Like other recent recruits, Laith Abu-Nawwas, Data Manager at SIB, joined the institute during the heat of the COVID pandemic, when home office working was the rule. An unsettling situation in which to discover a new environment and meet colleagues. Or was it? He shared some of his experiences over the early days, and also told us about what drives him in work – and life.

You joined SIB in October 2021, with all your colleagues working from home. How did the integration process go?

It should have been a very strange and challenging period, especially for someone like me, who loves to interact and to meet other people. However, my onboarding process, both from my direct colleagues and by the People and Culture team, was exceptional. It made me feel most welcome at SIB, and was free of the administrative hurdles that are usual in such situations. The virtual welcoming day for instance allowed me to familiarize myself with SIB’s culture and mission. It also helped me discovering the various projects on which the SIB teams are working.

What aspects of SIB struck you when you arrived?

The purpose-driven scientific mission of the institute, its open science environment, and its people-centred culture! There is an extraordinary degree of care and attention to employees’ wellbeing and needs. Things as simple as having access to all documentation in English or being able to seamlessly sign and upload official papers digitally make a big difference when you are starting in a new environment and not a native French or German speaker: they are quick wins that make you feel that you are starting on front foot!

What do you particularly love about your job?

There are many definitions of data management, so I often have to explain what I do. If I had to summarize my work, I like to consider myself as a data enabler! At SIB, half of my time I work on BioMedIT in the context of the Swiss Personalized Health Network (SPHN) projects, where I maintain data quality pipelines to ensure data from hospitals follow a common semantic definition. This makes it possible to ensure, for instance, that ‘blood sample’ means the same thing across different institutions. The other half of the time I support a research project, in the group of Bart Deplancke, to make heterogeneous data from various international clinical cohorts interoperable, to mine them and address bigger questions. Harmonization and standardization are at the core of what I do. Being a data enthusiast, I am clearly at the right place!

Tell us a bit about yourself

Prior to joining SIB, I worked for over eight years as a data manager for various organizations such as the Human Brain Project, CHUV, UNICEF and UNHCR, focusing on humanitarian emergency response and biomedical research.
I am also studying for a master's degree in data governance and policy development at MIT (US), and in my spare time, I am working on a side project to create an NGO to raise public awareness about data protection issues related to emerging technologies in my country of origin, Jordan.

What brought you to SIB in particular?

Being passionate about data governance and policy, SIB’s organizational model, as an independent national institute for bioinformatics, helped to draw me in. I believe it makes the institute able to position itself at an ‘equal distance’ from other parties, and to focus on the science questions at stake. I am not familiar with many other such organizations for data science and would love to explore opportunities to create something like this in Jordan one day.