Gemma Wood – Head of Communications
Everyone so far has been so welcoming and generous with their time, which has helped me get a feel for the culture and shared values at EMBL-EBI.
Q&A with Gemma Wood
The Communications team is the central hub for external and internal communications at EMBL’s European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI). The team coordinates a variety of areas including media relations, digital and social media communications, corporate publications, design and branding, video production and public engagement. Gemma Wood, the new EMBL-EBI Head of Communications, shares a behind-the-scenes look into the work of her team.
What is your professional background?
I’m a communications professional by background, not a scientist. I started my career in the charity sector; my first job was with Help the Aged (now Age UK). I worked with the charity’s beneficiaries, amplifying their voices to government and developing public campaigns. One of the most unusual assignments was working on a big campaign about public toilets! We found that older people were not leaving their homes as much because of a lack of public toilets, so campaigned to stop them from closing.
I also worked at EngineeringUK where I helped to raise awareness of engineering careers and to demonstrate engineering for the breadth of people and jobs it covers rather than the stereotype of men working in hard hats. After this, I took a maternity cover position at The Francis Crick Institute working as their Head of External Affairs. I very much enjoyed science communications and all the exciting science going on there.
What does your role entail?
I will lead the EMBL-EBI Communications team and build on all the amazing work already going on. This will cover all aspects of brand, design, internal and external communications, and public engagement. I will have an early focus on internal communications, which has become extremely important during the pandemic. It is crucial to make sure everyone still feels connected to the organisation after months of working at home. Our internal comms have a big role to play in this.
What motivated you to work at EMBL-EBI?
The Crick has a memorandum of understanding with EMBL so I got to work alongside the EMBL communications teams whilst I was there. When I saw the EMBL-EBI role, it seemed like a perfect next step for me. I was offered the position at the beginning of 2020 and the world has changed a lot since then. I’m very glad to have had the chance to come to the Wellcome Genome Campus before lockdown started and get a glimpse of what normal is like. Everyone so far has been so welcoming and generous with their time, which has helped me get a feel for the culture and shared values at EMBL-EBI.
What are some of the challenges in your new job?
Adapting to the ways that people are used to working is always a challenge. One of the strengths is that people have had to develop new ways of working from home in the pandemic, for example using Slack to communicate effectively between teams. For me, it will be about refining the processes already in place and making sure everyone can get the information they need effectively and efficiently.
What is your approach as a manager?
I trust people and their professional expertise. I want to support and help coordinate my team’s work to make sure there isn’t a duplication of effort. It's important as a team leader to understand the context and what is happening in the wider organisation to help shape the team’s priorities. People get satisfaction out of seeing their work make a difference, so I encourage my team to look at outcomes and impact. I’ve had some amazing managers in my career, and have learnt a lot from them.
What is one thing we couldn't find out about you from an online search?
I spent a year living in Guyana, South America working at a women’s refuge. When I got there I was without electricity for a month, because someone cut down a palm tree on to a power line. You couldn’t even flush the toilet! But it was an amazing place to live, there are huge amounts of virgin Amazon rainforest, which was absolutely breathtaking. Everyone living there had been through something awful but were all amazing, inspiring people. It was an incredible experience and I got so much out of it.