Faculty of Biological Services - Technical Staff Away Day 2018

Katie Leeman from Organisational Development and Professional Learning (OD&PL) reports on the Faculty of Biological Sciences (FBS) technical staff Away Day that she was involved with shaping.

On the 25th May over 65 technical staff attended the 5th annual FBS technical staff Away Day. With six speakers and an afternoon of colleagues showcasing their skills, their work and their talents. I found it an informative and insightful day. The event was organised, crafted and delivered by a working group of volunteers representing the various technical roles in the Faculty, along with support from OD&PL and HR.  

The day was introduced by Jackie Goodall, Senior Technical Services Manager. She handed over to the first speaker for the day, Professor John Ladbury, Dean of FBS.  It was good to hear about the support for this event over the past 5 years from the academic community and Faculty Management Group. John commented that FBS technicians are pioneers in developing this forum and hopes that the University recognises this activity. He said that the continual success of the Faculty is due to everyone working together.

John also commented on the challenges that technical staff face in terms of career progression and is extremely supportive of the University’s engagement with the Technician Commitment http://technicians.org.uk/techniciancommitment/ noting that FBS technical staff have participated in over 100 conferences and training opportunities over the past year.

We learnt more about the Commitment from our first guest speaker, Tracey Dickens, a project officer for the Technician Commitment from The Gatsby Foundation. Gatsby encourages and supports projects that focus on individuals developing and progressing in their technician career. Also, along with the Science Council, it is dedicated to raising the profile of technicians and driving the Technician Commitment forward. 

Tracey discussed the importance of the Technician Commitment and its four key areas:

• Visibility: Ensuring that technicians are identifiable and that their contributions are visible within and beyond where they work

• Recognition: Ensuring that technicians gain recognition through professional registration https://sciencecouncil.org/scientists-science-technicians/benefits-of-professional-registration/what-is-professional-registration/

• Career Development: Enabling career progression opportunities for technicians through the provision of clear, documented career pathways

• Sustainability: Ensuring technical skills and expertise are fully utilised, nurtured and future focused.

Many Universities and research institutes have become signatories of the Technicians Commitment – including us! – and have pledged action towards the key challenges faced by technical staff. Tracey shared with us how other universities are addressing and implementing the four key areas, and also the challenges they are facing, not least identifying who their technicians are and how they are defined! We were then updated by Jo Lawton from HR on what plans are in place here at the University of Leeds.

Expect to hear a lot more about the Technician Commitment as the University will be rolling out a number of initiatives to drive forward the above four key areas and our action plan will be published in October 2018. 

The following session was a workshop focusing on one of the Technician Commitment areas: Career Development. As the workshop convenor, I wanted to find out ‘what being a technician at the University of Leeds’ means to people. The workshop gave technical staff a great opportunity to discuss the common issues and positive experiences they encounter in their every-day roles.

The groups were then asked to ‘map out’ their own personal career journey whilst also considering the following topics:

career journey

- enablers / opportunities - what were the opportunities or decisions you took got you to where you are? 

- challenges / barriers – was there any particular challenge that you had to overcome? How did you overcome it? 

- transferable skills and knowledge / skills and knowledge you have but are not being used! – sometimes we focus so much on what we are doing in the day-to-day that we tend to forget, or even recognise! that we are utilising learnt skills/applying knowledge that can be transferred across to different roles 

- advice to self – if you could turn back the clock and have a conversation with your younger self – what one piece of (work/job related!) advice would you give yourself. 

The outcomes of this session were analysed to identify any re-occurring themes, some common responses for the first 3 topics were: 

• ‘Networking; Positive Thinking; Supportive Colleagues and Line Managers, PI’s; Formal and Informal Mentors;  Broadening Work Experience;  UOL’

• ‘Lack of confidence, self-belief, imposter syndrome;  Lack of Career Opportunities;  flat structures;  Funding and Short-term contracts’ 

• ‘Problem Solving;  Leadership; Teaching; Time Management; Multi-tasking;  Customer Service; Communication; Training Others; Organisational Skills

From this information the Faculty can develop an action plan to target common issues.

 The common responses to the ‘advice to self’ topic included:

• ‘Do not worry about things that have not happened yet’

• ‘Do what you want to do, not what others think you should do’

• ‘Try not to drift along, look for and take the opportunities’

• ‘Be proactive. Don’t wait for opportunities to comer along – seek them out!’

• ‘Don’t be afraid to ask for help/guidance’

• ‘Never stop learning’

Many of the outcomes and contributions from this workshop will help the University shape its Technician Commitment action plan – so I appreciated the input from technicians.

Following lunch we had our last two guest speakers; Dr Iain Manfield, the Technology Facility Manager, who introduced FBS’s Technology Tool-Kit, giving an overview of Facilities available in the Faculty where a number of technical staff are based. The final talk was by Professor Mark Harris on ‘Viruses and how we stop them! Developing new antiviral drugs’. Mark took us through his research into developing new antiviral drugs to combat two major world-wide problems. One of his areas of research is Hepatitis C as there are currently 73 million people suffering from this virus. Also, there is currently no antiviral treatment available against the Ebola virus which has a fatality rate of 25-90%. It was good to hear about the cutting-edge research that some FBS technical staff are involved in.

ShowcaseShowcase event

The final part of the day was a showcase event. The technical staff took over one of the teaching labs with displays of all the different work they are involved in. All of the staff in the Faculty, along with technical managers from around the University, members of the Technician Commitment Committee and Technicians’ Network steering group were all invited to come and see the varied roles of technical staff in FBS. We were overwhelmed with the response, the talent, the knowledge sharing, passion, enthusiasm and also the creativity – in particular the posters depicting the working lives of our lab assistants by Tomy Jenkins.

Artwork by TommyArtwork by Tomy Jenkins depicting the roles of Lab Assistants Artwork by Tomy Jenkins depicting the roles of Lab Assistants 

There were displays and interactive experiments on testing our sense of smell; the life-cycle of wasp larva in moths; teaching practical techniques to undergraduates; nutrition and production of pigs; bio-mechanical testing and much more!

The day ended with Dr Slobodan Babic, Faculty Technical Resources Manager, reflecting on the day and thanking everyone for their contributions. The feedback was extremely positive and indicated that an organisational-wide technicians’ away-day would be most welcomed so…stay tuned! 

By Katie Leeman Learning and Development Adviser, OD&PL

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