There is a belief in academia that it is difficult, even impossible, to return to research after taking on administrative responsibility. That has not been my experience.
After six years as rector of the University of Rome Tor Vergata — intense years, filled with passion and sacrifice — I returned to my laboratory of medical genetics in late 2019. I went from coordinating an institution of 30,000 students and 2,400 faculty members and staff, with an annual budget of 300 million (US$356 million), and signing contracts with institutions all over the world, to designing experiments, writing grants and publishing numerous papers during the tough first year of the pandemic.
The relationships and alliances made during my years as rector opened my mind. Back at the bench, I found myself more efficient and motivated, more keen to collaborate with scientists from different disciplines and more deft in negotiation with funders. My lab joined the COVID Human Genetic Effort consortium (www.covidhge.com) to work on the bases of SARS-CoV-2 infection. Having overseen so many different research groups made it easier to integrate into a consortium of hundreds.
The administrative experience was a great help, not a hindrance. It taught me to look at the science more broadly. Complex challenges, such as those we face today, require lab heads and bureaucrats to work together to build a more sustainable future that leaves no one behind.
Nature 595, 494 (2021)
The author declares no competing interests.