From Sheffield, to setting up the lab side of the Oxford/ AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine Clinical Trials

Katherine Sanders
Katherine Sanders
Now: PhD student at the University of Newcastle
BSc Biomedical Science
Katherine started working at the Oxford Vaccine Group shortly after graduation, putting her skills and knowledge into practice helping to set up and deliver paediatrics vaccine clinical trials. It was this Group that led the monumental effort to deliver the Oxford/ AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine Clinical Trial which resulted in the vaccine being deployed globally to protect against the SARS-COV2 virus and Katherine became a key part of his work.
Katherine Sanders and Prince William

What did you enjoy most about your degree?

The variety of Biomedical Science modules meant that you were always learning new and often vastly different mechanisms, theories and techniques. Being taught by researchers within the university also meant that the lectures were current and taught with passion. 

I found the anatomy module to be an especially unique and rewarding experience. Working with cadavers gave a respectful hands-on learning environment which taught me so much more than any book diagrams could.

What are you doing now and how did you get into that role?

I applied for the Oxford Vaccine Group within Oxford University at the end of my final year, hopping on the train for interviews between my final exams, and started working there soon after my graduation. 

I spent my first half a year helping set up and deliver various paediatrics vaccine clinical trials for diseases such as Meningitis B and Whooping Cough, but this work was quickly put on hold during the start of 2020.

The Oxford Vaccine Group then led the monumental effort to deliver the Oxford/ AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine Clinical Trial which resulted in the vaccine being deployed globally to protect against the SARS-COV2 virus. My role was helping to set up and maintain the lab side of the trial, ensuring that the clinical samples from all the labs – including partner labs both within the UK and globally – were able to be used for vaccine testing.

I am now leaving to do a PhD at Newcastle University in the Biosciences.

How has your degree helped you in your career?

Most directly, the lab experience during my dissertation in my final year provided me with the laboratory skills and experience to land the role at Oxford Vaccine Group. The 5,000 word lab report I wrote summarising my results has set a great groundwork for my PhD literature reviews.

Another useful module would be the bioinformatics module which has come in handy multiple times in the past year as I have used R coding as a faster, more efficient alternative to Excel.The career module in my final year was also especially valuable to learn how to write a good CV and communicate with potential employers. This gave me the confidence to apply for jobs and interview well. 

My academic tutor and dissertation supervisor both provided me with additional mentorship when thinking about my career and provided references when applying for jobs.

What scientific skills did you develop during your course?

I developed lab skills such as PCR, gel electrophoresis and cell culture and imaging, as well as writing lab reports and critiquing scientific papers. 

What transferable skills did you develop during your course?

Learning how to work and communicate effectively within a team was a key thing taught to us over the three years which I have already found useful in many situations.

What do you miss most about Sheffield?

Sheffield is such a beautiful city with a great student culture. 

I miss the Peak District the most as I spent most of my free afternoons cycling around with the university cycling club in sunshine and snow – the latter more often than you’d think! I didn’t realise how lucky I was to have such an amazing National Park on my doorstep until I moved away. 

I also miss the wonderful friends which I made there and the fantastic lives we had in the student areas of Sheffield. There is something bittersweet about finishing university and starting careers around the country but they’re friends I’ll have for life. 

What would you say to a prospective student currently thinking about choosing the course?

Go for it! The breadth of material covered in Biomedical Science can seem intimidating but actually it’s a great way to find your interests and learn about the amazing frontline of research, both at the University and around the world. There are also so many modules available to choose from as the course progresses in the later years, which means you can really tailor your degree to what interests you. 

I look back on my time at Sheffield very fondly, and a huge part of that was my course and the experiences I had on it.

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