Romana Gorjanc on Genomics@Edinburgh and more

Romana Gorjanc, Project Officer for the Fleming Fund Fellowship Scheme, discusses her career so far and her work establishing the Genomics@Edinburgh community.

Romana Gorjanc hill-walking

Romana is currently the Project Officer for the Fleming Fund Fellowship Scheme at Edinburgh Infectious Diseases, coordinating operations and fostering effective communication among fellows, mentors, and other stakeholders involved in this initiative. The Fleming Fund is a UK aid programme dedicated to combating antimicrobial resistance in up to 25 countries across Africa and Asia. Managed by the Department of Health and Social Care, the Fund strategically allocates resources to enhance surveillance systems through a diverse array of grants. The University of Edinburgh plays a crucial role as a Host Institution for the Fleming Fund Fellowship grant in Malawi, Uganda, Zambia, and Kenya.

Could you briefly summarise your work and career so far?

Until April 2023 I ran the Genomics at Edinburgh community alongside Mick Watson and am currently the Project Officer for the Fleming Fund Fellowship Scheme. I come from a background as a trained nurse and have accumulated several years of experience working in hospitals. However, upon moving to Scotland nine years ago, I encountered challenges in securing employment due to my lack of experience within the UK job market (even though I had just arrived in the country). Initially, I took on the role of a carer, and subsequently, I transitioned into the position of a project coordinator at the British Red Cross.

In 2019, I joined the University of Edinburgh as a lab manager in Professor John Hickey's lab at the Roslin Institute. I remained in this position until his AlphaGenes group was dissolved following his move to the industry.

Why is your role important? How does it support research at the University?

Under the leadership of Mick Watson, Genomics@Edinburgh was established as a network and hub for genomics research at the University of Edinburgh. The vision was to connect and integrate researchers, promote outstanding genomics research, foster innovation, enhance collaboration, and create new opportunities through external partnerships.

To bring this vision to life, we built a robust infrastructure comprising a website, a Media Hopper channel, a mailing list, and a Twitter account. These platforms have facilitated effective communication and engagement within the Genomics@Edinburgh community. We are proud to have organized three successful events, with recorded talks accessible on our Media Hopper channel, allowing members to revisit and share valuable insights.

Furthermore, we launched a bi-weekly newsletter, serving as a vital communication tool for the Genomics@Edinburgh community. This newsletter keeps members informed about the latest developments, publications, upcoming events, and exciting job opportunities. It has become a valuable resource, ensuring that our community stays up-to-date and connected.

I am proud to have initiated the #GettingGenomeMe section, with credit to Natalie Ring for coining the name. This platform has been instrumental in highlighting the work and stories of our genome researchers at the University of Edinburgh. It has particularly focused on early career researchers who often go unnoticed. Through interviews with young researchers, we provided recognition and shared their inspiring journeys. One researcher even shared how their parents found and cherished the article as a proud keepsake.

I firmly believe that this initiative has established a robust platform for collaboration, knowledge exchange, and support within the wider genomics community. While I have transitioned to a new role at the University of Edinburgh, I am confident that Prof Tim Aitman and Daniel Toddie-Moore will carry on and expand the work we initiated.

I remain an active member of the Genomics community and recently served as an Organising Committee member for the Edinburgh Next Generation of Genomics Symposium (ENGoGS), which was held on November 14th 2023.


Romana Gorjanc sitting on a wall by the sea

What are the major challenges in your field?

When I began my role at Genomics@Edinburgh, I wasn't well-acquainted with the EdWeb platform. As someone who isn't highly technical, creating a website from scratch posed a challenge. However, I can confidently say that through perseverance, I successfully crafted a visually appealing website.

What inspired you to follow your career path?

From a young age, I developed a strong sense of empathy and compassion through caring for wounded or lost animals alongside my brother (and yes, our house was always full of animals!). This inclination towards helping and connecting with others stayed with me as I embarked on a career as a nurse. Over more than two decades in my professional journey, I've embraced various positions and environments due to relocations within my home country and later to Scotland. Reflecting on this journey, I can confidently affirm that each role significantly contributed to my knowledge and skills, particularly in expanding my soft skills. It feels as though the right job positions found me, as I genuinely relished every role and forged enduring memories and strong relationships with my former colleagues.

What do you like best about your job? What do you like the least?

I find satisfaction in organizing events, engaging with various stakeholders, and crafting newsletters. On the flip side, dealing with finances and seeking event sponsors isn't my preferred task. Nevertheless, I view these challenges as exciting opportunities for personal and professional growth.

If you could have tea with anyone (alive or dead), who would it be? What would you talk about?

I would cherish the opportunity to share a cup of tea with my dear adopted granny. Although she was my neighbour, she became a beloved grandmother figure to me and my daughters throughout her entire life. Even as she reached the remarkable age of 95, she maintained an unwavering optimism and a positive perspective on life.

During her final year, she resided in a care home following an accident. However, her adventurous spirit remained intact. I remember the time when she daringly escaped from the facility on her wheelchair, with the staff chasing after her. She later recounted the incident to me, finding humour in the situation. Her ability to find joy in even the most unexpected circumstances truly inspired me.

I would love to have the chance to ask her how she managed to maintain such a positive outlook in the face of life's challenges. Her resilience and optimism continue to serve as a role model for me. Sharing a cup of tea with her would be a treasured moment to create lasting memories and gain valuable insights from a remarkable woman.


Romana Gorjanc by snow-covered mountains

What is the most unusual thing you have done during your career?

The University's A Day to Make a Difference initiative grants every staff member an extra day of paid leave to contribute to a charity, organization, or other worthy cause. Inspired by this opportunity, I organized a litter picking event for my colleagues, which proved to be a great success as we collected an impressive 36 large bags of rubbish, making a significant impact on our surroundings.

In a heart-warming twist, we also orchestrated a surprise wedding for a couple from the group. After completing our litter picking activity, we transformed the communal area into a charming wedding venue. With the presence of a priest, a beautiful wedding cake, rings, a delicate veil, a lovely bucket of flowers, and enchanting wedding music, we created an atmosphere that resembled a real wedding ceremony. The surprise unfolded on the grass, and the sight drew the attention of onlookers who peered through their windows, cheering, and clapping, believing it to be an actual wedding taking place:)

If you weren’t in your current job, what would you be doing?

If money were not a constraint, my dream job would be working in a wild animal sanctuary. This would allow me to actively contribute to the conservation and protection of diverse wildlife species, playing a crucial role in safeguarding endangered animals and preserving their natural habitats.

Alternatively, my second option would involve engaging in humanitarian work, specifically focusing on building hospitals, schools, and creating educational opportunities for children in low-income countries. Through this work, I would be able to directly contribute to improving access to healthcare and education, empowering young individuals, and providing them with the tools they need to thrive.

Do you have any advice for people who want to work in research?

While I'm not a researcher myself, my experience working with researchers has taught me the importance of a supportive network. Surrounding yourself with mentors, peers, and friends who believe in your career path is crucial. Don't give up at the first obstacle—see challenges as opportunities for growth. Remember, comparing your journey to others' is unnecessary; we all have our own pace in life. By fostering a strong support system and maintaining a positive mindset, researchers can navigate their paths with resilience and confidence.

What do you think are the major challenges facing humanity? How can science help?

Humanity is currently confronted with a multitude of significant challenges that span across various domains. One of the foremost concerns is climate change, with its far-reaching impacts on the environment, ecosystems, and vulnerable populations.

Additionally, global health crises like the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic underscore the need for robust scientific research and collaboration to develop vaccines, treatments, and effective strategies for disease prevention and control.

Social inequality remains a persistent challenge, with disparities in access to education, healthcare, and opportunities.

In addressing these challenges, science emerges as a pivotal force, unveiling the root causes of these concerns and influencing evidence-based policies to rectify them.