Only a few years out of her diploma, Sahiba Kaur was working on the frontlines of New Zealand's COVID-19 response. A laboratory technician, Sahiba became part of a specialist team responsible for virus testing and received an award from the Prime Minister for her efforts.
"I moved to New Zealand to study in 2016. I'm originally from Himachal Pradesh, India. I was looking for something to do with laboratory science, but I didn't want to do a big degree; I wanted to keep it short. So I chose UCOL's National Diploma in Science Level 5 and 6* - it was a two year course, more practical and very hands on."
When Sahiba graduated in 2017, she was thrilled to be offered a job almost immediately.
"I got a position working for MedLab Central right after I finished my diploma, working in their specimen services team. After five or six months, they were impressed and promoted me to the microbiology department. They offered to help me study further with their in-house programme, and now I am a fully registered medical laboratory technician."
When New Zealand's COVID-19 response started ramping up, there were limitations to the testing that was possible – which led to the creation of MedLab Central's own COVID-19 testing laboratory.
"It was a pretty interesting start! An email came around the office, talking about how they were thinking about setting up a new lab, and asked for volunteers who had experience with pipette work. I was well-practiced with that from my UCOL study, so I put my name forward to help. I didn't hear anything for a few days, then suddenly there was a message on Sunday to start on Monday!"
"I was nervous to start, but I felt really proud to be a part of the team. We worked pretty much every day to get the testing done, dividing it into manageable day and night shifts."
Sahiba's hard work didn't go unnoticed. In 2023, she received a COVID-19 Response Recognition Award from the Prime Minister for the critical role she played in the pandemic response.
"It was an amazing feeling to be recognised for all of the work we have done, because it was quite busy at the height of the pandemic. It was really nice that the government appreciated that."
As the demand for COVID-19 testing slowed down, Sahiba moved back into Medlab's microbiology department. There, she tests things like blood and urine samples and throat swaps for different kinds of infections.
In 2022, Sahiba returned to UCOL to do the Bachelor of Applied Science (Laboratory Science). Having already completed the diploma programmes, the degree will only take a year for Sahiba to complete.
"I've been working as a lab technician for the past five years, so I wanted to get my degree so I can progress into a scientist role. A lot of my assignments relate to what I'm doing at work, so it helped me ease back into study."
*UCOL now offers the updated
New Zealand Diploma in Applied Science (Levels 5 & 6).