Anna Cuomo - PhD student in the Marioni and Stegle groups
A third year PhD student shares why she chose to study at EMBL's European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI).
Q&A with Anna Cuomo
“All the research here is cutting edge and the people are incredibly smart and talented.”
Q: Why did you choose to do your PhD at EMBL-EBI?
I’m actually joint between two groups, John Marioni at EMBL-EBI and Oliver Stegle who is now mostly moved to EMBL Heidelberg. My project is very much at the intersection of their expertise. A lot of Oliver’s work is in statistical genetics and method development for QTL mapping, John’s expertise is very much the single cell increased resolution of RNA sequencing, and how it can be used to improve our understanding of key biological processes. In my PhD, I am trying to expand QTL mapping methods to the single cell world.
I think EMBL in general is a very prestigious institution and it’s very nice to know that it is a European institute. Going to conferences, you would often see that the best talks were from fancy US universities, or EMBL! EMBL-EBI in particular has an affiliation with Cambridge University, where you automatically become a student at Cambridge. For me, I come from a maths background, so it made a lot more sense for me to come to EMBL-EBI as I’ve never done wet lab work and never really intend to. This was the only site for me really! All the research here is cutting edge and the people are incredibly smart and talented: it’s a pretty cool place to be.
Q: What advice would you give someone who wants to apply for a PhD at EMBL-EBI?
In short, I would say that people are key. I think it’s very important to choose a Group Leader you get along with (or two!). And choose a happy lab, one where you think you’ll fit in. It is of course important to choose a project you’re excited and motivated about, but it is almost more crucial, in my opinion, that you make sure you are surrounded by people you’ll be happy to see every morning and that can complement and support you and your work.
There’s an amazing variety, some groups are rather small, some much larger. If the group is pretty small, for example, there’s more time for you to talk to your Group Leader, but then again it can be quiet if there is no one in the office. And even within a single group people may have very different projects, that might not relate to yours, so that’s something else to keep in mind.
In terms of attitude, just be really open minded, it’s a great opportunity and you’ve got four years to learn as much as you can!
Remember that it’s a marathon, not a sprint, which applies to all PhDs! There will be ups and downs, where you feel you aren’t getting results, but that is normal and it will get better again. Focus on really growing your knowledge. A nice thing about EMBL and EMBL-EBI is the social aspect of it, enjoy it! The pre-doc course at the beginning is an amazing way of really getting to know people. I feel my best friends here are the people I met then. For EMBL-EBI specifically, the Cambridge college life is also quite a cool thing and something to enjoy, as you don’t really get that anywhere else.
In terms of your application, try and figure out the Group Leaders that might be relevant to you and highlight the strengths you have. For me, my strength was coming from a maths background. It was a bit different, as most people come from a biology background. So I tried to highlight how that was a plus that I had.