Specialist Advisor Spotlight: Dr. Arthur Nicholas

By 4th November 2021 November 10th, 2021 Blog, News
Our Specialist Advisors are a key part of our team, offering expertise across a range of disciplines. Over the coming months, we will be showcasing their hard work by spotlighting each Advisor. In this article, Dr. Arthur Nicholas, reflects on his decades-spanning career in HEI. 

It’s a sure sign that you’ve been around too long when “exciting new initiatives” have a familiar feel. Reading about the University’s “new Apprenticeship scheme” brought this into sharp focus for me. The scheme was very reminiscent of the Trainee Technician “supernumerary scheme” on which my career journey as a Technician began way back in 1975. I’d had a very good run for my money and felt it was now time to move on. Planning my retirement from the University gave me cause to take stock and reflect on that journey. I’d like to share that reflection with you.

One might expect a 43-year, single employer, career journey, spent travelling the highways and byways of a UK HEI, to have been rather monotonous, it certainly wasn’t! Navigating the twists and turns in its highways and byways was never dull and delivered many challenges and opportunities which shaped my career. A career which stretched my capabilities and equipped me with a rounded portfolio of expertise and skills in a number of fields, namely: Teaching & Research; Environmental Sustainability; Estates & Facilities; Health & Safety and Management, in its broadest sense. Some bullet point examples of outcomes from working in these fields serve to add some flesh to the bones of my career:

  • Publication of Biochemistry Research papers in major peer reviewed international journals
  • Publication of “Laboratory Sustainability” briefing papers in collaboration with Higher Education Environmental Performance Improvement Project, (HEEPI)
  • Hosting, organising and presenting at several nationally and internationally attended meetings covering: Biochemical Research; “Laboratory Sustainability”; “Laboratory Management” and “Technical Training & Development”
  • Work Experience programs: planned, developed and delivered, for schoolchildren aged 14-18
  • Training & Development, in Health & Safety (H&S) planned, developed and delivered, for University Staff & Students
  • Project Management for: infrastructure, capital build, relocation, procurement and research programmes
  • Awards: several University awards for Environmental Sustainability and bursaries in support of applications submitted for Research projects in Canada (UBC, UALBERTA) and the UK (Arup).

My career also delivered a cornucopia of academic and vocational opportunities which underpinned, informed and broadened my professional horizons. I attained ONC, HNC, Grad. M.I.Biol, MSc, PhD and Postgraduate Diplomas in Management (D.M.S) and H&S (NEBOSH) whilst in full time employ.

My first year at the University delivered training in a raft of, in-house, practical skills across Sci. & Eng. e.g. spot welding; electronics; glass blowing; animal handling. This set the scene for future years; an eclectic mix of vocational training covered: Health & Safety; Business & Finance; Management & Supervisory Training; Personal & Interpersonal Skills. Some bullet point examples of training outcomes provide a flavour of this eclectic mix:

  • Personal License’s for: Animal Sci. Procedures (Home Office) and Alcohol/Hospitality (GQAL Level 2)
  • Certificates for: “Leading Your Technical Team” (UCoSDA) Project Management (PRINCE 2 Practioner) AutoCAD Level 1 (AutoTRAIN) Emergency Breathing Apparatus (Fire Safe International) Introduction to Ergonomics (CIEHF recognised) and Safety for Biological Safety Officers (MRC)

To add further to the mix, I embarked on “detours” investigating other avenues for personal and professional development both within and outside of the University. Within the University, I was elected as a member of one of its governing bodies (General Assembly) became a mentor for the University’s mentoring scheme, Chaired the University’s Sustainable Laboratories Working Group and acted as a University contact for Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges (EAUC).

Outside of the University, I established, productive working relationships within a number of professional bodies including the Royal Society of Biology (RSB) and Institute of Science and Technology (IST) becoming a Fellow (FRSB, FIScT) of both. I held the posts of Treasurer and Chair for the University Bioscience Managers’ Association (UBMA) and was honoured to be elected as its Vice President in 2021. I acted as a Regional Network Co-ordinator for both HEaTED and The Universities Safety and Health Association (USHA). I became a Member of the Institute of Safety in Technology and Research (MISTR) and achieved Chartered Member status (CMIOSH) of the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH).

Making such “detours” inspired me to explore, grow in confidence and contribute more widely to shaping best practice and achieving, HEI sector wide, advances; notably in enhancing the professionalism, employability and career progression prospects of Technical staff, in the development of safe & sustainable laboratories and in other areas of H&S, for example:

  • Laboratory design consultancy project at the Univ. of Malta, with IST
  • “Higher Education Bioscience Technician of the Year” award; lead on its development and launch, with RSB/UBMA
  • Delivered Regional Network meetings for HEI Technical staff (HEaTED) and H&S professionals (USHA)
  • Published: “Guidance on H&S of Placements for Higher Education Students” in collaboration with H&S colleagues across the HEI sector (USHA)

Possibly, the focus of my career was weighted too much toward development at the expense of progression but I shan’t dwell on that. Unsurprisingly, my post retirement plan was constructed to include an element of personal and professional development which continues to challenge and stretch my capabilities.

Throughout my career, I have been a strong advocate of the Technician profession. This advocacy continues, post retirement, through my professional activities as Vice President of the UBMA; as Trustee of the Science Council; as IST Education Officer and Chair of its Education Board and as a Specialist Advisor to the National Technician Development Centre (NTDC). I continue to acquire fresh knowledge and insight, using it, in combination with that accumulated during my career, to explore and contribute to the development of the “professional” Technician and promotion of social inclusion within the Technical profession. I leave where I came in by sharing this quote. . .

“Reflecting on the past is like using a rear-view mirror in a car, it’s good to glance back and see how far you’ve come, but if you stare too long you’ll miss what’s right in front of you.”

– Anon

Just another day in the office for a University Technician.