We Are Randox | Elena Lazarova, Robogals Mentor
Placement student Elena Lazarova who works in Randox Molecular Biology R&D Firfields site explains more about Robogals, a student-run global organisation that aims to inspire more girls to join STEM careers.
Founded in 2008 Robogals has chapters in several continents including Europe, Australia, Africa, and North America. The organization has reached over 50,000 girls aged from 5 to 18 years old and by 2020 aims to inspire over 100,000 girls by running free-of charge engineering and technology workshops in local communities.
“I was first introduced to Robogals when I saw one of their Manchester representatives at the Fresher’s fair at the University of Manchester. The LEGO robot that they had on the stall intrigued me with its simple design and ability to recognise distance thus saying ‘Hello!’ each time someone walked pass it.
As I had studied programming in middle school, I was keen to volunteer and find out more about these robots and the organisation. It turned out that the program behind the robot was mostly visual and not the coding I was used to therefore it was ideal as an introduction to programming. You’d think that a Biotechnology student would be out of place teaching robotics, but on the contrary it is incredibly fun and a good mental exercise. Also coming from a country where more than 30% of engineers are women (Bulgaria), I was surprised at the gender gap in the UK (less than 10% of engineers were women) and am keen to address the issue.
Since being taught how to use the robots I made sure to go to every session the Manchester chapter had, be it at local museums (each year we went to the Museum of Science and Industry’s Science Fair), libraries or schools. My enthusiasm and skill-set led to me being elected President of the Manchester chapter for a year and netted me over a 100 hours of volunteering.
Knowing I would have a placement year, and keen to continue being part of Robogals, I joined the regional Robogals EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa) team as a Mentor. My current task is to assist and advice the chapters in the region on topics from volunteer involvement to sponsorship securement.
The last workshop I volunteered at was the Deer Shed Festival in Thirsk, Yorkshire during July 2016. It is a three day family-orientated festival which includes a Science Tent where Robogals Manchester has had a place for four years. It was my second time going to it and we taught over 150 girls and boys how to use our robots which include a LEGO guitar I had built the previous year.
Finishing the Lego guitar project is one of my favourite memories. Contrary to how long people think it took me to build it – it was only four hours. Since then it has become a great attraction and a good way of illustrating how one of the robot sensors works – the ultrasonic/distance sensor. I remember thinking at the festival how many people had brought their daughters to us to ask for advice about engineering pathways. There were also a good number of children who had attended our activity the previous year and wanted to partake again which was great to see as Robogals mission is to inspire, engage and empower young women into engineering and related fields.
Most of my activities so far as a Mentor have been online via email or voice chats. But last month I met various chapter executives in the EMEA region (mainly those in the UK) for our annual SINE (Seminars Inducting New Executives) conference. This year it was held in London and hosted by the London chapter at Imperial College London from 10th until 12th February. There I facilitated the activities and did presentations on skills to have and develop as part of Robogals.
These include learning how to program the robots using the LEGO Mindstorms NXT program and developing soft skills such as team work and presenting as well as teaching. During my time on the committee I was able to learn to liaise, organize workshops, event management, and leadership skills. Now as a Mentor I can share my experiences with other members of the organization whilst further developing what I have already learned in my time with Robogals (2.5 years so far).
Currently I am working on next year’s annual conference for the organisation. When I go back for my final year at the University of Manchester, I will definitely be going to workshops planned by the chapter there. Each time I’ve been to a workshop, I’ve always enjoyed how amazed the children are at the robots. Surprisingly, I’ve always thought I wouldn’t be good with children but I am enjoying being able to inspire them and to teach them more about the STEM world.
If you are interested in joining our global team make sure that you check out Randox careers website to see what new opportunities we have for you.
Molecular Biologist, Michael Mullan, was fascinated by science from a young age. For him, it was only natural to progress into a career as a scientist. Being able to use his skills of problem-solving to improve diagnostic technologies leads him to describe a career in science as fascinating, challenging and rewarding. Read what he has to say…
Can you describe a typical working day?
There’s no such thing! Each day varies so much and is usually split up between carrying out laboratory work, and analysing and interpreting data. I work in the Molecular Diagnostics department in Randox Laboratories with a team of Molecular Biologists and Engineers, and we develop DNA-based diagnostic tests that can detect pathogens, genetic mutations and even calculate a patient’s risk of developing certain illnesses.
What has been your educational / career path to this post?
From a young age I was fascinated by science, so I chose to study Triple Award Science at GCSE level and Biology, Chemistry and ICT at A level. Having enjoyed science at school I decided to study Molecular Biology at Queen’s University Belfast and then moved on to a Master’s degree in Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, because I wanted to use my aptitude for problem-solving to improve the diagnostic technologies which are so important in healthcare. I started on the Graduate Development Program here at Randox where I worked as a Technical Support Specialist before moving into my current position in the Molecular Diagnostics department.
What transferable skills have you used in your various roles that have come from your STEM training?
My time at university prepared me well for my current job as I often research papers and write reports, and have to follow good lab practice. Transferable skills such as these are the building blocks of any career, however those developed through scientific education are highly sought after by all employers, even those outside the science sector. Good communication skills are essential, and my time in Technical Support helped me to develop my ability to communicate with customers and colleagues. Organisational skills are also important to carry out experiments correctly and safely, and to record methods and results in an understandable and clear way.
How does your work as a Molecular Biologist make the world a better place?
Our Molecular Diagnostic tests provide highly specific test results for patients based on their genetic makeup and this opens the door for personalised medicine. The work my team and I do improves the accuracy and speed of patient diagnosis; faster, more informative diagnosis can save lives.
What do you really like about your job?
My favourite thing about my job is that no two days are ever the same. Working as part of a multidisciplinary team who work on a range of different projects takes me completely out of my comfort zone and challenges me to think outside the box.
Can you say anything about the future job prospects in your industry?
The Biotechnology industry is currently expanding at a phenomenal pace. So much so that students in school today who decide to go down a scientific career path will be using technologies that haven’t even been invented yet. That is such an exciting prospect.
How do you balance your career with your personal life?
My working day allows me to have plenty of free time to myself in the evenings and also at weekends. Working in a laboratory environment can be challenging and extremely fast-paced at times so I like to go to the gym and run to let off steam.
Would you recommend Molecular Biology to young people planning their career?
Yes, 100%. If you are a young person with a thirst for knowledge, particularly in science, and want to spend your days doing something you love that really makes a difference, then a career in Molecular Biology is perfect for you.
For information about careers at Randox please visit careers.randox.com.