Career Interview: Eleftheria Zeggini, PhD

Photo courtesy of Ele Zeggini, PhD

Sarah A. Gagliano, ASHG: What is the focus of your research?

Dr. Zeggini: My research uses large-scale biomedical data to identify genetic causes of complex traits, with a primary focus on musculoskeletal diseases and cardiometabolic traits. Our activities are underpinned by the development of methods to advance statistical genetics approaches.

ASHG: What aspects of your training were crucial in helping you arrive at your current position?

Dr. Zeggini: My undergraduate training in biochemistry gave me an excellent foundation to understand the complexities of biology. Early in my PhD work at the University of Manchester, I gained experience with wet-lab work, performing DNA extractions, HLA typing, and SNP and microsatellite genotyping.

Although this was definitely not my calling (or talent), experience in the lab has afforded me insights into what can go wrong in the experimental data generation process and how this can have a downstream impact on data analysis.

I also had quantitative training and developed a strong mathematical background through courses during my graduate and postgraduate studies, and through on-the-job training.

Finally, my postdoctoral work was in a highly collaborative environment, which was an important part of my training in “Team Science”—the interdisciplinary approach of engaging a group of individuals with varying expertise to tackle the same scientific question through diverse perspectives.

During my training, I never expected to be a part of work on the gender balance conundrum for careers in science. She currently leads the Wellcome Genome Campus Sex in Science program, which addresses this issue and supports women in science.

ASHG: What does a typical day at work usually entail?

Dr. Zeggini: I come into the office just after 9 am. My day typically includes a number of meetings with my team, local colleagues and/or wider collaborators. I have a couple of hours of protected meeting-free time in my diary daily, and try to keep one day a fortnight completely free to work from home.

I switch off my computer at 5:30 pm (it stays at work), and tend to go back online late in the evening on my mobile device to check emails. I travel for work twice a month, on average. I find it an enriching experience, but do limit the number of nights away to a minimum.

ASHG: What are the most important skills to have for a career in genetics research?

Dr. Zeggini:

  •  Analytical skills
  • Critical thinking skills
  • Ability to identify knowledge gaps and to frame research questions in the context of emerging technologies
  • Ability to bring diverse teams of people together to tackle a common goal
  • Resilience
  • A sense of humour

ASHG: How do you achieve and maintain a healthy work-life balance?

Dr. Zeggini: I enjoy great work-life balance, although this is a subjective assessment. I think it is important to recognize that there will be times when work takes precedence (in my case this was especially true before children), and the other way around.

ASHG: Any last words of advice for those interested in pursuing a career in genetics research?

Dr. Zeggini: Pick challenging scientific questions that excite you, and be open to learning the language of other disciplines and assimilate expertise that is new to you.

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