Our privilege to work for Ensembl

My recent trip to Malawi as part of a Wellcome Trust Open Door Workshop has really reminded me how privileged I really am. I’m an Outreach Officer, which means that I have the privilege to travel out to institutes around the world to deliver free Ensembl workshops. Most of the time, these workshops are in Europe or the US, at fancy research institutes and universities, and it’s an awesome privilege to facilitate research at these institutes.

An even greater privilege is to be involved in the Open Door Workshops on Working with the Human Genome Sequence, organised by Wellcome Trust Advanced Courses, which head out to more developing countries to teach. They’re called ‘Open Door’ because all the resources we teach in them are free and open on the web, which means anyone, anywhere, with nothing but an internet connection can do it. I teach the Ensembl section of the course, but we also cover other resources from the EBI, Sanger Institute, NCBI and elsewhere.

We hold these courses at Wellcome Trust research centres, for example the Malawi-Liverpool Wellcome Trust I visited recently, which are fantastic investments by the Wellcome Trust in research around the world. Participants travel from all over the continent to attend the course; attendance is free (with selection) and the Wellcome Trust can even fund travel bursaries. It is a great privilege for me to be able to travel to these locations and to teach them all about Ensembl.

Group photograph

The group from the Open Door Workshop at the Malawi-Liverpool Wellcome Trust. Featuring instructors me (seated, second from left), Jane Loveland (Sanger Institute; seated, middle), Rob Finn (EBI; back row, far left), Charlie Steward (Sanger Institute; back row, middle) and Matt Clark (TGAC; back row, second from right). Photo by Heidi Hauser (Wellcome Trust Advanced Courses).

I am proud to present Ensembl to these workshops participants. Partly because I think it’s an amazing resource that can really facilitate research. Partly because we give it away for free, and I know this makes a huge difference to researchers whose labs are not well funded. Even in labs with £1 million grants, money is always tight, but for many of the people who attend our workshops, labs struggle with knackered PCR machines, ghost equipment that they can’t afford to buy the reagents to use and a complete reliance on Open Access publishing as they can’t pay for journal subscriptions, yet they still manage to produce world-class science. If they had to choose between replacing those broken machines and a pay-per-use or subscription-only bioinformatics resource, it would really be a no-brainer. But by giving them a free resource means they don’t have to make that choice. Indeed, it gives them the opportunity to carry out research that doesn’t need any expensive equipment or reagents.

The Wellcome Trust is one of the major funders of Ensembl. We are so grateful to them for allowing us to make our data freely available, so that everybody can make use of it. It really is a privilege.