Scientists on Standby supporting the recruitment of overflow resource for COVID-19 testing - Lab Innovations UK

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Scientists on Standby supporting the recruitment of overflow resource for COVID-19 testing

Scientists on Standby has been rapidly conceptualised and launched in response to the COVID-19 crisis and in anticipation of the increasing pressure on UK diagnostic testing laboratories and facilities in the coming weeks and months. The portal enables scientists with relevant skills and experience to volunteer their time, expertise and support for COVID-19 screening and testing. 

We caught up with founders Dr Paul Avery and Dr Clare Russell to find out how the initiative was born…

How was the initiative created for Scientists on Standby?


Initially, we were inspired by how companies and people within the life industry rallied together during the first few weeks of the crisis, looking for novel ways that they could help in the battle to diagnose and treat Covid-19. Equipment manufacturers, event organisers, publishers, assay kit developers, pharma and biotech labs with space/equipment to offer – everyone was putting ideas forward and we wanted to do our part. 

But how? Well, over half of the BioStrata team has experience working at the lab bench and many wanted to know if there was a way to volunteer their expertise to help. At the time, there were no options available, so we created one – and Scientists on Standby was born.

At the same time, as a specialist life science marketing agency, we had access to a team that could write, design and build a website on short notice, manage the contact database, execute email marketing programmes and run publicity campaigns. This meant that we had everything else we needed to help scientists find out about the new initiative and drive sign-ups.

So far, we’ve had hundreds of scientists in the UK sign up and dozens of emails from people providing great feedback and encouragement. In our experience, most people want to help out in any way they can. We simply provided them with an avenue to put themselves forward.



How can scientists and lab suppliers get involved?


This simplest way is for those with scientific training to visit and fill in a short form highlighting their previous lab experience. We’re especially looking for people with CL3 (containment level 3) experience or those that are registered Biomedical Scientists. That being said, we are working under the proviso that it would be better to have too many than too few scientists to call upon if needed.


In terms of people putting forward lab space and equipment, we’ve recently partnered with the Covid-19 Volunteer Testing Network (, which is currently co-ordinating an effort by private labs to meet the UK’s testing requirements. 


How many volunteers are you hoping to get signed up to deal with the current targets for testing?


Our current aim is to hit 1000 scientists and we are already very close. So far, we’ve been able to share a number of recruitment initiatives with them, including a UK-wide scheme driven by the UK Government, as well as local testing initiative in Cambridge UK (where we are also based). We continue to liaise with Public Health England, as well as a range of public and private bodies, so that we can promote their initiatives to our database of willing volunteers.


At the moment you are primarily focusing on COVID-19 testing. Do you think the Scientists on Standby initiative will develop in the future?


Our initial aim was to help the UK reach 100,000 coronavirus tests per day. Now that this milestone has been reached, the UK Government has outlined its intent to double this to 200,000 tests per day, so our database of Scientists on Standby is here to help if called upon. Apart from this, the database was built with a very specific goal in mind – to help diagnose and treat Covid-19. As such, we don’t currently intend to adapt it for any future use and would only consider this if the current members opted in to receive communications and updates on other topics and opportunities.



What is the best piece of career advice you have received?


This is a tricky question, but if I was put on the spot, I would say that the main turning point for me was learning just how many interesting jobs there are in the life science sector that do not require you to work at the lab bench. If you love science but you don’t see yourself as a career scientist, there are lots of interesting roles that allow you to leverage your science training and still make a difference in the life science sector.


Lastly, what is your top tip for keeping your team engaged during remote working?


If you believe in what you are doing and enjoy your work then it is much easier to stay focussed and “on mission”, regardless of whether you are working in the office or at home. Our team has always been driven by our purpose to “Connect people and technology to drive scientific progress” – and it’s what continues to get us all up every day for work, as we know we can all make a difference, especially during the Covid-19 crisis. At the same time, our core values are specifically documented, embraced daily by the team and designed to guide our efforts every day. Whether we are “delivering ridiculously good work”, “getting stuff done”, “doing the right thing” or “putting the team first” (among other things), we know that we are all in it together, working with likeminded people that will support us and encourage us to grow.

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