Making the transition from research to management can be perceived as daunting and an unconventional career path for many. We sat down with Marta Lloret Llinares to hear about her experience moving from post-doctoral research to project management.
What is your current role, and how did you get here?
I am a Scientific Project Manager in the Training team at EMBL-EBI. I am involved in organising training activities in several projects funded by the European Union, including BioExcel. Before joining EBI, I had followed a traditional academic path in basic molecular biology research. I studied histone demethylases in the fruit fly during my PhD in Barcelona (Spain). Then I moved to Aarhus (Denmark) for a postdoc studying RNA degradation. During the postdoc, I decided that I did not want to continue that path, but that I would not like to leave the research world completely, so it was great to find this job, where I can contribute to the training and career development of other researchers.
As a Scientific Project Manager, what does your typical day look like?
This can vary depending on the priority task at each moment. When we are running a remote course, such as the BioExcel Summer School, the focus is on the course. I start the day by checking whether I have messages from participants or trainers, and I send any information that needs to be shared. Then, I open the Zoom room and, together with my colleagues at EBI, run the live sessions: check that everything is working, allow people in, facilitate discussions.
I am involved in the development of a website, where I work together with web developers to add functionalities on the site and improve it. In other weeks where I am not running a course, a typical day includes email conversations and meetings with colleagues and project partners to organise training activities. Writing presentations or reports about our work is also an important part of my daily work.
You have organized several virtual courses, such as the BioExcel Summer School on Biomolecular Simulations. How did you find the transition from organising face-to-face to virtual courses?
It was not a complete transition for me. Since my start at EBI in 2019, I organised virtual courses. BioExcel had decided to offer virtual courses to extend the reach of its training programme. The lessons learned were very valuable to run the remote BioExcel Summer School on Biomolecular Simulations. We learned how to address most challenges to make virtual courses a success, but a remaining challenge is to enable social interaction and networking, which occur more naturally in face-to-face events. Since the first remote edition of the BioExcel Summer School, we included elements for social interaction.
Remote courses have advantages over face-to-face courses too: they do not require travelling, so it is easy for many people to attend. This also means that you do not need to dedicate the whole day to the course (with dinners, excursions, etc.). BioExcel would like to keep running virtual courses alongside face-to-face courses even when the pandemic situation improves.
You are involved with the competency hub project. Tell us more about how the project has been going so far.
The Competency Hub is a website to support training and professional development by listing the abilities (competencies) required for professionals in specific fields. EMBL-EBI is involved in developing competency-based training programmes in several projects and decided to have a site where all the competency information was available.
The Competency Hub can be used by researchers in computational biomolecular research to check which competencies are required for different roles in the field, by checking the BioExcel competency framework and the career profiles that we created. We have recently added a learning pathway, a set of learning resources to help you run biomolecular simulations in an HPC machine. It is very interesting to be part of this project, as I had never worked with web developers before, so it allows me to experience other ways of working. I am also learning a lot about user experience.
What skills should one focus on building if they would like to venture into this field?
Communication is essential in my role. I interact with colleagues, project partners, course participants, trainers. I also need to report on what we do and present it to different types of audience. Many times, I work on different projects and tasks in parallel, so it is important to be able to shift focus in the same week or day. Time and task management are essential to handle all the different projects.
Most of these skills can be learned in the daily work as a researcher. As a researcher, you also do several tasks: experiments; writing a grant proposal, paper or report; meeting with collaborators. In addition, you communicate your research to different audiences in different formats: oral presentation, poster, article. Sometimes, more than focusing on building them, it is about highlighting them. Finally, if the focus of the role is on training, it is important to learn about training and learning.
Join Marta Lloret Llinares at BioExcel’s next webinar on 21 September to hear about small molecule stabilization, antibiotic resistance and T-cell receptor modelling.