"Today a manager must have many skills and is expected to be everywhere at once"

As of 22 June, Christine Durinx is jointly leading SIB with Ron Appel. Christine tells us more about what such an appointment means in practice, the key ingredients needed for a successful tandem management model, and her vision for the Institute.

Four years as SIB Associate Director and, today, Joint Executive Director. It's a big change. 

Yes, it is. In the first years after joining SIB, I concentrated mainly on the Communications Department and the ELIXIR Data Platform. Over the past two years, however, I have taken increasing responsibilities from Ron, such as the Director's Office and the Training and the Technology Groups.

The evolution of bioinformatics and the growth of SIB are associated, on the one hand, with the need to adapt and strengthen the organization's internal governance and strategy and, on the other, with a significant increase in workload and responsibilities.

This is due, in part, to the expansion of our international activities - such as those related to ELIXIR - or to the development of science policy activities at international level to ensure the long-term sustainability of core data resources such as UniProtKB for example and for which SIB carries out most of the manual curation. Following the Institute's strong involvement in personalized health infrastructure, national activities in this field have also significantly increased.

This appointment as Joint Executive Director formalizes both my growing responsibilities and my role in managing SIB with Ron.

SIB now has a tandem management - is this frequent in the world of science and academia?

It is not unusual - even in the specific domain of bioinformatics: a similar situation is in place at the European Bioinformatics Institute EMBL-EBI where Ewan Birney and Rolf Apweiler have been Joint Directors since 2015 when Janet Thornton stepped down.

Why has such a model been adopted at SIB?

Today a manager must have many skills and is expected to be everywhere at once - Ron and I function in a complementary way.

Joint management is also a way of ensuring that all proposals are submitted to a critical spirit. When either of us has an idea, it is submitted to the other, who can challenge it uncompromisingly. Working as a tandem also pushes things further, and can lead to proposals that would not have existed otherwise. Finally, it keeps the focus on the actual projects at stake; we are, first and foremost, in the service of SIB, its employees, its members and its external partners.

Leading can be very lonely, and I think it is great to be in a position to share the daily worries and to build the future of SIB jointly. This does not mean that we do everything together, naturally. We have a clear distribution of responsibilities and domains of action, and we also preserve our private spheres.

With Ron Appel, your daily task is to put in practice the Institute's strategic and scientific goals. How are responsibilities distributed between you?

I have the overall responsibility for our institutional communications, the Directors' Office, and the Training and Technology Groups. I am a member of the Executive Board of the BioMedIT project - SIB's participation in building a secure data infrastructure for the Swiss Personalized Health Network (SPHN). I also co-chair the ELIXIR Data Platform.

Ron is responsible for the People & Culture and Finance Departments, the Legal & Technology Transfer Office, and for the four largest SIB Internal Groups, i.e. Clinical Bioinformatics, Personalized Health Informatics, Swiss-Prot, and Vital-IT. He is a member of the National Steering Board of SPHN and of its "Ausschuss". He also assumes the responsibility for the interactions with the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI) as well as with SIB's partner institutions.

We are both Joint Heads of the Swiss Node of ELIXIR.

What is fueling your motivation for this new role?

Coming from industry, I never imagined working in such a creative, dynamic and thriving environment as SIB. Working side by side with outstanding scientists who are passionate about their work and happily go the extra mile really makes a difference.

SIB has changed a lot over the past years. Its structure and governance need to be adapted in order to stay ahead. I hope to contribute in advancing yet further the excellence of SIB, thanks to the experience I have gained over the past 15 years in the pharmaceutical industry and at SIB itself.

SIB is twenty years old this year. What vision do you and Ron Appel share for SIB in 2028?

I would love to share some glass-ball wisdom with you! However, I don't think that in 1998, the five founders of SIB had the slightest idea that 20 years later, SIB would be the mature Institute it is today, covering so many activity domains.

Ron and I believe it is not only essential to remain agile and resist the creation of bureaucracy but also to continue to raise awareness about Swiss bioinformatics and to inspire the younger generations to become outstanding data scientists.

 

Short bio

Married, two children (10 and 13 years old)

Swims to unwind

2001: PhD in Pharmaceutical sciences from the University of Antwerp (Belgium) on the structural and enzymatic characteristics of a membrane-bound peptidase

2002-2014: Active in the Pharmaceutical industry in Belgium, then Switzerland

2014: Joined SIB as Associate Director

June 2018: SIB Joint Executive Director

 


christine durinx ron appel