Lab Story – Emma Walker

Lighthouse Labs

Medicines Discovery Catapult

What do you do when you’re not working at the Lighthouse Labs?

I am a BBSRC-ESRC SOC-B Biosocial Research PhD Student in the Research Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, the Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care, at University College London.

How many years of scientific experience do you have?

I have a Biological Sciences Undergraduate degree and I spent many summers in laboratories around the world gaining lab experience. But I decided after my undergraduate to pursue a Master’s in public health and then a PhD in biosocial research. I suppose that adds up to about 6 years of scientific experience!

What is your role in the Lighthouse Lab?

I’m on Workstation 1 so I unpack, deactivate, and prepare samples for analysis.

What is the key experience you bring to that role?

While I’m familiar with a laboratory, and I’m used to long hours, working at the Lighthouse Laboratory has been a bit of a learning curve! Luckily, the team offer comprehensive training that turned my familiarity and enthusiasm into capability and confidence.

How is it different to your regular role?

Very different! In my PhD I use statistical software to look for associations between leisure activities and health outcomes in a dataset of UK household surveys. I’ve swapped books and computer code for PPE and pipettes!

Why did you want to get involved?

I think like many people during lockdown, I was really keen to find a way to help. My mum got involved with the project at a senior level, and let my sister and I know that they needed volunteers in the lab. We’re really lucky too; we live near enough to the facilities that we’re able to walk home though the beautiful Cheshire countryside after our shifts! It’s been very exciting to get back into a laboratory.

What does it mean to you to be involved?

It’s such a joy being able to do something to help. It is early starts and hard work, but it’s so amazing to know each sample I process will make a real difference to an individual, to the UK as a whole, and to the world as we increase our understanding of the virus. I feel very proud of my family for the work we’re doing.

What is it like working alongside a host of new colleagues from both industry and academia?

It’s such a buzz meeting different people after isolating for two months! You can tell people are so happy to have human contact, and it’s lovely to know that people from so many different backgrounds are coming together to help. It’s also very impressive to see how quickly the lab has come together to deliver at such a high capacity. I’m truly in awe of everyone’s hard work and dedication.

What is the best thing about working in the Lighthouse Lab?

It’s a toss-up between the endless supply of snacks in the tearoom and being able to get out of the house! In all seriousness, it’s a real privilege to be able to contribute to the UK and worldwide effort to save lives during this pandemic.

“It’s also very impressive to see how quickly the lab has come together to deliver at such a high capacity. I’m truly in awe of everyone’s hard work and dedication.”