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From the Classroom to the Coal Face

By July 21, 2017 No Comments

An Interview with Clinical Partnerships Leader, Jackie Dolan, by Eimear Doyle.

I talked to Jackie Dolan about her transition from research in university to GMI, from working at her own pace on a linear plane to participating in a collaborative project. The challenges. The pitfalls. The rewards.

Jackie, can you tell us about your background in genetics?

I achieved my Ph.D. working on the genetics of neuro-developmental disorders in the Genetics Department in Trinity College Dublin. My beautiful sister has a rare undiagnosed neuro-developmental disorder and has always been my inspiration to work in this area to try and increase our knowledge of what causes of these diseases and how prevent or treat them. During my Ph.D. I was lucky to identify a gene which we got to name ELFN1. We identified it from the publicly available human genome sequence. We found that when ELFN1 it is not working as it should, it leads to ADHD-like behaviours and seizures. However, this is just the beginning, understanding the cause. The next step is understanding why, when this gene doesn’t work does it cause these problems? If we can do this, then we may be able to find out how to prevent or target a treatment for someone who has a non-functioning ELFN1 gene

So, how did you arrive at GMI?

Sean and Maurice (founders of GMI) asked Professor Kevin Mitchell, who was supervising my work, for some input and advice when they were starting up the company. It was Kevin who actually told me about GMI and he suggested to Sean and Maurice that I could be a good addition to the company. The funding for my Post Doc had run out, so an interview set up and that is how I became part of the team.

What does your role involve?

My role is Clinical Partnership Leader for our general population studies. There are two aspects to it – GMI wants to get a reference data set for the healthy population of Ireland, so that we have a reference data set for our disease study.

But the other aspect of the study is that GMI are also interested in “wellness” in Ireland. It investigates which are the protective factors in our genetic makeup that help us stay healthy. It’s very important to recruit enough control participants so that we have the information to achieve both of our goals.

Why did you want move from academic research to GMI?

Really, it was due to a lack of longevity and security in academia. There is no job security from a personal point-of-view, or from the project point-of-view. And you don’t know what you can do with a study or how long it will last or what you can do with your funding. You end up putting your heart and soul into it. And it is expensive work and you might have all these ideas about really exciting study but not enough funding to get the work done.

How would you compare GMI to big pharmas?

For me, the difference is that I haven’t stepped away from research. GMI are going where the research leads and that is the main benefit for me; that it is still a scientific research company. Whereas pharmas are generally pursuing areas they are already invested in.

What is a typical working day / week ?

I arrive into the office at approximately 7.15 am, to beat the M50 traffic. I get my breakfast and a cup of tea and sit down to plan my day. This involves prioritising my tasks. My job concerns logistics and project management. It is liaising with Principal Investigators, collaborators and the other departments within GMI in order to drive the study from concept all the way through to recruitment and reaching our end point.

I am working on four different studies at the moment and they vary from engagement of new site to sites that are already active, so logistics differ. I am working with one site that is trying to optimise recruitment to actually finalising a contract for another study and then logistics for a biobank for another study area. Overall, the work varies hugely from day-to-day and I need to juggle what is the immediate priority.

Everything from scratch? What’s the biggest difference from academia?

In academia, working on your own, you set the pace yourself; it is very linear. Here in GMI, I have to work with multiple departments and people to drive the project forward. That is very exciting.

Who do you work with day-to-day?

I draw in everyone from IT to research to operations. The amount of knowledge I have gained by doing this is massive.

What’s your favourite part of the job?

The amount I have learned from multi-disciplinary experts under one roof, in an open plan office, across multiple disciplines.

Can you describe the culture of the company and what advice would you give to prospective employees?

There’s a collaborative atmosphere, informal. It doesn’t feel like there is a hierarchy. Everybody is listened to. It should attract the type of candidate who likes collaboration and new learning. My advice to anyone thinking of working in GMI would be to reach out and talk to someone who already works here, if they can. The website gives a certain amount of information but talking to someone already working here would be invaluable.

Thanks to Jackie for sharing her experience with me…