Keep your research group and their science healthy

Have a look at this excellent editorial in Nature: Integrity starts with the health of research groups – Funders should force universities to support laboratories’ research health.

I really like the term ‘research health’, which encompasses both technical aspects of doing research right as well as the well-being of researchers.

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Career, Science

Come and work with me: Postdoc in Evolutionary biology of cancer

Tired of viruses and fruit flies? Want to work on something really important for a change? Come and help us to figure out cancer evolution!

We are looking for outstanding candidates to work on inferring patterns of tumor evolution from genomics data. We work with a close group of clinical collaborators, both locally and internationally, who will provide multi-sample bulk sequencing and single-cell data sets. We plan to adapt methods from population genetics and phylogenetics to the cancer setting. Key questions will be to compare mutation rates and selection hotspots between the genomes of cancer clones.

This position is ideal for somebody trained in evolutionary biology in model systems to make the transition to biomedical applications in cancer.

The successful applicant will have a PhD in a quantitative field like mathematics, statistics, physics, engineering, bioinformatics, or computer science. A background in evolutionary biology, molecular evolution or population genetics is highly desired. The applicant should have a good biological background and excellent computing skills. The atmosphere at CI is very collaborative and interactive; good communication skills are key.

To apply, please visit


  1. Beerenwinkel et al (2014) Cancer evolution: mathematical models and computational inference, Systematic Biology.
  2. Ross and Markowetz (2016), OncoNEM: Inferring tumour evolution from single-cell sequencing data, Genome Biology, 17:69
  3. Schwarz et al (2015), Spatial and temporal heterogeneity in high-grade serous ovarian cancer: a phylogenetic reconstruction, PLoS Med, 12(2)
  4. Yuan et al (2015), BitPhylogeny: A probabilistic framework for reconstructing intra-tumor phylogenies, Genome Biology, 16:36

A visual summary of my keynote at #scidata16

I gave my talk on 5 selfish reasons to work reproducibly as a rabble-rousing conference opener at Publishing Better Science through Better Data 2016 (#scidata16) on Wednesday.

Throughout the talk cartoonist Royston Robertson was scribbling away on a huge sheet of paper to visually summarize our key statements.


Hmmm, interesting to have this record what I said.

“Long CVs is what science is all about,” true and sad at the same time.

From now on, I want a personal cartoonist for every talk I give.


Career, Science

Making peer review more transparent … and earning bragging rights!

How do you procrastinate? In my case, when deadlines loom, I suddenly feel the urge to upload all my personal information to some randomly selected web-service that promises to make me rich and famous … or at least a better human being or scientist.

The latest thing I went for is called Publons.

Publons works with the world’s top publishers so you can effortlessly track, verify and showcase your peer review contributions across the world’s journals.

And who wouldn’t want to work with the world’s top publishers?

So I signed up for it. Check out my profile here.

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Career, Science

3 open positions in Roland Schwarz’ new lab in Berlin

The Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (Berlin) and the Berlin Institute for Medical Systems Biology (BIMSB) invite applications for

  1. PhD student (10681/2016)
  2. Postdoc (10680/2016)
  3. Scientific Programmer (10682/2016)

in the research group “Evolutionary and cancer genomics” of Dr Roland Schwarz.

The Schwarz lab investigates the relationship between genetic variation and complex phenotypes from an evolutionary perspective. A focus is thereby on the aetiology and functional implications of intra-tumour heterogeneity in human cancers. We are particularly interested in understanding the effect of structural variants and copy-number changes on cancer evolution in-vivo and closely collaborate with clinical partners to achieve this goal.

Send your application to and mention the reference number 1068x/2016 where x is in {0,1,2}.


Career, Science

Open positions – cancer evolution and networks

I have three open positions in my lab:

  1. A PhD student position for “Single-cell analysis of cancer evolution”
  2. A postdoc position for “Evolutionary biology in cancer”. This position is ideal for somebody trained in evolutionary biology in model systems to make the transition to biomedical applications in cancer.
  3. And finally a postdoc position broadly advertised as “Computational cancer genomics” but actually having a strong network focus.

More info here

Any questions, just contact me directly.



“Look at me, I was a terrible supervisor”

“I was a terrible PhD supervisor. Don’t make the same mistakes I did,” writes Sian Townson in the Guardian.

Lots of points I agree with:

Research points to high levels of depression among PhD students.

I am not surprised. This is one of the reasons Cambridge has such an active counseling service and, as far as I can see, there is little stigma attached to using it.

I also share her observation about the lack of training for supervisors:

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“Five selfish reasons to work reproducibly” published


Wohoo! Genome Biology just published my piece on “Five selfish reasons to work reproducibly” (which I have talked about before).

And so, my fellow scientists: ask not what you can do for reproducibility; ask what reproducibility can do for you! Here, I present five reasons why working reproducibly pays off in the long run and is in the self-interest of every ambitious, career-oriented scientist.

Go check it out at

I am a bit sad, though, that they cut this über-geeky joke I used to illustrate how tightly the tools of reproducibility have to be linked with routine practice:



Career, Duty Calls, Science

“Superstar professors with massive research groups are bad for science.” I agree.

‘My professor demands to be listed as an author on many of my papers’ writes an anonymous scientist in the Guardian.

[T]here’s one instance where it’s acceptable for scientists to lie: when fraudulently claiming authorship of a paper.

Too often, researchers attach their names to reports when they have contributed nothing at all to the work.

The problem gets worse the higher up the academic ladder you go.

I think this is completely true.

The reasons are manifold:

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Career, Science

Forget about your animal friends – how to draft a recommendation letter

Marcia McNutt, Editor-in-Chief of Science, wrote a thoughtful Editorial about recommendation letters:

I noted an overall bias in the language used to describe the male candidates versus some of the female candidates. In some letters, women were described as “friendly,” “kind,” “pleasant,” “humble,” and frequently, “nice.”

[O]ne letter described how the candidate was so good to her elderly mother, yet still enjoyed life, spending time in nature with her husband and her animal friends.

Another letter reflected amazement that the candidate managed to balance so efficiently being a student, a scientist, and a mother.

But isn’t it good being nice, humble and having lots of animal friends?

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Europe – land of the talented, home of the brave

I have just read the second opinion piece by Alberts, Kirschner, Tilghman, Varmus in PNAS: Addressing systemic problems in the biomedical research enterprise.

They (again) describe a huge demographic shift in the US biomedical sciences due to the current hyper-competitive environment (too many people chasing too little money).

This has led to a longer and longer path to independence. Young scientists in the US are no longer young when they start their independent careers.

The potential consequences of this huge demographic shift on the productivity and preeminence of American science were judged to be serious.

[T]he United States has traditionally been viewed as the land of opportunity for young scientists, offering the most talented of them the chance to test their own ideas, raise radically new questions, and forge original paths to the answers.

Land of opportunity? No longer so, it seems.

I know why I went back to Europe.

Speaking of opportunities

At my institute in Cambridge (UK, not MA!) we are still hiring group leaders at all levels. From the famous and senior to the newly graduated.

For example, we just hired Greg Hannon from CSHL and Martin Miller from MSKCC. We also maintain a fellows program for rising stars fresh out of their PhDs or first postdocs.

What you will get is

    • Secure core funding. (No soft money bullshit!)
    • A research environment like no other on this planet!
    • Complete independence!

What are you waiting for?

Come to Europe, the land of opportunity for young scientists, offering the most talented of them the chance to test their own ideas, raise radically new questions, and forge original paths to the answers.

We have ten positions to fill and the job search has been going on for a while. That’s why you might not be able to find the original job ad, which was very general (“Everbody apply!”). But specialized adverts (eg for clinical group leaders) are coming out.

If you are from a computational background and looking for a job, send me an email with your CV and we will discuss your options.


Career, Science

The benefits of being a big name. Or: In science your name is your brand

Being a big name in science brings benefits, writes Chris Woolston in Nature, but a “study that links scientists’ reputations with their citations triggers online talk.”

And knowing ‘online talk’ it’s save to assume most of it was negative.

So let’s see what it is all about. Woolston summarizes the situation nicely:

“Scientists develop reputations that often work to their advantage.” *

I am happy to hear this: If you have a reputation for doing good work it bloody well should make your life easier.

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