Mel Leitch on Queen’s University Belfast’s Technician Showcase

By 17th October 2019 Blog, News
Queens University Belfast Technician Showcase
Our very own Deputy Director Mel Leitch attended Queen’s University Belfast’s first ever Technician Showcase this September. Read on for his account of the day.

On the 9th September I travelled to Queen’s University Belfast for their very first Technician Showcase event organised by Gillian Riddell, who a Technician in Biological Sciences and is Technical Lead for the Technician Commitment.

The day started at 11.00 with an Introduction by Prof. Mark Price who in addition to being the PVC for the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences is also Co-Chair of the Technician Commitment Steering Group.  Mark highlighted how Technicians are vital to Queen’s in responding to the ongoing challenges across the Higher Education sector. Queen’s consistently delivers outstanding teaching and research however this is dependent on the knowledge and skills of its technical workforce for support and to fuel innovation.

Queens University Belfast Technician Showcase

Prof Emma Flynn, PVC for Research and Enterprise, reflected on how technicians have been central to her research into how knowledge and skills are transmitted into and through cultures, including from one generation to the next.  This was a fabulously engaging talk by an academic who wisely used the diverse knowledge and skills which her technicians brought to her research group, resolving research problems in developmental psychology with engineering solutions.  It was great to hear such a positive narrative celebrating the endeavours of her technicians Elaine and Andy.  The narrative included an important message about working together, specifically that success comes through the collective endeavour and not through the lone genius.

Last, but not least, was Kelly Vere, Director of Technical Skills & Strategy (University of Nottingham) and HE & Technician Commitment Lead (Science Council).  Kelly outlined her journey with the Science Council and the Technician Commitment.  Indeed, it was great to be reminded that Queen’s University was one of the founder signatories of the Technician Commitment in 2017 and since then over 85 Universities have now signed up to the pledge.

Kelly highlighted examples of activity inspired by the principles of the Technician Commitment (visibility, recognition, sustainability, carer development and impact), showing clearly that technicians in all Universities are facing similar challenges.  It was especially pleasing to hear about the impact of the Technician Commitment as detailed in the GATSBY 1 year report which gave examples of successful initiatives such as the allocation of resources to allow Technicians to attend a conference for the 1st time, recruitment of apprenticeships, awards to recognise the work of technicians and recognition that Technicians provide front line support for student mental health.  That the Technician Commitment has now gone beyond UK HEIs to organisations such as the Institute of Physics and the Royal Society and universities overseas.Queens University Belfast Technician Showcase

Technician demonstrations and posters were held in the new Biological Sciences building, an impressive structure with a huge atrium that was packed, not just with Technicians, but academics too, including Prof Ian Greer, Vice Chancellor and President.  The depth and diversity of skills on display was hugely impressive.  To give you a flavour, precision engineering, arts and media, digital technology, Venepuncture, technology in teaching, cell cryostorage for asthma research, digital 3d representations in archaeology.  The posters were equally impressive showcasing a diverse range of activity from outreach, mass Spectrometry, concrete analysis, radiocarbon dating, microchip manufacture to name a few.  Congratulations to the three winners (Siobhan McDermott and the technicians from the Centre for Archaeological Fieldwork, Emma Healey (School of Biological Sciences), and Luc Belaid (School of Pharmacy)) who made a lasting impression with their demonstrations and posters. The feedback I was picking up from talking to the technicians participating in the showcase was that they enjoyed learning about the activities of their technical colleagues.  Additionally, as the event was outward looking, the academics were also impressed by the diversity of knowledge and skills, professionalism and commitment of the technical staff which was exactly my experience.  A big thankyou to Gillian Riddell and colleagues who not only made it happen but also made me feel so welcome!