Leading a Research Group

Leading a Research Group

Are you generating more great scientific ideas than you have the hours to research yourself? Do you want to pursue them independently and run a research group of your own? EMBL-EBI offers an exciting, supportive research environment that helps young scientists build teams and follow their best ideas.

It is an incredibly exciting time for bioinformatics. With genomics entering healthcare and finding its feet in agriculture and environmental science, there are unprecedented opportunities to collaborate with researchers in all disciplines, creating innovative approaches to ‘Big Data’ challenges in biology and building practical solutions to real-world problems.

The European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI), the UK site of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), has been a global leader in computational biology research since its inception in 1994. Located on the Wellcome Genome Campus, we are at the centre of one of the highest concentrations of technical and scientific expertise in the world, perfectly placed for collaborations of all shapes and sizes.

As a group leader at EMBL-EBI, you would build your first group in a supportive research environment amongst the exceptional, highly collaborative scientific communities of EMBL and Cambridge and alongside teams that build comprehensive, public data services and infrastructure.

Apply to become a Research Group Leader at EMBL-EBI

Blue-skies research

EMBL’s research community enjoys complete intellectual freedom. As a group leader you would pursue your research full time, with top-notch students from our international PhD Programme and core funding to hire postdocs or technicians. Our groups also benefit from a range of internal fellowship schemes, and have time to create a solid foundation for their future career by selecting the right people and projects. 

This combination of resources, in addition to having no formal teaching responsibilities, frees up your time to focus on cutting-edge research in a family-friendly workplace. This research-supportive environment has enabled scientists at EMBL-EBI to produce breakthrough works, and to pursue fascinating, demanding avenues of enquiry.

Building your group

To build a good team with the right set of skills and blend of personalities, you need access to postdoctoral fellowship schemes and excellent administrative support. We offer both.

  • The EMBL Interdisciplinary Postdoctoral programme (EIPOD) encourages candidates whose research crosses scientific boundaries. These projects bring together scientific fields that are usually separate or transfer techniques to a novel context.
  • The EBI–Sanger Postdoctoral programme (ESPOD) supports researchers who take both an experimental and computational approach to their work.
  • EMBL-EBI–Biomedical Research Centre Postdoctoral programme (EBPOD) researchers work on projects that apply computational approaches to translational clinical research involving human subjects.
  • The EMBL International PhD Programme provides students with the best starting platform for a successful career in science. Characterised by first-class training, internationality, dedicated mentoring and early independence in research, it is among the world's most competitive PhD training schemes.
  • Our administration aims to help our researchers stay focused on their work, providing a service that enables progress. Our support teams help you identify new opportunities, communicate and publicise your work and streamline your technical work environment.

About our research programme

EMBL offers a well-integrated experimental and computational research programme at its five sites. EMBL researchers publish regularly in top-tier journals, with 40% of papers in the top 5% of journals in biochemistry, genetics and molecular biology (2012–2014). Of the top 100 most highly cited papers ever, four were led by EMBL scientists, one of these was in the top 10 and two were co-authored by EMBL-EBI researchers.

EMBL-EBI’s research programme began under the leadership of Professor Michael Ashburner, who together with Sir John Sulston was instrumental in setting up the institute on the Genome Campus in 1994. Professor Ashburner was a major contributor to understanding the molecular biology of Drosophila melanogaster, including the determination of its genome sequence, and similarly Sir John revealed the cell lineage of C. elegans and then contributed to sequencing first the worm and then the human genome. Between 2001 and 2015, under the stewardship of eminent structural and computational biologist Professor Janet Thornton, research at EMBL-EBI has grown substantially in both breadth and impact. Since July 2015 EMBL-EBI’s Research Programme has been led by Professor Ewan Birney and Dr Nick Goldman, whose contributions to methods for the analysis of large-scale sequence data and using DNA as a storage medium have been transformative.

Research at EMBL-EBI is carried out both in groups devoted solely to research and in some service teams. Most research groups collaborate closely with experimentalists, and some generate experimental data themselves. There are 12 basic research groups at EMBL-EBI, and two additional research groups jointly affiliated with other institutes.

EMBL-EBI researchers collaborate within EMBL and with groups throughout the world, perhaps most notably with the Sanger Institute. A formal partnership between the two organisations and the establishment of the Sanger Institute/EMBL-EBI Single-Cell Genomics Centre have provided a formal context for this collaboration, which has been ongoing since the Human Genome Project.

High-impact research

Our research spans fundamental methods in sequence analysis, multi-dimensional statistical analysis and data-driven biological discovery, from plant biology to mammalian development and disease. We are highly collaborative and interdisciplinary, regularly publishing high-impact works on sequence and structural alignment, genome analysis, basic biological breakthroughs, algorithms and methods of widespread importance.

High-impact research achievements include:

  • development of an error-free method to store digital information in DNA (Goldman et al., 2013);
  • successful ‘resetting’ of human pluripotent stem cells to a fully pristine state, at the point of their greatest developmental potential (Bertone et al., 2013);
  • determination of the critical role of hnRNP C as a genome-wide sentinel protecting the transcriptome (Luscombe et al., 2013);
  • demonstration of how repurposing non-coding elements in the genome gave rise to the great ‘mammalian radiation’ (Flicek et al., 2015);
  • development of a program that makes it possible to compare the functions of thousands of catalysts, facilitating research into drug interactions and the efficient production of biofuels (Thornton et al., 2014).

Other recent research has led to novel genome assembly methods, the identification of carcinogens (Brazma  et al., 2015), methods to decipher meaning from noisy single-cell genomics data (Stegle et al., 2014), demonstration of the control of T-cell differentiation by steroid secretion (Teichmann et al., 2014) and new methods to correlate image and single-cell data.

Emerging research themes at EMBL-EBI

EMBL-EBI research is increasingly related to problems of medical significance, and to developing new ways to understand the molecular drivers of cancer and other diseases. Examples of future work include:

  • Computational methods to link genomic information with clinical phenotypes;
  • Investigating the pharmacogenetics of pro-drug activation;
  • Biostatistical models to understand the mechanisms of cancer;
  • New algorithms for interpreting long-read sequencing data;
  • Exploring regulatory wiring and disease-causing variants with data produced using CRISPR technology;
  • Developing new methods to understand how proteins form complexes;
  • Exploring the effects of proteome variation on cell types, cell states and individuals;
  • New methods for metabolomics and imaging Mass Spectrometry.

Working here

Flowers on the Wellcome Genome Campus

The Genome Campus is a beautiful place to work, situated on 55 acres of parks and wetlands. Our seminar series attract some of the best minds in molecular biology, who present and discuss their latest work with researchers on campus. Our staff benefit from excellent facilities, including:

  • The Ashburner Library
  • On-site nursery
  • Subsidised gym
  • Subsidised café
  • Free bus service to Cambridge and Saffron Walden.

Our technical infrastructure is unsurpassed, offering you:

  • Data centres equipped to run complex analyses on extremely large volumes of data, with 40,000 cores and a total disk footprint of over 65 Petabytes;
  • Full access to the compute farm, where priority is managed on a needs basis;
  • A custom cloud service built alongside our public data offerings, which supports your global research collaborations;
  • Easy access to EMBL Core Facilities and Sanger Institute pipelines, with competitive pricing of consumables. These facilities range from standard DNA or RNA library preparation followed by sequencing, through genotyping to proteomics and routine light microscopy.

The collegial environment of the campus and EMBL facilitates collaborations that come with access to more advanced methods, such as single cell genomics, super-resolution microscopy and metabolomics.

Photo of Bronwen Aken, Team Leader at EMBL-EBI

Career development

Our research environment is focused towards supporting young PIs as they launch and develop successful careers, with most starting their group at EMBL after finishing their first postdoc position. As part of our development of young science leaders we offer mentoring, regular meetings with faculty leadership and formal training courses for the development of key management skills. Together with the Sanger Institute we run a programme called Sex in Science, which aims to raise awareness among staff on campus of gender issues and blockers to progress that face young scientists on their path to independence. Sex in Science programme activities highlight common misconceptions, address subconscious bias and bring about policy changes on campus that create the right conditions for a good work/life balance.

Technology Transfer

Our Tech Transfer office, EMBLEM, facilitates and accelerates the transfer of innovative technology and know-how from EMBL to industry by way of collaboration, licensing, service provision and the creation of spin-out companies. At the discretion of the Director-General of EMBL, we allow researchers to spend up to 20% of their time working outside the organisation, which provides breathing room to transform ideas and technology into commercially viable products and services.

Internationality, diversity and open access

The 550 members of staff at EMBL-EBI represent 62 nationalities. We recruit internationally, and appreciate the subtle differences between degrees and achievements in different countries. We welcome leadership applications from anyone who has obtained his or her PhD, and strongly encourage women to apply.

EMBL is committed to the principles of open sharing in the life sciences. We put ideas before impact factor, and look for people who have produced excellent, creative, highly relevant peer-reviewed work, whatever the publication.

Find out more

Visit our Q&A for new group leaders at EMBL

If you would like to know more about starting a research group at EMBL-EBI, please contact Research Programme Directors Ewan Birney and Nick Goldman: roffice@ebi.ac.uk