"My job as Ensembl Helpdesk & Outreach Officer involves answering questions from Ensembl users, liaising with other Ensembl teams to resolve technical issues and to work towards improving the Ensembl resource. I also prepare teaching materials, organise and teach at workshops worldwide and occasionally represent the EBI as part of the team manning the exhibition stand at conferences."
Q&A with Bert Overduin, EMBL-EBI
Q. How long have you been in post?
A. Four and a half years.
Q. What is your background?
A. I did by MSc in Biology at Leiden University in the Netherlands, and my PhD in Molecular Genetics at VU University, Amsterdam.
Q. What was your career path before coming to EMBL-EBI?
A. After my PhD I undertook a four-year post doctoral post in a laboratory at the University of California Davis. I then decided to move away from science and worked for six years as an IT consultant. In this role I mainly worked on website development, as well as managing information systems so that they best serve the users. As part of this, I acted as a conduit between the users and developers.
Q. What attracted you to this role?
A. I applied for this job because after six years I really started to miss science and this seemed like a good opportunity to combine my interest and expertise in both biology and informatics.
Q. How would you describe a typical working day?
A. As my job is quite varied there aren’t many typical working days. A day can be spent in the office answering helpdesk questions, in a computer room teaching scientists about Ensembl or at a remote airport waiting for the next plane to take me to a conference or workshop.
Q. What is the best thing about your job?
A. The best thing about my job is being able to interact with Ensembl’s users. I especially enjoy teaching in those parts of the world where the people do not have much access to bioinformatics training and so are keen pupils.
Q. What do you think of working at EMBL-EBI?
A. It is a very international environment. The fact that we share a campus with the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute is also a big plus, especially since this provides the opportunity to attend lots of seminars by renowned scientists.
Q. What are some of the challenges you face in your job?
A. The most challenging aspect of my job is time management. No matter how many deadlines you have or whether you are on the road, you still need to provide quick replies to the floods of helpdesk questions.
Q. What advice would you give to someone applying to a similar role?
A. For this job a solid background in biology, a sound understanding of computers, good communication and teaching skills are essential. For the helpdesk, patience and a friendly manner are also important. Finally, you must be comfortable with travelling a lot, often just by yourself.
"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."
"My role as scientific programmer involves developing and maintaining software systems to enable the integration of many different types of biological data so that it can be displayed on the Ensembl website. This includes writing code, communicating with collaborators, presenting work at conferences and conducting training workshops."