Blog / COG Train

20 Jun 2022

Diaries of SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Training: in Conversation with COG-Train Educators

The recently launched COG-Train programme is an open-access educational initiative focused on providing impactful learning opportunities around SARS-CoV-2 genomics to a global audience. We spoke to two educators who took part on the first and second COG-Train online courses.

Stephanie Hutchings and Moses Luutu are both early career scientists who were involved in developing content for the first two online courses for COG-Train. Stephanie works for the UK Health Security Agency in Bristol, UK, and is nearing completion of the Scientist Training Programme, and Moses is a biomedical scientist at the Biomedical Research Centre in Makerere University, Uganda. During the COVID-19 pandemic both Stephanie and Moses were heavily involved in SARS-CoV-2 sequencing, which is what sparked their interest in COG-Train to begin with.

Beyond their experience with sequencing, the two educators were drawn to COG-Train because of the opportunity to share their knowledge and learn alongside an international group of scientists and students. Moses and his colleagues wanted, “to help people in other countries, outside of Uganda, and keep abreast of what is happening”. For Stephanie, “engaging with a lot of different people was a big draw. We’re really privileged in the UK to have all of the capabilities that we have, and so it’s great to think that we can have an impact by sharing knowledge and helping address sequencing inequality.”

Joining COG-Train courses as an educator is a highly rewarding experience – not least because there are challenges to overcome along the way. Before COG-Train, Moses had experience as an amateur animator but found himself learning a lot about animation during the course development process. “When it came to the COG-Train content, I had to make even more high-quality videos and really step up my game.” Developing educational materials for the course also required careful consideration of what to include, “You want to make sure that everybody can understand the materials… Sequencing is such a complicated subject to get your head around, let alone teaching and explaining it in its simplest form”, Stephanie mentions.

Crucially, Stephanie and Moses’s experiences as educators and contributors to COG-Train directly fed into their work in the lab. When discussing content at the start of the course with fellow educators, Moses was able to learn more about the sequencing devices produced by Oxford Nanopore Technologies. “In Uganda we have not used them much — soon after learning more about it, I was able to recommend this technology to our lab. Now we are planning on purchasing an Oxford Nanopore sequencer as soon as possible.” Stephanie says that the relationship between COG-Train and the rest of her work has been a two-way thing. “It was really helpful, especially for my clinical understanding.”

Both educators emphasised that the level of engagement the courses received was especially motivational. “It’s great to see people engaging with the materials you’ve provided and getting the discussion going and talking about it, that’s something that’s really rewarding” Stephanie says. “You might think, ‘I’ve just written this course, who’s actually going to engage with it?’ And so many comments were coming through in the discussion section, from people across the world and that was really exciting.” Moses also cites the importance of engagement internally, i.e., the group supporting the course development process. “The highlight of this whole experience was the team itself because it was so big and there were not any biases from one particular place. There were people from all over the world.”

Both the first and second course saw high levels of engagement, suggesting that COG-Train is set to make a substantial contribution to sharing genomic surveillance knowledge globally. Stephanie and Moses both shared a hugely positive sentiment towards the COG-Train programme. “The courses at COG are also delivered differently; they are in the form of discussions with people around you. It’s not like we are dictating knowledge to people who are on the course. This is a delivery model that really encourages sharing across the whole world”, Moses says. Stephanie tells us that the design of the COG-Train programme is “basically mentoring”, something that resonates with COG-UK. “I think that the COG-Train programme is really useful, it allows learning directly from those around the world involved in the pandemic and to reflect on how you’d go about it if you were to do it again from scratch.”

As part of the series ‘Diaries of SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Training’, we will be holding two webinars featuring additional educators and contributors from our online courses. Register for the webinars HERE.

COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK)

The COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) consortium works in partnership to harness the power of SARS-CoV-2 genomics in the fight against COVID-19.

Led by Professor Sharon Peacock of the University of Cambridge, COG-UK is made up of an innovative collaboration of NHS organisations, the four public health agencies of the UK, the Wellcome Sanger Institute and sixteen academic partners. A full list of collaborators can be found here.

The COVID-19 pandemic, caused by SARS-CoV-2, represents a major threat to health. The COG-UK consortium was formed in March 2020 to deliver SARS-CoV-2 genome sequencing and analysis to inform public health policy and to support the establishment of a national pathogen sequencing service, with sequence data now predominantly generated by the Wellcome Sanger Institute and the Public Health Agencies.

SARS-CoV-2 genome sequencing and analysis plays a key role in the COVID-19 public health response by enabling the identification, tracking and analysis of variants of concern, and by informing the design of vaccines and therapeutics. COG-UK works collaboratively to deliver world-class research on pathogen sequencing and analysis, maximise the value of genomic data by ensuring fair access and data linkage, and provide a training programme to enable equity in global sequencing.