"Not 'just' a technician"
Our first event to celebrate and champion technicians in education highlights how we can better support the unsung heroes of scientific research.
Last week, we held our first event for technicians in education, hosted at the University of Nottingham in collaboration with the Science Council.
The event brought together technicians from schools, further education and higher education to discuss the challenges they face and how the Royal Society of Chemistry and Science Council can provide further support at all stages of their career.
Professor Peter Licence, director of the GlaxoSmithCline Carbon Neutral Laboratory at the University of Nottingham, opened the day, acknowledging the vital role technicians played in developing their department.
“Our journey converting an industrial site into one of the best academic environments in Europe could not have been done without impact and commitment of technicians,” he said. “The best experiments I've ever done have been with a team of engineers who have developed the tools to do the work. Without our technicians, we cannot deliver excellence.”
Our deputy chief executive and current chair of the Science Council, Dr Helen Pain, gave an overview of our current activities and role in awarding professional registration and chartered status to recognise proficiency in technical roles.
Kelly Vere, technical skills development manager at the University of Nottingham and higher education lead at the Science Council then introduced the recently established Technician Commitment – a pledge that universities and research institutes can sign up to, committing to increase support and visibility of their technical staff.
I was the person who used to say 'I'm just a technician'. We have to stop saying that
So far, 75 organisations have signed the commitment – a huge achievement that represents a shift in how technicians are recognised and celebrated. One of the aims of the commitment is to ensure future sustainability of technical skills within the sciences. Over 50% of technicians currently working are set to retire in the next 5-10 years, so attracting new talent to the profession is crucial.
“All of my experiments were enabled by a technician,” said Professor Dame Carol Robinson, our current president, in her keynote speech at the event.
Carol started her scientific career at the age of 16 as a technician at Pfizer, before going on to do a PhD at the University of Cambridge.
She now holds the Chair of Doctor Lee’s Professor of Chemistry at the University of Oxford. “I was the person who used to say 'I'm just a technician’ and we have to stop saying that.”
Delegates then took part in a workshop in which they could consider what support they would like to see from the Royal Society of Chemistry under the Technician Commitment objectives of visibility, recognition, career development and sustainability. Lively discussions generated ideas such as regional meet-ups and greater networking opportunities for technicians, assisting with the cost of professional recognition, and offering training courses that could count towards obtaining higher qualifications.
“It's nice to see that other institutions are taking notice and helping technicians get our profile up,” said Lee Hibbert, senior research support technician in the department of pharmacy at the University of Nottingham. “It's been too long that it's always been 'we're just technicians'. We are technicians and we're vital to the university. Without us they can't function.
“I was really impressed with the keynote speaker, Carol Robinson. It was nice to hear from someone that I could relate to as I started my career at 16 as well. For me it's great that there's this cultural change and that organisations like the RSC are actually getting involved in this and driving it forward. I think that's really positive.”
Find out more about professional registration and charters available through your membership.
Find out more about the Technician Commitment and watch a video on progress so far.
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Registered Scientist and Registered Science Technician
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