Destination story - Claudia
Claudia joined the UTC in an unusual way. She wanted to improve her A Level grades so took a year with us to focus on her Chemistry while working as a Lab Technician in our innovation labs. Claudia is now working at the cutting edge of science with the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. She looks back fondly on her time at the UTC, and tells us why joining the school helped to prepare her for her work in the fight against Covid-19…
‘I’ve always had a passion for life science,’ says Claudia when you ask her about her UTC experience. ‘I know my time at the UTC has helped to prepare me to work at the cutting edge of science. The UTC surrounded me with people like Professor Hornby and Dr Dyer. They supported me to be a resilient and innovative scientist.”
‘I have learnt and expanded my experience drastically in the last 5 months and feel very fortunate to be given this opportunity. I was luckily in the right environment to be offered this job role; however, it was my experience working in different labs, including working as a lab technician at the UTC innovation labs that prepared me for this work. From these experiences, my skills are desirable enough to have secured me three job offers.’
Like many people I have had an unpredictable 2020. Having started my Masters at The Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM) in 2019 I was learning about research project planning and how to manage a global health emergency. Halfway through this course then arrived an example of just that: a pandemic. As students, we saw at first hand the steps taken by public health officials, scientists and the medical community in handling a new, unknown virus. This changed my education I can say, unlike so many students, for the better. The learning was online, and the lectures had their challenges. However, I was involved with the massive effort in my university to research COVID. I based my dissertation on comparing the efficacy of COVID therapeutics, an ever-changing topic.
Two short weeks after handing in my final assignment, I was employed in a COVID diagnostic research lab at LSTM. My new group works with many areas of testing for COVID, whether comparing lateral flow tests or understanding the environments where the virus spreads most efficiently. The project that I was placed on and for which I managed the lab work was charged with identifying the presence of COVID antigens and antibodies in asymptomatic people. This involved processing daily swabs from hundreds of participants by extracting potential RNA and then performing qPCR to identify any samples that contained COVID. These lab procedures demanded intensive and long hours, with multiple samples in one hood. The danger of contamination was also high, so exceptionally vigilant lab techniques were required to avoid this. From these same participants at the end of the study a blood and stool sample were also taken. The blood sample was analysed for antibodies using an ELISA where varying levels could be detected in serum. This enabled us to identify participants who had caught COVID and developed some level of immunity during their time on the study. There has been evidence to suggest that stools can hold COVID antigens at levels that can be detected for much longer. These samples were again extracted for RNA and then run on qPCR. This project has been fascinating to work on, not only to see the protocols and the technical lab work, but also to understand the adjustments and the deadlines that have to be maintained, especially when working with participating volunteers.
Alongside this, I have been assisting in other projects which involve similar lab techniques, but which bring new protocols for me to learn. The rapid nature of virology research currently and working for a well-known diagnostic investigator, mean that every day as a lab technician you are asked to do multiple, often very repetitive tasks. Projects need the masses of data behind them to be able to produce any sort of scientific value. I have been aware of the need for such rigour from working and learning in this environment for a few years now. However, until now I have not truly understood its importance to researchers.
I have learnt and expanded my experience drastically in the last 5 months and feel very fortunate to be given this opportunity. I was luckily in the right environment to be offered this job role; however, it was from my experience working in different labs, including working as a lab technician at the UTC innovation labs, that have prepared me for this work. From these experiences, my skills are desirable enough to have secured me three job offers, one of which I have now accepted, working again in LSTM in antimicrobial resistance as a Research Assistant.
My understanding of working in science research, from my fresh yet admittedly limited experience is based on a few points. That it is fast paced, the route you are on can change quickly particularly at the beginning of a career. New scientists should layer and develop skills with placements, short-term contracts and education. Wherever you are, keep adding to your portfolio; there are no wrong moves, just transferable skills. And finally, to sleep with one eye open, you never know when the next novel scientific area might arrive in your field, for you to become a part of.