June 16, 2021, by Ruth Musson

Student Michael Rousell talks about his COVID-19 vaccination research placement

What are you studying?
I am studying for a degree in Microbiology. I have completed the first two years.  My third year is being spent on placement with Pfizer, working as an undergraduate clinical scientist.

What does that entail?
I am working on a clinical trial for the COVID 19 vaccination program.  The trial is a phase 1/2/3 Placebo-Controlled, randomised, observer-blind study. This means that neither the participant nor the team at Pfizer is aware of whether the participant has had the vaccine or a placebo. Each participant is asked to complete a daily e-diary after vaccination, advising of events such as a fever. My role is to collate the e-diary data, noting things like compliance or reported events. The findings are then forwarded to the appropriate member of the study team.

I also have the responsibility of coordinating activities for the DMC (Data Monitoring Committee), which is an independent panel of experts who review participant safety and treatment efficacy data while a clinical trial is ongoing. The DMC has access to the unblinded data and knows whether the participant received a vaccine or placebo. My role is to schedule meetings for the DMC, provide information regarding serious adverse events, and preparing minutes from discussions during the meeting.

The vaccine is being rolled out now. Is your work finished?

No, we are still following up with the participants from the original trial. Clinical Trials are also now being undertaken in different populations such as pregnant women and children. My role in these studies includes data analysis of the clinical data, reviewing protocol deviations, and monitoring compliance of participants in the study. This has been a great experience for me as I have gained insight into the start-up activities for clinical trials.

How has your placement helped you?

I have learned a lot. At the beginning of my placement, I was not fully aware of the Clinical Scientist role – I was attending meetings where I did not understand all the terminology and it felt a little overwhelming. I now feel much more confident and able to communicate with study team members.
I have always been motivated and organised but working in the industry has pushed my organisational skills to another level. This will help me in my final year of study and beyond, I hope. I have also gained valuable insight into the recruitment process and interview skills when I assisted in recruiting the next candidate for the Vaccine undergraduate placement.

So would you recommend a placement experience to your fellow students?

Absolutely. I was fortunate to gain an invaluable placement with Pfizer – they have been very supportive and provided me with amazing opportunities. The placement was so enjoyable that I know now that a career as a clinical scientist is what I want to pursue in the future – hopefully with Pfizer!
I would also like to thank Judith Wayte in the university’s placements team. She was very supportive throughout the application process, so I would recommend speaking to Judith if you are interested in applying for a year in the industry.

Any final words?

If you are offered the COVID-19 vaccine – take it!

Visit the University of Nottingham Coronavirus pages here 

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