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ARISE fellowships to offer first-ever comprehensive training for bioscience infrastructure operations

Two researchers at EMBL's state-of-the-art Electron Microscopy Core Facility (EMCF). A female scientist is using a binocular microscope, a male scientist is standing next to her.
ARISE is expected to have a big impact on EMBL’s core facilities, like its Electron Microscopy Core Facility. Credit: Kinga Lubowiecka/EMBL

Research infrastructure scientists are rethinking the way we do science.

They have expertise in science, technology, engineering, and maths, and they’re well acquainted with an extensive list of the technologies used in the life sciences. Whether it’s imaging; bioinformatics and data science; automation and robotics; high-precision dynamics technology; X-ray optics; detector development; microfluidics; or other engineering fields, infrastructure scientists are important problem-solvers. They adapt current tools and technology to support research in various life science fields. They also have the skills to professionally manage the business side of infrastructure and provide smooth services to other researchers. In short, these people enable great research and make it even better.

The life sciences rely more and more on these infrastructure experts. Because infrastructure needs are so expansive, the field must have a way to develop people with comprehensive skills that allow them to perform in quickly evolving settings. This is why EMBL has developed the new ARISE fellowship programme to train future research infrastructure scientists. ARISE will be the first long-term preparatory programme of its kind. A diverse group of engineers, computer scientists, mathematicians, and others will be trained to develop and run research infrastructure.

“ARISE will offer a way for technology developers to acquire expertise needed to run research infrastructure in the life sciences, and a structured way to gain know-how previously handed down in a random way on the job,” says Tanja Ninkovic, the ARISE programme manager who designed and will implement this offering. “This programme aims to provide a more robust backbone to the research infrastructure so central to research and development.”

ARISE opens for applications in November. Over the next five years, EMBL will train 62 fellows to become future leaders in technology development and to take senior positions in life science research infrastructure, either in academia or industry. Participants will represent diverse STEM disciplines, backgrounds, and interests, setting the stage for an expansive learning environment in which they will benefit from the knowledge of the instructors and other programme participants. Together, fellows will expand their expertise to better understand the practicalities of infrastructure, management, and regulatory issues, as well as the finer points of technology development and an overview of trends in the life sciences.

“In their future positions as infrastructure leaders, ARISE fellows will be responsible for strategically positioning their facility. One must think like an entrepreneur, staying cutting-edge and providing good user support,” Tanja says. “The curriculum can sound like a wide range of topics, but that’s because infrastructure scientists must provide broad, disparate kinds of support, and managing infrastructure brings new, ever-evolving issues to the table.” 

Research infrastructure traditionally has included service facilities located at research institutes (e.g. EMBL’s Core Facilities and the services provided by EMBL’s European Bioinformatics Institute, EMBL-EBI) with advanced instruments and tools available to both internal and external researchers. Likewise, large pan-European research infrastructures like Euro-BioImaging or ELIXIR bring together services provided by smaller research facilities distributed across Europe and larger facilities like the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility and the PETRA III synchrotron.

The right training in the right place

The European Commission put out a call in 2019 for funding requests. These calls usually attract submissions representing more traditional science and education programmes, but EMBL responded with a funding request for ARISE. The novelty of the programme and the need for it were confirmed by ARISE receiving the top score in the evaluation. Clearly, the reviewers also saw the need for a more formal approach to training infrastructure scientists and defining this as a career field.

“There simply hasn’t been training in any systematic way for research infrastructure scientists, and that was a trigger that made us realise EMBL could fill this need,” says Peer Bork, a bioinformatician, Director of EMBL’s Heidelberg Scientific Activities, and ARISE programme director. “There’s nothing comparable to ARISE. New technology will keep coming and so will the need for infrastructure to support it. Its time is now.”

One of EMBL’s missions is to develop technologies to advance the life sciences, and to provide these technologies to researchers in the EMBL member states and beyond. Not surprisingly, the accompanying human expertise is greatly in demand at EMBL too.

ARISE is expected to have a big impact on EMBL’s core facilities and scientific services, including the new EMBL Imaging Centre. Currently, there are more than 5400 annual user visits to EMBL’s core facility, structural biology, and imaging services.  Alongside this, EMBL-EBI data resources received 63 million requests a day in 2019. EMBL researchers make approximately 40 innovation disclosures a year and have created more than 20 start-up companies, showing how technology development and service provision are part of EMBL’s expertise.

“ARISE scientists will close the gap by developing and implementing new technology for future service provision,” says Rainer Pepperkok, Director of Scientific Core Facilities and Scientific Services. “At the same time, they will be well prepared and trained to further develop and provide these services in the future, beyond EMBL. ARISE will contribute to generating a critical mass of high-calibre service developers and providers for the future.”

ARISE partner organisations – representing both academia and industry – will support the core fellowship training with long- or short-term secondments at their sites. This comprehensive experience offers exposure to different approaches to infrastructure as well as experiences to prepare fellows for positions as senior scientists or leaders of research infrastructure in a variety of sectors.

The bigger picture

By 2025, ARISE fellows will take up roles in infrastructure across industry, healthcare, academia, and other sectors. This is likely to be a boon for EMBL’s member states.

“EMBL is a recognised hub for its postdoctoral research training,” Peer says. “And because we take students and postdocs from all over Europe, we see them return to member states as trained personnel in an area that brings benefits for science in their home countries.”

Tanja, too, sees great reason to be optimistic about what ARISE can do for the life sciences. “I’m most excited by two things: the technology that will come from this and the promise of what this programme leads to,” she says. “It will be exciting to see how ARISE goes beyond this initial programme to become even better suited to the needs of tomorrow’s life sciences.”

This five-year effort is co-funded by EMBL and the European Commission’s Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions. For more information about applying to ARISE, see details here or email arise@embl.org.

Tags: Bioinformatics, Core Facilities, infrastructure, management, Postdoc, Training

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