Getting to know us: Sophie from the Research Management Office

Our latest introduction to the Ensembl Team post comes from Sophie Janacek, who takes care of all our money.

What is your job in Ensembl?

I am a ‘Research Manager’: I help Ensembl to manage its grant and funding portfolio, and to apply for grants. I also help to coordinate strategic activities, like our Scientific Advisory Board. I am also responsible for Research Management across the EBI: in September we’ll have several new people starting to help with these activities within the other EBI service teams.

What do you enjoy about your job?

I enjoy my job because it gives me a broad view of how a large service team works and develops its strategy. I also enjoy managing our funds, and being able to tell someone that they can hire a new person! A more surprising aspect of the role that I enjoy is the amount of problem solving that I get to do, and the opportunity to develop new process or systems to make things more efficient.
I also get to talk to many different people throughout the institute, from managers, bioinformaticians, developers, and curators, to the ever-helpful people in our Grants and Budget offices and the cluster secretaries: working with people who really know their subject area is great. I also enjoy the fact that I get to contribute to important resources for the life sciences.

What are you currently working on?

At the moment I am heavily involved in setting up a new Research Management office for the institute, and planning the next few months; Autumn is always a busy period, due to many deadlines for grant proposals, including for the BBSRC. In Ensembl, we are lucky to receive funding from many sources, including the Wellcome Trust, UK Research Councils, the European Commission, the National Institutes of Health in the USA, and even the ‘Save the Tasmanian Devil’ foundation in Tasmania! This certainly keeps me busy. The other major activity at the moment is carrying out a budget review for our friends in Ensembl Genomes, which means looking at all their grants and budgets, and their plans for staffing over the next 3-5 years.

What is your typical day?

My typical day really depends on the time of year, and whether we have an imminent grant application or report due: if that is the case, there will be a certain amount of writing, information gathering, and meeting with the relevant people. My day will almost certainly involve some emails regarding budgets, though, and likely also meetings with the senior managers to discuss plans and grants. On a monthly basis, I’ll go into our systems and see how all of our budgets are doing.

How did you end up here?

I originally trained as a Plant Scientist, getting a PhD in molecular physiology in the model plant Arabidopsis. I’ve always been interested in biology, but I decided that I didn’t want to go down the route of being a PI, so I looked into different avenues of work where I could still utilise my scientific knowledge and training: I worked at the Earlham Institute (while it was still The Genome Analysis Centre) during its startup phase, as a Project Manager for its scientific projects. After three and a half years there, I decided to try and get more experience in the funding side of things. Conveniently a job came up at EBI, a place where I’ve always thought would be interesting to work!

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

I was surprised by how large the team was, but then I underestimated the scale of the resource, since I wasn’t a heavy user of Ensembl before, and I didn’t know the depth of information that Ensembl provides. Now I realise the degree of information provided by Ensembl, and its contribution to genome annotation, I am impressed by the volume that the team can handle, in terms of developing new functionality and integrating new data sets, while also keeping a high level of production work to keep the resource up to date with regular releases.

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

I think that having the GTEx data available and integrated into Ensembl is great! The background to this project is a wonderful opportunity given to us by the National Institutes of Health – they invited us to apply for a funding supplement to work with the GTEx consortium and to integrate the data generated into Ensembl. I think that the GTEx data really illustrate how far genomics has come for human, from the first release of the human genome, to today’s detailed investigations into tissue specificity and gene regulation. I also think that the cis-interactions view is pretty nifty: this, like the GTEx data availability, was also developed during the time that I have been here (3.5 years), which shows how quickly the information we have evolves.