We Are Randox | How Courtney became a COVID-19 Scientist and Trainer

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Courtney Ward

08 October 2020

We Are Randox | How Courtney became a COVID-19 Scientist and Trainer

In support of our new £30m COVID-19 laboratories, we are recruiting across Engineering, Manufacturing and Science.

For an idea of what it’s like to be part of the COVID-19 testing programme at Randox, we spoke to Senior Scientist and Trainer Dr Courtney Ward.

Courtney spoke to us about what a typical day in our laboratories looks like, the career path she took to her current role, and how it feels to be making a difference in the global fight against COVID-19.

Name: Dr Courtney Ward

Job Title: Senior COVID-19 Scientist and Trainer

Department: COVID-19 Laboratories

Give a brief outline of your career to date.

During my undergrad studies, I spent a year working on developing drug delivery technologies for a pharmaceutical company in England. Then during my PhD I worked in the Research Funding team at Cancer Research UK, and subsequently, following the completion of my PhD, at the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology at Queen’s University Belfast.

My next move led me to Randox, to work on new ways to diagnose a range of diseases.

What was your favourite subject at school?

At school I always enjoyed science, and in particular biology. Since a child I have been fascinated with how the human body works and how different diseases can affect this.

Did you go on to further/higher education, if so what did you study and where?

I studied for eight years at Imperial College London. This included an undergraduate in Biochemistry, a Masters degree in Structural and Molecular Biology, and finally, a PhD in Structural Biology/Biophysics, for which I studied how bacteria affect human cells during infection.

How did you get into your area of work?

As I had previous experience in infectious disease testing, I moved this year into the Randox COVID-19 team to help respond to the urgency of the situation. As our testing capacity, and subsequently our staffing levels, have increased so extensively, I also use my experience to train our new scientists, which is something I really enjoy.

Is this what you always wanted to do?

I have always loved science and knew my career would be within this sector. I also enjoy teaching and training, so being a COVID-19 trainer has combined my two favourite roles into one which has been great.

Were there any particular essential qualifications or experience needed?

Scientists involved in COVID testing will be exposed to molecular testing techniques including DNA extraction, PCR techniques and Biochip technology, so experience in these areas is advantageous. There are also a number of positions – like accessioning or administration – that do not require a science background and we include all the training needed for these roles.

What are the main personal skills your job requires?

For roles in testing, the most important skills are concentration and attention to detail. We deal with 1000s of samples in a shift so it is crucial to manage each one carefully as the results are so important to each individual patient. You also need to be a team player, focused and able to take initiative.

What does a typical day entail?

A typical day in our COVID-19 laboratory begins with a handover from the previous shift and then we are assigned our roles for the day. You may spend your day preparing reagents using liquid handling robots, or you may be involved in organising samples along with their corresponding paperwork. It is a varied and exciting role, as things move very quickly in the world of COVID-19 testing.

What are the best and most challenging aspects of the job?

The best thing about working in the Randox COVID labs is knowing you are contributing to the national testing effort and therefore making a real difference. Working with a team is great and gives you the chance to meet a lot of new people for a lot of different backgrounds. I also really enjoy seeing new scientists improve in confidence during their training. Seeing them working well on shift gives me great sense job satisfaction.

The most challenging aspect of COVID testing can be the time pressure, as getting results out to the patient as fast and accurately as possible means teams must work seamlessly together. Similarly with training, we need to ensure we have enough staff to support our testing labs and so this can lead to a lot of new staff needing training which we need to work through quickly and efficiently.

Why is what you do important?

COVID-19 has had a huge impact on every aspect of our lives. To be involved in testing, which is absolutely crucial in identifying clusters of infection and reducing further spread, is so important to me and spurs me on to work to the absolute best of my ability.

What advice would you give anyone looking to follow a similar career path?

For me, making sure you take any opportunity to further your development is critical, be it the prospect of learning a new technique or method, or the chance to join the fight against COVID-19! I have always jumped at the chance to learn something new and this has set me in good stead for my current role as a trainer.

If you weren’t doing this what would you like to do?

If I weren’t involved in laboratory work, I would still carry on my love of science and training, by teaching science. I have always loved teaching, and I tutor in my spare time – to inspire the next generation to study and work in STEM subjects.

What is the one piece of advice you would give to yourself on your first day?

Take in as much information as possible – there will be a lot of it! Ask as many questions as you can, particularly if you are unsure of anything.

Describe your ideal day off.

Catching up on Real Housewives and taking my dog to the beach for a swim.

And finally, what’s the key to any successful job search?

Make sure you read the job description and tailor your CV to each role to which you apply. Make it easy for the employer to see how your skills and experience meet the criteria for the job.

We are delighted to have Courtney with us at Randox as part of our COVID-19 testing programme.

 

For current vacancies at Randox please visit randox.getgotjobs.co.uk

For more We Are Randox stories about our amazing colleagues, make sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and follow the hashtag #WeAreRandox.

For further information please email recruitment@randox.com or phone 028 9442 2413.

 

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