Leadership in science is a very broad church, and all about taking ownership, Fiona Watt tells Julie Gould.

How do you learn leadership skills as a researcher, and how well is science served by its current crop of leaders?

These are just two of the questions asked of scientific leaders from a range of sectors and backgrounds in this five-part Working Scientist podcast series, all about leadership.

In this penultimate episode, stem cell biologist Fiona Watt tells Julie Gould that one of her leadership mantras is: “There is nothing wrong with being wrong,” and that science is in good shape if it can acknowledge this.

Watt is director of EMBO, the European molecular biology organization, based in Heidelberg, Germany.

Her leadership positions before joining the organisation in 2022 include leading the Centre for Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine at King's College London.

In this role she was able to indulge an interest in improving scientists’ working environments as part of a redesign project of its labs, offices and core facilities. In 2018 Watt was appointed the first executive chair of the Medical Research Council, the UK funder.

She compares her own hands-on and largely self-taught leadership skills (helped by a strong network of female colleagues earlier in her career) with opportunities for young aspiring lab leaders today.

These include EMBO’s lab management course, which provides researchers on the cusp of independence with a trusting environment to learn about the common challenges group leaders are likely to face.

Watt also tells Julie Gould about the role of science leaders in articulating the need for government funding for science, but says that spending decisions should sit with them, and not with politicians.