Mergim Krasniqi: from graduation to the national testing effort.
I started volunteering at UK Biocentre in May 2020, where I’ve been supporting scientists in the lab. I studied biochemistry and have just completed my MSc in cancer biology (Cancer Research) from Kingston University London, having graduated on 13th March. Since then I have been working part time at a pharmacy as a trainee pharmacist advisor, and completing applications for PhD. and I continue to do a couple of days a week alongside my volunteer work at UK Biocentre.
Similar techniques, scaled up
At Kingston University I ran an independent project for my dissertation on cancer research. I also did a six-month internship in a laboratory hospital in Kosovo, focused on blood testing and analysis. The combination of these experiences means I’m able to work with different lab techniques and under lab hoods, and taking care when handling samples of viruses. The techniques we use at the UK Biocentre Lighthouse Lab for COVID-19 swab tests are very similar to those used in my previous work, but on a much bigger scale.
At the lab I have worked in a few different sections to familiarise myself with the various processes and equipment. I’ve been working on triage when samples arrive at the facility. This involves unboxing the samples and checking that the swabs can be tested, including barcodes to match the sample with a patient and to see that the lids are properly attached – and manual and automated pipetting to deactivate the virus. I’m now being trained in PCR, a technique to amplify the genetic material in a swab sample so it’s big enough to analyse.
A new motivation
Compared to the other work I’ve done, volunteering at UK Biocentre as part of the effort to tackle COVID-19 has a different motivation for me, given the difficult circumstances and the fact we are dealing with a pandemic. I feel I have more responsibility here and more motivation, because lots of people need us and are waiting for results. And there’s a moral duty – I am able to apply my skills and knowledge so am determined to make my own contribution.
From the very start of this pandemic I was looking to volunteer, whether at hospitals or in labs. When I found the UK Biocentre opportunity I knew I wanted to join – the scale is beyond anything I’ve ever seen.
All levels of experience
One of the best things about UK Biocentre is working with people who have different levels of experience. We all have scientific backgrounds – but the range is amazing. There are people at every level, from undergraduates to senior lecturers. Working alongside experienced and eminent professionals is a privilege, especially as there’s no real hierarchy in the labs. It means everyone feels comfortable to ask questions.
Every day at the Lighthouse Lab you learn new things and you have to deal with different kinds of situations. At the end of the shift you feel really tired, but it’s rewarding: you did something for science, your community and for people in need.
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