"As a curator for EMBL-Bank, I check and annotate nucleotide sequence data that people submit to us. I also help develop EMBL-Bank; in particular the software we use to curate and annotate these data submissions. EMBL-Bank is part of the European Nucleotide Archive, so we collaborate closely with the other members of the INSDC: GenBank and DDBJ. Standards are incredibly important for making sure everything works as it should, so I also take part in developing standards for nucleotide sequence annotation."
Q&A with Ruth Akhtar, Scientific Curator
Q, How long have you been in this post?
A. Three and a half years
Q. What is your background?
A. I have a BSc in Biochemistry from Warwick University, and my PhD research was on genetic susceptibility to chemically induced liver disease.
Q. What was your career path before joining EMBL-EBI?
A. After completing my PhD I worked for several years as a postdoc, which included work on the genetics of the mouse and Drosophila model systems, toxicology, circadian rhythm biology, ageing and expression profiling by microarray analysis.
Q. What attracted you to this role?
A. I liked the idea of working outside of a laboratory but in an environment where my scientific background would still be relevant.
Q. Describe a typical working day.
A. (laughs) My working day is fairly routine. I check that the data are in the correct format and get in touch with the submitters to deal with any issues that might come up with the data. But there is always something new to learn - we receive sequence data from so many different species and these show differences in terms of their complexity and the arrangement of their genetic sequence.
Q. What do you like best about your job?
A. I have to say communicating with the scientists who produce the sequence data. I also like to get involved in training other curators, and really enjoy the annual meetings we have with our international colllaborators.
Q. What do you think of working at EMBL-EBI?
A. The international working environment is great, and I love the beautiful grounds in the Cambridgeshire countryside.
Q. What are some of the challenges you face in your job?
A. The biggest challenge is working to tight deadlines - data submissions usually need to be completed within just two days. Handling several submissions at once which include data from a variety of organisms with very different biology means that you become adept at balancing tasks in order to complete the work to schedule. A different kind of challenge is when I work with submitters on deciding which is the best way to represent their complex biological data.
Q. Do you have any advice for someone applying to a similar role?
A. The key requirements for this role are: attention to detail, ability to work to deadlines, a flair for communicating complex issues and broad biological knowledge. On the technical side, we work in a UNIX environment and scripting skills are helpful for dealing with the large volumes of data.