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Milena Cioroch, Research Assistant in the Wade-Martins Lab at the Oxford Parkinson's Disease Centre, is undertaking a Management training course as part of the University of Oxford Apprenticeships scheme. She has been awarded Apprentice of the Month for March 2020 by her training provider Abingdon and Witney College. Here we take a closer look at her work for the department and how she has developed her career through the scheme.

Milena and certificateMilena Cioroch joined DPAG as a Research Assistant in Professor Richard Wade-Martins Lab in 2010. In 2018, she commenced an 18 month apprenticeship as part of the Work Learn Develop University of Oxford Apprenticeship scheme, training in conjunction with the Abingdon and Witney College.

The scheme provides accredited training courses for University staff that that cover a wide range of skill areas that are core to University administration as well as covering technical and niche skills areas. Milena is now coming towards the end of the OCR Level 3 Diploma in Management, equipping her with strong lab management skills.

After reviewing nominations from tutors, assessors and training coordinators of all apprentices in every subject area, the College has selected Milena as their apprenticeship of the month for March 2020. 


I would like to express a huge congratulations to Milena, who has been nominated for all her hard work above and beyond what is expected for an apprentice, her dedication to the apprenticeship has not gone unnoticed. - Gemma Lead, Quality Lead - Work Based Learning, Abingdon & Witney College 

Following this recognition of her work, Milena explains how the scheme has worked for her and what it's like to manage a large research lab.

What led you to apply for the scheme?

Since joining the Wade-Martins Group in 2010, lab management has always been part of my responsibilities. As the lab expanded over time, my responsibilities were shifting increasingly towards managing the lab, so I realised I needed more tools to improve my skill-set. In 2018, I came across the Work Learn Develop scheme and found a few management courses, so I had a chat with Prof Wade-Martins about this opportunity. Because I was already "in the job" for a while, we discussed how it would work for me and enable me to learn new skills before meeting with people running the programme. From the start, Prof Wade-Martins was very supportive of my new adventure because he knew that it would be good for my professional development and trusted me to fit it in with my other lab responsibilities. Having the full support of your line manager is 50% of successfully finishing the course.

What does the apprenticeship involve day-to-day?

Before starting, I met with my assessor to choose my units, and they helped navigate me through it and advised me on the best units to take for my role. Then, at the start of my course, once a week for 10 weeks we had meetings at the Abingdon & Witney College to go through some topics, which was great. It was a very interactive programme with a small group of 8 people and 2 great teachers. After that, I began going through my syllabus at work; the apprenticeship requires that 20% of your working time will be devoted to learning new skills. I had regular meetings with both my assessor and Prof Wade-Martins because observing and shadowing your line manager is also a part of your learning process.

Tell us more about the work you do in the Lab

My overall responsibility, together with the lab's Research Manager, is setting up and allocating tasks to all lab members. Alongside that, I am responsible for a wide variety of tasks, including animal and colony management, carrying out training in regulated procedures, health and safety inductions, ordering supplies and assisting researchers with their experiments, primarily in the form of generating experimental cohorts.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I like that no day is the same. We are a big group of over 30 people and there is always something new to deal with. I really like helping my colleagues with my knowledge and expertise.  

What do you find most challenging about your job?

Every day brings new challenges and new situations. And I need to deal with each new challenge to keep the lab running! I very often need to come up with solutions to ad hoc problems for researchers, for example if they need something last minute, or an order for reagents needs chasing. I have to be very resourceful. 

Tell us about a highlight of your time so far

I have a scientific degree, having graduated from Intercollegiate Faculty of Biotechnology, University of Gdansk and Medical University of Gdansk in Poland, obtaining a MSc degree in Biochemistry, and for my whole professional life I have been based in labs. So, when I took my Level 3 Diploma in Management I entered a new chapter. Of course, we manage ourselves and our work on an everyday basis, but to learn about it is totally different! When I started my course, it was a challenge to understand what everything meant and what was required of me, but in those first 10 weeks during the College days, slowly the world of management revealed itself to me. And then it hit me and I started understanding it all. And I loved learning about all the aspects of people management and managing a project. A major highlight of my career is the people I work with, so this was a great learning experience for me. I guess this led me to be selected for Apprentice of the month!

What skills have you picked up through the scheme?

During the course I've learned so much. The course gave me the proper tools and understanding for how to manage people and how to manage myself.

Would you recommend the apprenticeship scheme to others?

I would definitely recommend the apprenticeship to others. If you want to improve your skills, or learn new ones, this apprenticeship is just right for you. And all the people working in the College are so very helpful, from the coordinators to your assessor.


More information on the Apprenticeships scheme can be found here.

Photography: ©️David Tolley