Hundreds of people in the COVID-19 Genomics UK (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.
Meet Radoslaw Poplawski
Tell us about your role at COG-UK
I’m based at the University of Birmingham and due to my involvement with CLIMB (Cloud Infrastructure for Microbial Bioinformatics), Professor Nick Loman tasked me and a few others with building a central system for COG-UK. This infrastructure and system is where all of the COG data is stored and processed.
What do you like most about your job?
I really enjoy playing with new ‘toys’ like the latest GPUs and high speed networking. I also like to develop new systems. I am actually one of the few people working in COG that isn’t a scientist. My work could be better described as engineering. I am a very curious person and I like to understand how things work. My job is perfect for this as I get to spend many hours tinkering and learning new things.
What does a typical day of work look like for you?
Basically, I work mostly behind the scenes to ensure that everything is running smoothly. This means that on some days you can find me in the data centre installing new hardware, and on other days sitting with my laptop, over-caffeinated, upgrading or reconfiguring the network and the servers I manage.
How has the pandemic affected your work?
I have an entirely “computer-based” job, so I have always been able to work from home when I wanted. In that respect, the pandemic hasn’t really affected me. However, there was an urgent need to have the central system for COG-UK up and running as soon as possible. This became one of my main priorities, but I couldn’t stop working on all of my other projects. So actually, my job didn’t really change, I just had a really intense year where I had to juggle my workload.
What’s been the most challenging aspect of your time within the consortium so far?
I never thought that I would say that I miss the commute, but that breaks up the day with a natural start and stop. It’s hard to keep a healthy work/life balance and I am guilty of starting work with my first coffee of the day and then not finishing until late at night.
What is your proudest accomplishment from your time at COG-UK?
Usually when building something like this, it would take months of development and testing. We didn’t have months to plan, let alone develop anything. This meant that we couldn’t afford to make any mistakes – most things had to be done the right way on the first try. I am really proud that we actually managed to pull this off. The intensity was also exciting and being involved in this project made me feel like I was making a difference.
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.