with people as much as possible. I like to keep an open mind, be mindful and creative — even more than before!

What do you miss most about life before the pandemic?
Like everyone else, I miss meeting and talking to people in person. I am a very extroverted person so it was very difficult for me when we had to start working from home. I am used to it now. I also miss playing badminton with the team!

What have you been up to during these difficult times? 
I walk a lot. Also trying new recipes — I love cooking!

If you weren’t a Course and Conference Officer, what would you be?
I was a high school teacher for quite some time. If I were not in Europe, working for a high-level international research institute, interacting with people from all over the world, I would probably be back teaching. It is a very different world but the teaching gene runs in the family. In an alternative world, I would own a small shop selling vegetables, flowers or candy😊.

What is the strangest thing that has ever happened in a conference?
Oh one time at a conference, the keynote speaker had just started her talk when the fire alarm went off. We had to herd 300 participants out of the building to the meeting point near the woods!

If you were a superhero, what power would you like to have?
I’d like to have the power to fly, to lift off the ground by myself freely and ride the air currents — it must be so cool.

Which series have you been binge-watching that we should also definitely watch?
I just finished The Queen’s Gambit and Dark. Really good!

Which are your favourite books?
My all-time favourite books are The Glass Palace, Shantaram and of course Harry Potter!

Upcoming events Diah is organising or co-organising:

EMBO Practical Course: Measuring Translational Dynamics by Ribosome Profiling, 17 – 25 May 2021, virtual.

EMBO Workshop: Predicting Evolution, 14 – 16 Jun 2021, virtual.

EMBO Workshop: The Mobile Genome: Genetic and Physiological Impacts of Transposable Elements, 29 Aug – 1 Sep 2021, virtual

 

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Celebrating 10 years of Chromatin and Epigenetics

Our upcoming EMBL Conference: Chromatin and Epigenetics is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year! Although this year’s conference will be very different in format (yup, you guessed right: virtual!), the topics to be discussed will be as exciting as always.

We spoke to Asifa Akhtar and Geneviève Almouzni, the scientific organisers who have been there since the beginning of this conference series. Read on to find out what inspired them to organise this event in the first place, and what highlights can be expected at the virtual conference!

The Chromatin and Epigenetics conference is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. How did it all start and how has it developed over the years?

GA: I was part of the original organisation committee when it started — 20 years ago already! A long journey already… The meeting actually started with the wish to give credit to my Postdoc mentor Dr. Alan Wolffe who had tragically passed away and was very active in the field. He was coined the “champion of Epigenetics” back then… You can see his picture in the corner of the conference image.

When I started my lab, he used to tease me about having a conference in Europe on a field that was just starting to take off. The fact is that since then it has become a major gathering of people in the field, including those actively engaged in the EC funded Network of Excellence — first the Epigenome and EpiGeneSys networks which expanded towards a broader community, including the LifeTime initiative and many friends from the 4DNucleome!  Undoubtedly, research over the past two decades has been incredibly active, leading to the deciphering of chromatin-based mechanisms, multi-scale genome organisation and the uncovering of the role of epigenetics in various human disorders with an increasing interest in studying the influence of age, environment, life style and disease states. I am really excited to hear about the latest news…

AA: I was part of the original organisation team, and being located at EMBL meant that I have been part of all the nitty gritty deals of organising this conference ever since. We have had a series of outstanding co-organisers on board, which also developed the breadth of the meeting over the last 20 years. We have kept up with the pace of the field, and this meeting is a major biennial scientific event in the chromatin and epigenetics field. The location at EMBL has been fantastic, with all the support and infrastructure available to run a big meeting like this. It continues to be a pleasure to organise this conference, and I am excited about all the possibilities that the virtual format will bring.

What inspired you to organise this conference?

GA: This meeting is dear to my heart, and it has surely brought together a wonderful community in Europe that is well linked with people worldwide. Also, from the inception we wanted to engage younger people in the organisation and serve the community. It has a unique spirit — it is collegial and friendly, and a place where new collaborations arise — and a growing network! The fact is that people always presented their most advanced work and unpublished data, thereby offering opportunities to discuss science in the making. We hope that the virtual conference version this year will retain this special touch.

AA: Alan Wolffe was a great chromatin biologist and his sudden passing took many of us by surprise, and left great sadness. He was a wonderful mentor and was interested in young scientists, a quality which I had always admired. Co-incidentally my husband was a postdoc in Alan’s lab, just like Genevieve. In fact, Alan’s plan was to visit him during his trip that eventually led to the tragedy. Co-organising the memorial workshop in his memory was an honour and in the long run a tremendously important decision, as this meeting became a focal point for chromatin biologists and epigeneticists to meet in Europe and share the wonders of the latest science we are all doing. The chromatin and epigenetics conference originated from initial event and has grown stronger over the years.

 Could you share what the focus and highlights of this year´s conference will be?

AA: The 10th conference in a series of meetings is a really memorable event and celebrating this during a global pandemic is a major challenge. We strive for excellence and this meeting will deliver many highlights and thrilling science. I very much hope that it will bring us together to appreciate the importance and perseverance of basic science, and that we celebrate coming together even in a virtual setting and show that we are dynamic and flexible, come what may…

GA: This year the session topics cover: Heterochromatin and HP1, developmental epigenetics, chromatin regulation, nucleosomes structure and function, transcription and chromatin defects and diseases, nuclear architecture as well as chromatin and RNA modifications. This is a very exciting program with both live-streamed invited speakers and selected short talks with Q&As, as well as digital poster sessions. We will also hold meet the speakers session along with some other surprises…

Among our speakers, Caroline Dean will tell us about cold-induced epigenetic switching in plants, Karen Adelman will discuss regulation of transcription elongation in development and diseases, Luciano di Croce the advances in the distinct role of Polycomb in stem biology and cancer, Bob Kingston on chromatin compaction and phase separation in epigenetic control of development, Danny Reinberg about Polycomb, inheritance and disease, Anja Groth will speak about chromatin replication and epigenome maintenance, Peter Becker will talk about how cooperation, competition and combination contribute to the targeting of the X chromosome and its regulation, Giacomo Cavalli and Allistair Boettiger about the 3D genome folding, Rick Young on Nuclear condensates, Tom Muir on chemical approaches and a Keynote by Wolf Reik on ways to exploit multiple single cell omics to unravel early embryo development.

Interested in this conference? Register by 19 April.

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Meet the EMBL Events Team: Jane

PHOTO: Jane Reynolds

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.

PHOTO: weekend city break in Copenhagen May 2020

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.

Upcoming events that Jane is organising: Cancer genomics 2021 – virtual 

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Meet the EMBL Events Team: Marina

PHOTO: Marina Pujol
PHOTO: Marina Pujol

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.

Audley End miniature railway at Christmas
PHOTO: Audley End miniature railway at Christmas

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.

Favourite book?
El psicoanalista by John Katzenbach

Upcoming events Marina is organising:
Managing a bioinformatics core facility 2021 – Virtual
Applications open shortly – sign up for alerts now.

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