Oxford Brookes students play key role in Covid-testing
Oxford Brookes students play key role in Covid-testing.
Three students from Oxford Brookes are playing their part in essential Covid-testing at one of the UK’s main testing hubs.

Emily Lacey, Ed Howlett and Ellie Burns are all undergraduate students working at the UK Biocentre (UKBC) in Milton Keynes. Starting at UKBC last August, they were switched to Covid-testing in March.

It’s been an opportunity that they have seized with relish. As Ed pointed out: “This is probably one of the best internships in the country right now.” Their role involves processing samples of saliva including those from home-testing kits and drive-through centres across the UK. At this stage, samples are prepared for analysis so that a result can be formed.

As with all parts of Covid-testing, the work needs to be carried out at a fast pace, relying on strong teamwork. It’s one of the skills that Emily feels she’s built during her placement. “This is such a brilliant working environment. There’s so much enthusiasm, both inside the labs and behind the scenes, because each member of the team cares so deeply about the success of the testing efforts and making a real difference to help during the pandemic.”

For Ellie, the opportunity to work in different teams and across different stages of the testing has been a valuable part of the whole experience: “I’ve loved every part of the work I’ve been involved in, and being in the lab processing samples with the rest of the team has been so enjoyable.”

The speedy turnaround of results is essential so people know as soon as possible whether they need to self-isolate. Alongside that, test results are feeding into the tracking software the government is implementing, and this makes the whole system more powerful and accurate.

Before the pandemic, the students were working with patients’ blood samples to help further research. It was a role which involved similar processes to those they are now using for Covid-testing.

But the switch has taken their learning to another level. “The original placement really helped boost my confidence and communication skills”, explains Ed. “But as part of Covid-testing, I’ve had the opportunity to take on more responsibility. I’m now training PhD volunteers how to process the samples. This has really helped to build my leadership and teamworking skills. It also meant that when the Prime Minister toured UKBC recently, I had the opportunity to explain to him the process I’m involved in - which is something I would never have expected when I first started on this placement.”

Being at UKBC, with its national reputation for excellence was a big driver when the students chose where to apply for their placements. “UKBC are national ambassadors in the efficient and extensive processing of UK biosamples” points out Emily. “When I heard about other Oxford Brookes students' positive experiences at the centre, I was immediately interested in working here.”

And how does it feel, being involved in this work, at such an extraordinary time? “It’s great to know that I’m playing my part in helping society to get life back to normal,” says Ellie. “I’m so proud to be a key worker.”

“I can’t really put into words how proud it makes me feel. It’s staggering when I walk into the lab and know I’m right at the heart of this work,” agrees Ed. “The way I’m feeling right now - I can’t wait to have grandchildren so I can tell them how I was involved in doing Covid-testing - helping to bring the country back to normality.”

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