Navigating success: an EMBL alumni mentorship story

Alumni connect during a pandemic and a new career path unfolds through mentorship and networking

Against blue and green background are two faux polaroids, one of an older man holding a coffee cup and the other a man in glasses
The Alumni Mentorship Programme provided connections to forge a new post-pandemic career path. Credit: Alumni Relations/EMBL

By the EMBL Alumni Relations Team

Navigating the scientific research landscape can feel like a solitary journey with complex routes and uncertain outcomes. That’s why EMBL and the Alumni Association launched the Alumni Mentorship Programme in 2023 to provide guidance and support to staff and alumni ‘over three coffees’. The programme is informal, flexible, and open to all EMBL staff and alumni with the aim of connecting individuals and creating opportunities.

A recent success story is that of Luis Pedro Coelho, a Portuguese former postdoctoral fellow in the Bork Group, and his mentor Frank Gannon, former EMBO Director and EMBL Group Leader and Senior Scientist. Gannon, originally from Ireland, was approached by Coelho, who faced a dilemma when the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted his career path. Coelho had been working as a junior principal investigator at Fudan University in China when the pandemic struck. His family, facing uncertain times, moved to Luxembourg to be with relatives, leaving him at a crossroads, with an excellent paper on microbiomes but unsure of his next steps.

That’s when Coelho joined the EMBL Alumni Mentorship Programme. Gannon was based in Brisbane, Australia, while Coelho was then in Shanghai, China. It was through this programme that their paths converged.

Gannon brought a wealth of experience and a vast network that spanned from Ireland, where he had served as Director General of the Science Foundation Ireland, to Australia, where he had worked as Director and CEO of QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, in Herston, Australia.

Through his connections, Gannon inquired about career prospects for Coelho and introduced him to a former German colleague, Lutz Kraus, at a startup company in Brisbane, and the Queensland University of Technology (QUT).

Impressed by Coelho’s potential, Lutz introduced him to the founder of the company he worked in. After a period of discussions and delays, Coelho was also offered a position as Associate Professor at QUT, which he started in August 2023. Since then, Coelho has secured additional funding through a very competitive Australian Research Council programme and is now recruiting for his new laboratory. His family has now also joined him in Brisbane. By connecting the dots that he knew so well, Gannon not only helped a talented and deserving researcher but also rekindled bonds with former colleagues.

“Frank has been very supportive,” Coehlo said. “First, by helping me with my decision-making process when the pandemic disrupted my life. Secondly, when moving to a different academic and funding system, it was vital (and continues to be helpful) to have someone who was able to be my guide to an unfamiliar system. It was also wonderful to finally meet him in person when I got to Brisbane!”

The EMBL Alumni Mentorship Programme has proven to be a catalyst for change, a vehicle for professional growth, and a testament to the power of EMBL connections. It is a reminder that, even in the face of distance and uncertainty, mentorship has the potential to deliver extraordinary opportunities and unanticipated outcomes. The programme is guiding the way for many more stories of success and mentorship within the community. We encourage members of EMBL’s community to try it out – wherever you are in the world and in your career journey – and we look forward to hearing your stories.

Find out more about the programme and join as a mentor or mentee.

Tags: alumni, australia, ireland, mentoring, mentorship, portugal


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