Ensembl is a genome database and browser hosted at EMBL’s European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI). With an increasing demand for more weird and wonderful genomes, Ensembl is continually expanding to include a wide variety of species.
Sarah Dyer, the new Non-Vertebrate Genomics Team Leader, recently joined EMBL-EBI, bringing a wealth of experience in working with plant and crop genomes. Here, she shares her insights and vision for the future of Ensembl.
I am the Non-Vertebrate Genomics Team Leader, and within Ensembl I have three groups to lead: Ensembl Plants, Ensembl Metazoa, and Ensembl Outreach. As I mentioned, my background is primarily in plants and crops, but their response to pests and pathogens is of interest too, which connects with the invertebrate species handled by Ensembl Metazoa, where we collaborate closely with VectorBase. For the Outreach team, a big interest for me is to increase training and outreach to low- and middle-income countries, building on my experience working with partners in Latin America and Africa.
What motivated you to work at EMBL-EBI?
I know from working on the Wellcome Genome Campus previously that it’s such a great place to be for making new connections and setting up collaborations. There are lots of interesting people working here and EMBL-EBI itself is such an important place for bioinformatics with so many key resources that help to enable new research.
How do you keep a good work–life balance as a Team Leader?
Since my previous position at NIAB, I have worked part time, and I currently work four days a week in my role here at EMBL-EBI. It’s great that EMBL-EBI gives staff the opportunity to do this. Working part time can be feasible even when you lead a team; I like having enough time for other parts of my life too. I have to be quite organised, but it works for me and I think people are becoming more aware and more accepting of flexible working patterns.
What are some of the challenges in your new job?
Traditionally Ensembl has been very strong in the vertebrate space and so our Ensembl Plants team is relatively small. I’m planning to grow the team and bring more plants and crops into Ensembl. There are many different people that will benefit from access to more plant genome resources, including researchers and crop breeders. Different groups will use our resources differently, so I want to make sure we are satisfying the different needs of these communities. This requires a lot of interaction with them to make sure we get it right.
What is your approach as a manager?
It’s important to appreciate that you have a team made up of very different individuals who will have different skills, interests, and ways of working. You have to think about how you can bring people together to complement each other and achieve your overarching goals together. Also, it’s important to find ways to support their future aims so, eventually, they can take the next step in their careers.
What is one thing we couldn’t find out about you from an online search?
When I’m travelling somewhere new, I always try to visit the local botanic garden. Wherever you go, they are always so different and there’s always something interesting to see. If you’ve got a busy work trip it’s like visiting a little oasis of calm. My all-time favourite botanical garden is el Jardín Botánico del Quindío in Colombia. It’s a beautiful place with lots of hummingbirds and butterflies.