2020: EMBL alumni impact – Alumni relations

Alumni Relations

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2020: EMBL alumni impact

2020 was a memorable and challenging year in ways none of us expected, but it was a year that brought fresh opportunities and new ways of thinking at EMBL too. Despite the uncertain landscape, more than 180 alumni generously gave back to EMBL by providing career support, written content, and by volunteering as speakers. Here, we reflect on some new initiatives, and look ahead to how we can carry what we’ve learnt into 2021. 

Coffee with EMBL

Faced with the cancellation of physical events but still wanting to connect alumni with EMBL and each other, April saw the launch of Coffee with EMBL, a new informal online platform designed to offer debate, connection and access to great speakers.

Hosted by former faculty and senior scientist Angus Lamond, the format evolved into a monthly event that allowed us to reach alumni in five continents, and in countries beyond the scope of our regular events programme. In total, Coffee with EMBL attracted just under 2,000 registrations from participants in 231 cities across 46 countries. Its 32 guest speakers dialed in from Wuhan, China to New York, USA, and from Brisbane, Australia to Dehli, India.

Highlighting the impact of the platform, Angus said, “Coffee with EMBL linked a truly global community with the six major EMBL sites. We learned how alumni around the world were involved in every aspect of coronavirus research and response, as well as discussing various other fascinating topics with expert speakers. These meetings really showed the potential of how EMBL alumni can help communicate science to the general public.”

The success of Coffee with EMBL and our new-found familiarity with Zoom served as a catalyst for a shift to an online-only World Alumni Day in July, which saw scores of former staff take part as guest speakers and attendees.

Careers support

Once again, numerous alumni and other scientists shared their career path and experience with early-career researchers through the 2020 EMBL Fellows’ Career Service academic and non-academic careers webinar series. Valuable insights ranged from making the transition to a group leader role to careers in technology transfer.

Thanks to funding provided by Friends of EMBL, 2020 saw the launch of EMBL’s Leadership and Excellence for Aspiring Postdocs (LEAP) Mentorship Programme, which offers EMBL female postdocs pursuing a career in academia one-to-one training and access to alumnae PIs worldwide as their external mentors.

Eileen Furlong, Head of the Genome Biology Unit and Chair of the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Committee, highlighted the role of alumnae in the success of this programme: “When we launched LEAP, I was really amazed by the generous offers of time, commitment and energy from alumnae. We are extremely grateful to all alumnae that signed up. The programme is an example of how EMBL can create virtuous circles that enable alumnae to have targeted input into the success of our postdocs, who in turn will influence science when they leave EMBL.”

Feedback and contributions from the community

Feedback from former staff has helped EMBL enormously this year, too. Alumni submitted nearly 1,000 responses to our surveys on support and communication, shaping how we do things and teaching us more about our alumni community and their needs.

Acknowledging the benefit of this, EMBL Alumni Association (EAA) Board Chair Fatima Gebauer said: “Many of our success stories and much of what we do depends on the input of our alumni, and I am grateful to those who have offered time, expertise and opinions, letting us know how we can best serve the community.”

Alumni, as ever, were generous in their contributions to EMBL features and publications throughout 2020. Dozens of former staff shared their research and stories for features published in EMBLetc magazine and online, showing the impact our alumni have in Europe and beyond, long after they leave EMBL.

A taste of what to expect in 2021…

Having had a glimpse of the power of the digital engagement tools at our disposal, we are looking forward to building on some of these initiatives in 2021. Coffee with EMBL will continue to grow, while we are excited to launch a pilot mentorship scheme in January 2021 to support all categories of former staff at all career levels, in response to alumni feedback.

EMBL Alumni Association Board and mentorship working group members Marina Chekulaeva and Anne-Marie Glynn said: “EMBL has been a special place for all of us, a place of exceptional opportunities, collaborative spirit and dedication to research. We are looking forward to extending these opportunities via this new mentorship programme, which will provide participants with tailored mentorship from experts in academia and industry.”

Thank you

We continue to be overwhelmed by the generous support offered to EMBL by its alumni community. As we celebrate the milestone of our 5,000th registered member this week, we want to sincerely thank everyone who has volunteered or helped us this year, and we cannot wait to share exciting new projects and continue to connect with you next year and beyond.

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