EATRIS Meets Iris Egner

Tell us a bit about yourself

I was born in Germany and have a diploma (Master equivalent) in Biology and a Phd in Pharmacology. I left Germany for my PhD (Manchester, UK) and since then worked in England, Wales, Switzerland, Canada and now Luxembourg. I like working on projects that aim to improve people’s lives and provide the opportunity to work with people from all over the world in the research and health care sector. I had the chance to work on the 100,000 Genomes project when it was rolled out into Wales and in Luxembourg my role as National Coordinator allows me to represent Luxembourg while meeting all the other EATRIS country representatives, which is pretty cool. 

What is your role within EATRIS and what does a typical week look like for you?

I am the National Coordinator (NC) for Luxembourg, but this is only 50% of my job, the other 50% spend on the translational doctoral training unit i2TRON. I do a lot of networking, learning and understanding the research infrastructure in Luxembourg to better serve them in my role as NC. A lot of my work is about connecting the right people or making them aware of opportunities provided by EATRIS. Publicity and event organisation are as much part of my role as project management and trying to stay on top of my emails. I started my job during the pandemic and worked in a hybrid format, combining the advantages of office work with those of working from home.   

What has been the highlight of your EATRIS experience so far?

My highlight is quite simply the weekly NC meeting. Travel and other big meetings were and are restricted, but the meetings have been a positive constant in my work life. While they might not always have been super-efficient, they were always inspiring and full of moments of compassion and kindness. Many people experienced an overwhelming amount of online meetings during the pandemic, but this one meeting often combined the best of both worlds, connecting people across borders to share their knowledge, needs, opportunities and joys.

What is translational research for you?

I first came into contact with personalised medicine during my work on the 100,000 Genome project and translation research encompasses personalised medicine for me. It is any activity trying to connect people and providing opportunities to work better and faster. We have all the necessary resources to tackle current major problems and all we have to do is connect the essential stakeholder to make this happen. COVID is a good example, although I would prefer not to have another event impacting the whole world to highlight that in all big and small things we are always connected and can and should work together. 

Why did you decide to work in the translational medicine field?

It is a field that allows me to contribute to the best of my ability towards what people need. I am passionate about connecting people and making healthcare sustainable and accessible. I can bring all my motivation and ambitions to work and help improve in small and big ways people experiences and work. After all, translational research means nothing more than to move, connect and learn to create something that is needed or can help. 

What advice would you give your younger self?

Do it! No matter what it is or how scared you are, try and do it and it is ok if it does not work out. Funnily if you try something new, you never really fail but always learn something. You have one life, so live it, whether the experience turns out messy or complicated or not at all what you would have planned or hoped for. You will find the most wonderful experiences in the most unlikely places. Also, make sure to pick up friends on the way. They help with the messy, complicated and unexpected. A lot!

What do you like to do when you aren’t working?

As I work with computers most of the time, I prefer to spend as much of the rest of my life outdoors: horse riding, swimming, walking, running, cycling, sitting in the park or garden and reading a book. Having hour-long meals with friends and family. Lots of food and more wine – hence all the sports activities. Travelling and visiting the non-tourist places. Appreciating all the magic that our world gives us from smelling the rain and seeing the mist rise above the forestry to being able to hop on a plane and visit faraway wonderful countries. 

If you were a drug, vaccine or diagnostic, what would you be and why?

I would like to be some stubborn yet magical weed that grows well with enough care and light, such as marijuana. I have various effects depending on the doses – in the right quantity I make people happy and perform well while potentially driving you crazy if received in strong doses. 

What would surprise people to know about you?

I learned horse cart driving while in the UK doing my PhD. I drove a team of 2 horses (Pud and Ernie) in a cart around greater Manchester every Thursday and Sunday morning. I think I even acknowledged them in my thesis.  

My hidden talent probably is making friends. I love nothing more than getting to know somebody. People make life exciting, as they might just change the way you see the world and people in it, including yourself.