My work experience at TwinsUK

12th December 2023 – by Emily Herbert

My work experience at TwinsUK has been wonderful. I was incredibly nervous to start, especially because some of the tasks planned for me were things I had never experienced before – namely, research ethics, shadowing clinical visits, and working alongside very experienced scientists. However, from the minute I arrived, everyone was incredibly welcoming, kind, and supportive of me being alongside them in the department.

Over the course of my five days at TwinsUK, I have learned so much about what it is like to work in a scientific role. I have discovered roles that I didn’t even know were a possibility, and it has really opened my eyes to the variety of careers available.

During my first day, I had the opportunity to shadow visits with the twins in the clinic. I saw the huge variety of work that’s carried out and the different stages of the TwinsUK research programme. This included a variety of tests, including blood tests, memory exams, and bone density scans.

Throughout my week, I had the chance to speak to members of staff across different teams, learning about how the data is organised and analysed, as well as the research ethics that underpin all the work in the department. It was also really interesting to see how the logistics of sample collection work. Each person I spoke to was enthusiastic about their role within the team, and it was extremely helpful to learn about their career path and the work they do each day as part of TwinsUK. It was also extremely inspiring to listen to the researchers talk about the work they are doing, including the lecture I attended from a PhD student.

My last day was spent in the lab, the last piece of the jigsaw puzzle that is the TwinsUK research programme. I found it fascinating to see how samples are used and interpreted. Everyone in the lab team was encouraging and answered my many questions!

Sometimes it’s hard to think ahead to what careers might be possible for a particular subject, but this experience has been invaluable in understanding the wide range of possibilities within scientific research organizations like TwinsUK, which one day I hope to be a part of.

What struck me the most about everyone in the department was how connected and encouraging they are to one another. The work being done in the department is fascinating, and the relationship built with each set of twins is really lovely. It’s also amazing that the data is not only used for the incredible work within the department but is also shared with scientists worldwide.

I highly recommend TwinsUK as an inspiring placement for work experience. I have had an extremely enjoyable week, and it’s been everything I could have hoped for.

Diversity at TwinsUK: Genevieve

Genevieve joined the department in 2010 and has since gained an extensive knowledge of the TwinsUK data. She is responsible for documenting and storing the multiple datasets collected over time as well as ensuring that data is made available to the research community. Genevieve is also coordinating the data linkage program where we will link our in-house data with external data sources such as health, education and environmental records.

What do you know about your family history? 

I grew up in a small town called Cap-Santé in Quebec- Canada. As far as my family history can go, my ancestors came from France. One of them, Antoine Pépin-dit-Lachance left Le Havre in Normandy around 1655 (he was possibly 15 years old) to settle in New France. After few years working for a French governor in Quebec City, he was offered a land on the Île d’Orléans in the Saint Lawrence River, where he became a farmer and raised his 12 children. This island is not only beautiful but it this the ancestral land of more than 300 great families from Quebec. It is assumed that my ancestor got his nickname of Lachance at the time of crossing of the Atlantic. He must have been lucky man since Lachance means luck!

What about your culture are you most proud about? 

I believe that Canadians are generally polite, apologetic, but we are mainly very friendly and welcoming to others.

Diversity at TwinsUK: Bridget

Bridget is one of our Clinical Research Nurses, part of the clinic team who you’ll see when coming to St Thomas’ for your visit. Bridget and her team will take your samples, go through various phenotype tests, and complete your DXA scan. She manages, monitors, and also trains the clinic team on various skills to make sure your visits run as safely and smoothly as possible.

What about your culture are you most proud about? 

I am proud of the new generations of Australians who are truly embracing multiculturalism in Australia. I am especially proud of the shift in our culture towards recognising our first nations people. Australia has a troubled history with embracing other cultures, and in particular the harrowing treatment of our first nations people. Australians are known for our laidback, chilled approach to life (you’ve seen me with my feet up at the desk right?) yet we don’t shy away from the ‘hard yaka’ (hard work) – this is something I appreciate more and more as the hustle culture becomes more prominent. This isn’t to say work is our highest priority, but we are happy to just get in get the job done, which as a child always meant helping Dad in the backyard. Mateship is big for us, through highs and lows we don’t hesitate to help each other out. The main thing that comes to mind is floods/bushfires which sadly are now a regular occurrence, my local area floods significantly every few years. The footage of people helping others, even animals, during the 2019-2020 bushfires made me proud to be an Aussie. 

What are your favourite customs? 

Most of the customs celebrated in Australia, or at least by my family, are all the usuals – Christmas, Easter etc etc, mostly celebrated with family, friends, and food in the sunshine. But one of our iconic customs, and my absolute favourite, would have to be the sausage sizzle. Some might say it’s our national dish.

The Bunnings Snag – Bunnings is a franchise of hardware stores across Australia, who support local charities/sporting teams etc by hosting a fundraiser sausage sizzle almost every weekends. A (beef!!) sausage on bread, with onions and sauce if you like, tastes so much better cooked on a BBQ outside a bunnings, when you’re either preparing for a weekend of hard yaka or rewarding your efforts of the day, plus a gold coin to support someone else – it’s a win win!!

The Democracy Sausage –  It’s compulsory for adults 18+ to vote in elections – so on election day you rock up at the polling booth at your local primary school, church, childcare centre to place your vote, and there’s always a sausage sizzle fundraising for something. A little reward for the stress of election day 😊 

Diversity at TwinsUK: Belma

As an Operations Officer, Belma’s role is to coordinate and carry out recruitment of healthy volunteers for research projects. This includes working closely with a multidisciplinary team, monitoring other admin staff, writing SOPs, providing reports to meet KPIs as well as carrying out day to day administrative duties looking after a large cohort of research volunteers.    

How important is diversity to you, and what value does It bring?

As I’ve lived in London my whole life, going to school and working in a diverse society has always been a constant in my life and I feel most comfortable when I am in environments in which there are people from all different backgrounds etc. I think diversity allows us to better understand those who are different to us. It’s easy to develop misconceptions when you aren’t directly exposed to different people and cultures and these misconceptions can often be harmful on both an individual and societal level. Living, working and socialising in a diverse society allows us to understand one another on a human level first and foremost and realise that differences aren’t negative. 

Celebrating Excellence: TwinsUK Shines at the King’s Faculty Awards 

31st July 2023 – By Aaruthy Suthahar 

We are delighted to share some exciting news about the recent awards ceremony held by the Faculty of Life Sciences and Medicine at King’s College London, where TwinsUK showcased its remarkable achievements and outstanding individuals and teams who have made a significant impact on research, policy, and professional services. 

Outstanding Professional Services Award – Celebrating Dr Deborah Hart 

We are thrilled to announce that our Executive Director Dr Deborah Hart has been honoured with the Outstanding Professional Services Award. This award recognizes a member of the professional services staff who has demonstrated exemplary leadership and innovative support within the Faculty. Dr Deborah Hart’s exceptional leadership of the professional services team at TwinsUK has been instrumental in the success of the cohort and numerous complex studies. Her dedication and expertise have provided invaluable guidance and support to her colleagues, making her a truly deserving recipient of this award. 

Research Impact Award – Applauding the COVID Symptom Study App Team 

Congratulations go to the COVID Symptom Study App Team for winning the Research Impact Award. Many staff from our department contributed to the setup and success of the app and subsequent research. This award honours the team who have made significant contributions to the world through their groundbreaking research. The COVID Symptom Study App Team demonstrated exceptional collaboration and a multidisciplinary approach, which proved pivotal in shaping health policy during the pandemic. Their remarkable work in identifying new symptoms, tracking disease hotspots, and characterizing Long COVID has had a profound impact on healthcare, influencing national and international guidelines, and positively affecting the local community. 

Acknowledging Other Remarkable Nominees 

We would like to extend a special mention to other individuals nominated for various awards. Christel Barnetson’s nomination in the Professional Services Research Support Award and People and Culture Award, as well as Ellen Thompson’s nomination in the Early Career Researcher Achievement Award, highlights their significant contributions and dedication to advancing research at TwinsUK. 

Sharing Our Success with TwinsUK Members 

It is with immense pride that we share this success with our twins, who have been the heart and soul of TwinsUK over the past three decades. We want you to know that this recognition is a testament to your commitment and willingness to participate in the important work that has not only impacted health research but has also played a critical role in shaping healthcare policies during the pandemic. 

Your dedication to logging symptoms on the COVID Symptom Study App, which was initially designed for twins but expanded its reach, has been incredible. Your active participation has resulted in vital contributions that have extensive implications for health research globally. 

We thank you from the bottom of our hearts for all your support and involvement. Together, we continue to make significant strides in research and positively impact health research. 

Acknowledgments 

We would like to express our sincere gratitude to the individuals from TwinsUK for their contributions to the Covid Symptom Study app. 

The analytical team included TwinsUK staff Marc Osterdahl, Nathan Cheetham, Cristina Menni and Ruth Bowyer, and Darioush Yarand on the data and engineering side.  

The app also benefitted from the expertise of the clinical, nutrition, and academic team, including Emma Duncan, Sarah Berry, Mary Ni Lochlainn, and Frances Williams.  

Additionally, the governance, ethics, finance, engagement, and communications aspects were well-handled by Vicky Bowyer, Deborah Hart, Paz Garcia, Victoria Vazquez, and Christel Barnetson. 

Diversity at TwinsUK: Sabrina

Sabrina is a Assistant Clinical Research Practitioner, and is front of house for the recruitment of twins to our registry. Sabrina carries out any required health screenings to ensure the safety of participants. She handles any queries from twins and ensures they have all the necessary information about studies in order to provide informed consent. Sabrina also liases with other teams and departments to ensure the seamless running of TwinsUK.

What about your culture are you most proud about? 

Being Moroccan and Irish, I am most proud of how welcoming and generous my people are. Morocco has a rich culture which has lasted millennia. I love hearing the mix of languages including Arabic, French, Spanish and Amazigh and enjoying the differences between people from each of these backgrounds. Moroccan food is some of the best there is with a irresistible mix of sweet and savoury dishes to indulge in – my personal favourite is Pastilla. On the other side, Ireland is a land of beautiful people, landscape and history. The Irish people are so welcoming to outsiders and their hospitality is second to none. I love hearing experiences of those who have travelled to Morocco and Ireland and feeling proud that they always say how amazing a time they had and can’t wait to back. If you have been to Morocco I’m sure you agree that the culture there is beautiful, from the people to the architecture, the tranquil mosaic gardens, delicious dishes, beaches and so on. I would highly recommend visiting Morocco or Ireland for any type of holiday!  

What customs do you practice? 

As a Muslim, we have always been taught to be respectful of others, to look out for one another, give generously and always perfect our manners. Currently we are practicing fasting in the month of Ramadan where we abstain from food and water during the day light hours which is a lesson in patience and humility. Coming from a conservative large Moroccan family I have always been taught the importance of family, and have always been close to a large part of my extended family. Cousins would be treated as brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles would be treated as second parents. During the summers, my whole extended family who are spread across Europe would meet at our grandma’s house and we would all sleep under the same roof, and this strengthened our bonds and If I could I would still continue that tradition as it always involved stomachs hurting from laughter! 

How important is diversity to you, and what value does It bring?  

Working in a diverse environment breeds creativity, understanding and tolerance. Our world is a big one and being somewhere where as many backgrounds are represented is a beautiful thing. A diverse team means diversity of thoughts, perspectives and approaches to different problems. I personally love interacting with different backgrounds and learning new things about different cultures and as someone from an ethnic minority background, I always try and impart some of my experiences and perspectives in the workplace. 

You Asked, We Actioned! 

26th July 2023 – By Aaruthy Suthahar 

It is important to us to foster a relationship built on mutual respect with our twins, and so the team at TwinsUK regularly reviews feedback from you after your clinic visit. Now, as we continue to collect and carefully consider feedback, TwinsUK is taking action to improve your experience when you come in for visits.  

One of the primary issues raised by the twins was regarding the clarity of directions to the TwinsUK clinic. In response, our admin team have now updated the document with clear directions, a map of the hospital, and approximate walking time from nearby stations to the department. We hope this will streamline your arrival to the clinic and reduce any confusion. 

During the feedback collection process, some twins shared their thoughts on the refreshments provided during the clinic visits, particularly following fasting periods. In response, we have taken steps to address this concern, acknowledging that light refreshments may not be sufficient for certain fasting periods. While we are not able to provide a bigger meal ourselves, we are now including a suggestion in your pre-visit information to bring lunch, for example sandwiches, to enjoy during the visit once the fasted samples have been collected. This measure aims to ensure that our participants receive enough nourishment during their time at the clinic. 

Furthermore, we are grateful for the time you give up to attend your visits and we aim to minimise waiting periods during your visit. In response to feedback regarding entertainment options, we have added a line in the visit confirmation email, encouraging you to bring a book, tablet or other form of entertainment to help pass the time comfortably. 

Additionally, we received valuable feedback from new twins about the clarity of the stool and urine collection instructions. As part of our commitment to continuous improvement, we have made updates to the instructions, ensuring that they are more straightforward and easier to follow.  

TwinsUK remains committed to establishing an open and transparent communication channel with our volunteers, understanding that constructive feedback is key to continuous improvement. By implementing these changes based on valuable feedback, we aim to create a more enjoyable and supportive environment for all the twins coming into the clinic. Thank you very much to all the twins who have taken the time to provide feedback so far.  

Diversity at TwinsUK: Taha Bhatti

Taha is a Project Coordinator whose main role is to set up and oversee projects relating to the engagement of twin participants. This includes working closely with the wider teams to develop remote data collection, manage the onboarding of new twins, and develop strategies to ensure continued involvement of long-standing twin members who can no longer visit. This critical role contributes to the longevity of TwinsUK by facilitating participant engagement and data collection.

What about your culture are you most proud about?

As a British Asian I have to say tea, naturally. I can’t attribute it to only one heritage as both nations are equally obsessed. Growing up, tea played a huge role in social gatherings and was served as a symbol of hospitality. It’s something that brings people together; from a classic afternoon tea with scones to a traditional spicy chai, tea is an integral part of both cultures and for me it’s a hug in a mug. 
 

What customs do you practice?

Being brought up with the principle of “treat others how you would like to be treated”. In essence, the idea is to approach every interaction with others with a sense of empathy and understanding. Heavy emphasis is placed on respect for elders, hospitality, and community-oriented values. I benefit from the positive impact of this ideal as I found it fosters stronger relationships and enhances my overall sense of well-being and happiness.
 

How Important Is Diversity To You, And What Value Does It Bring?

Diversity is important to me because everyone deserves to be treated with fairness and respect regardless of their background or characteristics i.e. race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, religion, disability, and socio-economic background.

Embracing diversity means recognising that everyone has something unique and valuable to contribute, and that our differences should be celebrated rather than used as a basis for discrimination or exclusion. Diversity contributes to the richness and vibrancy of our community and is essential for innovation and creativity as every individual brings a unique perspective.

Diversity at TwinsUK: Aaruthy

As the Communications and Engagement Officer at TwinsUK, Aaruthy is responsible for developing and implementing a comprehensive communication strategy that aligns with TwinsUK’s objectives and values. This strategy encompasses various channels, such as social media, newsletters, website content, and more. Aaruthy’s role also involves organising and attending engagement events to promote TwinsUK. 

What kind of culture did you grow up with? 

As a Sri Lankan Tamil born in the UK, I grew up with a rich and vibrant Tamil culture that played a significant role in shaping my identity. Tamil is my mother tongue, and I am fortunate to be able to speak it fluently. In addition to regular schooling, I attended Tamil school on Saturdays during my secondary school years. This allowed me to learn to read and write Tamil, and I also had the opportunity to explore various aspects of Tamil arts and traditions. 

Tamil school provided a platform for cultural enrichment, offering lessons in Carnatic instruments, Carnatic singing, and Bharatnatyam dance. I participated in Carnatic violin and Carnatic singing classes, as well as privately practicing Bharatnatyam dance. While I may not actively pursue these arts anymore, I cherish the experience and the deeper connection they fostered with my cultural heritage. 

Food played a vital role in our household, and I was exposed to numerous Tamil dishes. Among them, Kothu Roti is a personal favourite that I highly recommend to anyone eager to explore Sri Lankan cuisine. It was also customary in our culture to eat with our hands. Surprisingly, this practice not only added to the cultural experience but has also been shown to have potential health benefits. 

Tamil movies and songs were a constant presence in my childhood, offering entertainment and furthering my comprehension of the language. They served as a window into Tamil culture, deepening my connection to its traditions. 

Another aspect of Tamil culture that I love is the traditional clothing and accessories. The garments are unique and elegant, and the jewellery we wear tends to be bold statement pieces that capture attention and reflect our cultural heritage. 

Despite growing up in the UK with western influences, being exposed to these customs and more allowed me to express my culture and remain firmly connected to my roots. Embracing my Tamil identity has been a beautiful journey, shaping my perspective on life and instilling a sense of pride in my heritage. 

Can you share with us what diversity means to you? 

Embracing diversity means acknowledging and appreciating our differences without putting up walls. When we make an effort to learn from people with various backgrounds – whether it’s age, gender, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, education, or more – we break down barriers and clear up misunderstandings. This helps us connect with others, creating a more peaceful and enriched society. In the end, it’s about recognising our common humanity while valuing the distinct qualities each person brings to the table.

Diversity at TwinsUK: Paz García

Paz is Programme Manager, working broadly across operations to ensure studies are set up and delivered successfully. Paz also oversees communications and manages the Engagement Team and the Administration Team, ensuring that our twin participants are well looked after when taking part in research and kept up-to-date with everything at TwinsUK.

What kind of culture did you grow up with? 

My family is from Chile, so while we moved to the UK permanently in 1999, I still grew up in a fairly typical Latino household. This means lots of noise and a big emphasis on family – everyone has opinions on everything, but it also means that you can rely on your family to support you when you need it and celebrate the good things with you too. The Chilean/Latino culture I grew up with is more conservative than that generally in the UK, but living in the UK meant my family over time became much more progressive.  

What are your favourite customs? 

I quite like the naming customs in Chilean culture. Everyone receives two surnames; one from your father and one from your mother. When you get married, no one changes their surnames, and any children will go on to take their father’s first surname and their mother’s first surname. This way, you can easily trace back how people are related. 

I also like the custom of passing down first names in families. This is particularly common through the male line; for example, my grandfather, father, brother and nephew all have the same name. Because everyone will have different nicknames however, it’s usually obvious who you are talking to/about, if it’s not already obvious from context! 

Can you share with us what diversity and inclusion mean to you? 

Diversity and inclusion is about actively seeking out and involving people with different backgrounds, experiences and perspectives in the work that you do. This is important not just because it is morally the right thing to do, but because it also leads to better outcomes that better reflect the world today. A very clear example of the importance of diversity and inclusion in my work is through the ethics committee I sit on for King’s – there have been many times where ethical issues have been picked up by committee members due to their specific background or experiences, which otherwise would not have been identified or addressed. This ensures that research taking place at King’s is of a higher quality and ethical standard. 

Recent Blog Post

The Link Between Gut Viruses and Cardiometabolic Disease 

Paz is Programme Manager, working broadly across operations to ensure studies are set up and delivered successfully. Paz also oversees...

The gut microbiome can predict treatment response in rheumatoid arthritis

Paz is Programme Manager, working broadly across operations to ensure studies are set up and delivered successfully. Paz also oversees...

MRI scanner and researchers

TwinsUK Twins Undergo First MRI Scan in New Study on Healthy Ageing 

Paz is Programme Manager, working broadly across operations to ensure studies are set up and delivered successfully. Paz also oversees...