Michelle Erkiert works as a Microbiology Administrator at the University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust, extracting data related to each positive COVID-19 sample that arrives at her lab. Michelle has put her post-graduate studies on hold to take on her current role, but in doing so she is proud to contribute to COG-UK and the pandemic response.
Tell us about your role at COG-UK
Within COG-UK, I am one of the data geeks! For every positive sample we receive in the laboratory comes a long line of data; firstly to be found, and then sent off with the sample in a coded form so as to not incur bias, using the meta-data framework provided by COG-UK. What the data does all by itself is draw patterns, skews and trajectories. I genuinely spend a lot of my time aweing at how data is such a pure form of fact. It is a direct insight into life, and in this circumstance, the life of the virus.
What does a typical day of work look like for you?
Typically, my day is determined by how many positive samples we receive at the lab. I work with other COVID-19 monitoring spreadsheets, but COG-UK has been a priority. I check with the laboratory team and the University Hospitals Sussex daily COVID-19 report, gather all positive sample numbers and then start to extract data relating to each sample.
How has the pandemic affected your work?
I am, in fact, new to the NHS! The pandemic put my post-graduate studies on hold. Both of my parents are biomedical scientists, and it felt natural to ask if help was needed. I have now been here for over a year!
What’s been the most challenging aspect of your time within the consortium so far?
The second spike in January was a challenge. I remember many days coming in to around 70 new positives. It was a challenge to climb the mountain of data finding, often sitting for eight hours at a time, and being so acutely aware of the case numbers. But I had to stay hopeful!
What do you like most about your job?
Without a moment’s hesitation — being part of SUCH a hard-working team. And specifically at COG-UK, I am so inspired how this data alongside the genetic research is allowing us to safe-guard our own future.
What is your proudest accomplishment from your time at COG-UK?
I have currently uploaded over 3200 samples, which feels like an achievement. I feel proud to have been a part of this resilient and adaptable research. COG-UK has allowed me to feel like I am a part of the solution to this pandemic.
About our Meet the Researcher series
Hundreds of people in the COG-UK consortium have been working tirelessly behind the scenes throughout the pandemic. Many have had to sacrifice their Christmas holidays, put other projects on hold, and work long hours to help ensure the consortium functions as it should. In this blog series, we meet just a few of the countless people whose dedication, commitment and hard work has been essential to the success of COG-UK.
COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK)
The current COVID-19 pandemic, caused by SARS-CoV-2, represents a major threat to health. The COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) consortium has been created to deliver large-scale and rapid whole-genome virus sequencing to local NHS centres and the UK government.
Led by Professor Sharon Peacock of the University of Cambridge, COG-UK is made up of an innovative partnership of NHS organisations, the four Public Health Agencies of the UK, the Wellcome Sanger Institute and academic partners providing sequencing and analysis capacity. A full list of collaborators can be found here. Professor Peacock is also on a part-time secondment to PHE as Director of Science, where she focuses on the development of pathogen sequencing through COG-UK.
COG-UK was established in April 2020 supported by £20 million funding from the COVID-19 rapid-research-response “fighting fund” from Her Majesty’s Treasury (established by Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance), and administered by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), and the Wellcome Sanger Institute. The consortium was also backed by the Department of Health and Social Care’s Testing Innovation Fund on 16 November 2020 to facilitate the genome sequencing capacity needed to meet the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in the UK over the winter period.