The absolute best way to learn!

By: Matilda Drakvingen, Project Manager, HR

Purpose: Job shadowing the Head of Research Service Facility at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Cambridge, United Kingdom.

Duration: 10-14 October 2016

Time to leave town

The day has finally come! After a quite long time of preparations – contacting the host organization, agreeing on learning outcomes, setting agendas and activities to be carried out and applying for Erasmus grants – it is my time to check of one of my biggest goals this year: an international job exchange. The bags are packed and I´m heading for Arlanda airport with a huge smile on my face. Of course, I had carefully checked the route and train table beforehand, knowing exactly which train that would take me from London to Cambridge. Judge by my surprise when the flight deck announced that all passengers are welcome onboard flight D82851 heading for London Gatwick. Gatwick? I thought I was going to London Stanstead! Arriving at Gatwick meant that I had to cross the whole London area, meaning a much longer trip by train including multiple changes, instead of a 30 minute direct ride to Cambridge. However, casting all my old plans aside made the trip a lot more interesting.


Genome campus in Hinxton, Cambridge. Genuine environment with top modern facilities.



@ the Genome campus

The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute (WTSI) specializes in the study of genome variation and offers 5 specific programs. However, my focus was on the Service Operations area and on the Research Support Facility (RSF) in particular. Special attention was to be given to, for example, managerial- and team structures, approach towards continuous improvement & development, approach towards the set-up and delivery of animal research services (such as service offerings, distribution channels, customer relationships and the facility itself), communication, IT-systems and administrative routines. I knew that my ambitions and expected learning outcomes before the trip were very high but after a week of job shadowing the Head of the RSF, I realized that I got so much more out of it than I could ever imagine.


Long but very interesting days

During the 5 days that the exchange lasted, I had the chance to talk to many interesting people and follow them in their daily work. The employees were very open and talked with enthusiasm about their work. On the first day, I sat down with the Head of RSF and went through the organizational set up, their relationships and interaction with internal and external stakeholders as well as collaborators. Especially the discussions around the structuring of the organization based on data and softer issues such as code of conduct (including organizational values) interested me as my background is within organization and leadership. Fortunately, they were more than willing to share their documentations with me to take back home and study further.

During the following days, I had the chance to visit the animal facility multiple times, was guided through the various work tasks of the animal technicians and was taught the setup of the facility. I was also able to discuss with the Named Training & Competency Officer and one in her staff about their struggles with setting up a database to store competency records and personal licenses, an area that they put a lot of effort to develop. I was also shown their vast supply of course offerings and development plans for the personnel which impressed me a lot. In particular, the standardized introduction- and training packages to both users and new animal technicians as well as the regular reassessment of skills is something to learn from.

I also had the chance to follow the Named Animal Care & Welfare Officers around to get an insight into their work tasks and interaction with the others in the facility in order to ensure safe and efficient handling of the animals. One great efficiency improvement in their organization came with the introduction of a Mouse Database, which has been developed, in-house, during approx. 9 years. Today, the system is central to the personnel’s everyday work tasks and is highly valuable as it instantly supplies the organization with important and relevant data. The hope is that they will be able to expand the system to other Universities and Institutions through a community approach.

Another very interesting area of discussion is the operation of the facility and the daily work tasks of the Facility manager and her team. Here, I found many similarities between our organizations and could draw upon experiences shared. Further, I had the chance to meet the Head of Mouse Production and talk about their operations.


The beautiful Hinxton hall. Now hosting conferences in a nice and traditional environment.


More people eager to learn

On top of my own learning, I participated in a full day dedicated to introduce new Home Office inspectors to the WTSI. During the day, I was able to get a complete view of the organization, its size and key indicators, the efforts to standardize, the mapping of work processes and the focus on continuous monitoring of data. We also went in-depth into various areas of procedures and services offered by the Institution and the efficiency of the new methods introduced. I must admit they lost me quite early when explaining the methods more in detail. The day ended with another fruitful guided tour in the facility which gave me the chance to first handedly follow the work carried out.


The time flew so fast

Having had ambitious goals for this exchange, I was given the full opportunity to get first class insight into a similar organization as my own. As I found some differences between us, I also discovered many similarities. Actually, I have learned more about KI by visiting WTSI and are coming back with new ideas of improvement. I thank everyone at the RSF for having such a positive attitude and for spending their time and energy to teach me about their work. I has been one of the greatest experiences and learnings for me and I encourage everyone to look into the opportunities provided by the Erasmus job shadowing program offered by the International Office at KI.


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