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VCU student works in local COVID-19 testing lab

Yaa Adarkwa Darko is pursuing a master's degree in bioinformatics at VCU.
Yaa Adarkwa Darko

Yaa Adarkwa Darko dedicated the past year to COVID-19 testing research and prevention. Last summer, she started at GENETWORx as a laboratory assistant and quickly worked her way up to a medical technologist position. GENETWORx is a research laboratory and health management service company that specializes in pharmacogenomics. During the global pandemic, they served as national leaders in diagnostic and antibody testing for COVID-19. 

Over the past few months, Darko and her team have developed a nasopharyngeal COVID-19 test that has a 48-hour turnover window with a 99% accuracy rating. “Working on important and time-sensitive materials during COVID-19 has taught me the importance of efficiency, precision, accuracy, attention to detail, excellent communication and time management,” says Darko. When not focusing on COVID-19 testing research, GENETWORx offers pharmacogenomic DNA genotyping, which is a form of DNA drudge response testing.

“Working on COVID has been kind of scary because you see the many samples coming in and you think the pandemic might never end. It can get frustrating, but at the same time, I am glad a lot of people are still getting tested.”

With so many unknowns about COVID-19, working with the virus has its own set of risks. “I was a bit nervous before I started working at GENETWORx because I was worried about what exposure to the virus would be like, but that feeling went away once I saw the kind of safety protocols they have in place,” Darko explained. “Working on COVID has been kind of scary because you see the many samples coming in and you think the pandemic might never end. It can get frustrating, but at the same time, I am glad a lot of people are still getting tested.”

Darko graduated from VCU with a bachelor’s degree in forensic science and a minor in chemistry last year. “At VCU, I learned how to prioritize my time and how to work with deadlines,” she says. “I also apply the skills and values I picked up from working with other students and professors in my work.” Currently, she is completing VCU’s master’s program in bioinformatics while working full time, so her time management skills are being put to the test. Thankfully, Darko has a supportive community of professors, peers and professionals. She commented, “In the long run they [her community] are your most valuable resources for any type of information and experience.”

VCU not only provides rigorous classes but also encourages students to gain hands-on experience in their field through internships and jobs. “The most important thing I learned from VCU is how to problem-solve,” Darko mentioned. “A lot of people do not know this, but school prepares you for jobs that require critical thinking and problem-solving. Being skilled in these two areas are very important and companies look for this in their employees.” 

When asked what advice she would offer to fellow VCU students, Darko encouraged, “I suggest getting some type of laboratory experience before graduating. Look for internships, jobs hiring for laboratory assistants or even student worker jobs connected to the science laboratory on campus.” Darko advises, “Networking is important and keep in contact with your professors and other professionals on campus. In the long run, they are your most valuable resources for any type of information and experience.”

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