Chandrabali Datta is a Quality Assurance Manager at the Clinical Biomanufacturing Facility at the University of Oxford's Jenner Institute, which is conducting fast-track trials of ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 - a vaccine being tested for its potential to protect against coronavirus.
The 34-year-old scientist, who was born and grew up in Kolkata before moving to the UK to complete her Masters in Biotech at the University of Leeds, speaks to iGlobal about the thrill of being part of a team of experts working on the world's most-anticipated healthcare mission, her hope for its success to help bring human lives back to some normality and for other young girls to consider the excitement of a career in bioscience.
What has it meant for you to be a part of this project?
We are a non-profit organisation putting in extra hours everyday just to make this vaccine successful. It's like a humanitarian cause to be a part of this project. The main focus is to bring human life back to normal and to save lives.
Everyone has worked around the clock to make this successful, to make it out to the clinical trials. It was about team effort, collaboration and communication and supporting each other.
My contribution was to check that everything is compliant, standard operating procedures (SOPs) are followed and no mistakes are made. Now, we are all hoping that it works in the next stage. The whole world is looking to this vaccine. Thanks to all the volunteers who are participating in the trials.
What is it that excites you about the field of bioscience?
Bioscience is an evolving field of science which helps to improve human life. And, that is the best contribution that science can make - to make human life better and help people who are suffering from different types of diseases.
New inventions happen every day. It's a very current topic and I really like to be connected with something which helps human life and improves patients' quality of life.
Biotech is a field where you can have personalised medicine by genetic engineering, for example this vaccine which can prove helpful to stop diseases like Covid-19.
What is your message for young girls considering a career in bioscience?
The scientific field is not highly paid. Lots of money goes into developing a drug so obviously the salaries are not great but if your motivation is really high and you are up for the struggle, then this is a very rewarding field.
There is lots of recognition for your hard work because at the end of the day you are improving human lives. I would say women are more intelligent than men because they do multi-tasking. They do everything - I have female colleagues who have kids and their kids went to nursery while they came into work during this crisis as well. They are very mentally strong women.
In Oxford University, our head is a woman and 80 per cent of our staff are women. It's quite a women-centric organisation. And, being an Indian woman, I have never felt discriminated in any way.
How have you personally coped with the lockdown?
My parents were really worried and paranoid about me going in to work during this crisis. But I had to help my team. We were classified as keyworkers and took all precautions.
It has been a real struggle - leaving India and coming to the UK but in my field of study, I knew the scope was here.
I had to fulfil my dreams and my father's motivation spurred me on. He encouraged me to travel, see the world, study abroad and gain experience.
It was all a learning curve, never easy. I had to work in the lab for long hours, standing all day doing analysis. But I was really meticulous and would never give up.
Being a foreigner in a country, things are not easy, but it's been an immense experience. I like challenges in my life and the UK being an equal opportunities country, is a great place to be.