My SIREN Scotland role: a trip to remember

By Desmond Areghan

Desmond Areghan

I have “sailed” with the Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) SIREN Team on a boat where one of the world’s leading research studies on COVID-19 is being conducted. In order to understand the dynamic nature of COVID -19 pandemic that broke out in Wuhan, China, in December 2019 (Torales et al., 2020), the SIREN (Sarscov2 Immunity & REinfection EvaluatioN) study (the biggest real-world study into COVID-19 antibodies) was launched and approved by the NHS Health Research Authority, Berkshire Research Ethics Committee. The SIREN study is sponsored by UKHSA and funded by UKHSA, the Department of Health and Social Care and NIHR, with contributions from the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish governments and funding awarded through research grants. It is a UK wide longitudinal prospective cohort study of healthcare workers’ immunity to the SARS-CoV-2 virus (Wallace et al., 2022). The aim of the research is to understand whether prior infection with SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) protects against future infection with the same virus. In Scotland, the study is coordinated by GCU, led by Prof. Lesley Price, in partnership with Public Health Scotland and the ten (10) Scottish Health Boards actively recruiting participants into the study.

In May 2022, I was recruited to work with members of the SIREN Scotland team as a Research Assistant Grade 5. Although, I have engaged in research in my undergraduate and Masters degree studies and currently at Ph.D. level, I am super-excited to have undertaken this role in the SIREN study. It opened up a unique opportunity for me to work with very large data; the first time I have worked with data of this sort. My primary tasks were to produce a monthly protocol deviation report, serology checks, and line listings (to allow sites to audit participant withdrawals and check samples that should be taken for each participant), missing data graphs and to provide cover for the mailbox. To carry out these tasks effectively, I was adequately trained by the Project Manager with the support of another staff member. At the start of my role, I was given a detailed work instruction that fully explained my duties in a step-by-step manner. As a result, I was able to generate the required documents at the due date and in the format required.

I have improved tremendously in my research skills having worked in the team. Being a Ph.D. student, I do a lot of reading and writing; drafting the introduction, literature review and methodology chapters of my thesis. My writing has improved since I joined the SIREN Scotland Team. I had the privilege of reading the SIREN Study Protocol and the Standard Operating Procedures. The protocol covered the full structure of the study at a glance. I was able to align the structure of my Ph.D. study in similar fashion and it made my study clearer and easier to understand by readers in other field of study. My Ph.D. study was further designed in a pattern that meets the standard of the Research Ethics Committee at my school. Additionally, in the SIREN Study team, working as a Research Assistant Grade 5 staff, I was able to build some transferable research skills that will enable me apply for higher levels of research jobs when I complete my Ph.D. programme. I have developed a valuable research skill to work in an online research study team. I have developed the habit of using my calendar to help me manage my workload, my confidence has grown in participating in online meetings and I now understand the need to have and maintain a team shared drive of resource materials for effective team working. With all these skills, I have been able to have conversations with Research Associates and Research Fellows in the UK and other parts of the world. I have learnt how I can develop a research plan, apply for funding and also what has to be in place to be an outstanding researcher. Simply put, I have acquired a wide range of new knowledge about the research environment that has broadened my horizon. Collaboratively as a team, I enjoyed informal conversations such as the show of love I received when my baby arrived, the support to review my research ethics application and other personal support from members of the SIREN Scotland team.

Was there anything about my experience that could have been improved upon? I did not have the opportunity to have physical meetings with the team members. If I had, I believe there are some issues that could been resolved earlier such as access to varying systems. Although I achieved a lot working online, I am sure I would have built a stronger relationship with other staff members and gained more hands-on skills in the research environment in terms of how to communicate with the various stakeholders involved in the study.

Without mincing words, I must say, if I was asked to work with the SIREN Scotland again or on any other project with the team, I will gladly accept without thinking twice. The teamwork and support I received in every area (both in my job role and in my personal endeavour), made the whole period in SIREN an enjoyable and memorable cruise trip. Thanks to everyone who made my time in the SIREN Scotland team worthwhile.

1. Hall, V.J., Foulkes, S., Saei, A., Andrews, N., Oguti, B., Charlett, A., Wellington, E., Stowe, J., Gillson, N., Atti, A. and Islam, J., 2021. COVID-19 vaccine coverage in health-care workers in England and effectiveness of BNT162b2 mRNA vaccine against infection (SIREN): a prospective, multicentre, cohort study. The Lancet, 397(10286), pp.1725-1735.
2. Hopkins, C.I.S. and Charlett, A., SIREN: 2022 The impact of detectable anti SARS-CoV-2 antibody on the incidence of COVID-19 in healthcare workers.
3. Torales, J., O’Higgins, M., Castaldelli-Maia, J.M. and Ventriglio, A., 2020. The outbreak of COVID-19 coronavirus and its impact on global mental health. International journal of social psychiatry, 66(4), pp.317-320.
4. The SIREN study: answering the big questions:
5. Wallace, S., Hall, V., Charlett, A., Kirwan, P.D., Cole, M., Gillson, N., Atti, A., Timeyin, J., Foulkes, S., Taylor-Kerr, A. and Andrews, N., 2022. Impact of prior SARS-CoV-2 infection and COVID-19 vaccination on the subsequent incidence of COVID-19: a multicentre prospective cohort study among UK healthcare workers–the SIREN (Sarscov2 Immunity & REinfection EvaluatioN) study protocol. BMJ open, 12(6), p.e054336.


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