Getting to know us: Thomas from Regulation

This December, we’re meeting Thomas Juettemann, who is part of our Regulation team.

What is your job in Ensembl?

I am working in the Regulation team. Our main task is to predict regulatory regions like promoters and enhancers in the human and mouse genome. To our knowledge, we have the most comprehensive set of regulatory elements at the moment. Our current focus in that area is to update our set of transcription factor binding sites.

Aside from work in Ensembl, I am also very active in the Staff Association (SA). EMBL is a international governmental organisation (like CERN or the UN), which enjoys diplomatic immunities. We have our own rules and regulations, health insurance, and pension funds. The SA is like a trade union within EMBL; here, I am helping developing and adapting this set of rules which govern EMBL, based on my observations and discussions with colleagues. EMBL workers come from more than 60 different countries around the world, and sometimes conflicts arise. During my time here I discovered that I am very skilled with helping people solving these problems through mediation.

What do you enjoy about your job?

The flexibility and that we are always at the cutting edge of genetics. Ensembl has become one of the most respected resources, last year I even met a fan at 4,000m in the Himalayas. I have worked on many different projects in my time here, I got the chance to teach different aspects of Ensembl, and am in the process of becoming a certified mediator.

What are you currently working on?

I am very excited about my current project, which is creating a web resource for manually curated CRISPR data and also gaining more experiences in mediation in EMBL.

What is your typical day?

It depends highly on what type of work I am doing at that time. Like most other people it starts with checking emails, then it could be followed by coding, or meetings. My involvement in the Staff Association also requires a fair amount of travel to either our headquarters in Heidelberg, or one of the outstations.

How did you end up here?

I started differently to probably most people in Ensembl. I quit school when I was 17 and did an apprenticeship as a steelworker, specialising in Computer Numerical Control (CNC) programming. After finishing, I did civil service with the German Red Cross and became a certified paramedic.

During this time an old teacher convinced me to go back to school for one year in order to get my high school degree. I went to an introductory talk on a bachelor course in Bioinformatics at a University, which was very interesting, though I honestly did not understand much.

The University had one semester reserved for doing an internship in industry or a research lab, which I spent working in structural proteomics at the University of Edinburgh. I applied for a PhD there but my time in Edinburgh was limited as my PI moved the whole group to UCSC. Genomic sequencing was going high throughput at that time, several courses and talks with fellow students and faculty got me very excited about this field.

Towards the end of my contract, I accepted an offer from a biotech company in Germany, who were very interested in my experience in genome sequencing. During that time, a friend forwarded me the job search for a position in the Ensembl Regulation team (already a highly valued resource), as it fit my profile very well.

What surprised you most about Ensembl when you started working here?

The inspiring atmosphere, efficiency and the care for each other within the team. Ensembl really feels like a big family.

What is the coolest tool or data type in Ensembl that you think everybody should know about?

The REST API offers a lot of great possibilities for accessing our data, no matter what language you like to code in. It is also much simpler and quicker to learn than the PERL API. In one of our two day REST API courses we had a medical doctor who only started programming two weeks before. On day two she was already able to solve most exercises herself. Try it!

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