A Technician Without a Lab

With the arrival of the Coronavirus pandemic, there are many technicians who are at the frontline, continuing to make things happen. 

One such technician, is Tom, a Research  & Teaching Technician of the Geography Laboratories at the University of Manchester. We spoke to him to find out how he's adapting to life under lockdown.

We’re supporting them to do what they can, where we can, when they can.  

 

Like many, my laboratory has recently been closed and I’ve made a rather rapid adjustment to working from home where possible.

Many of our staff and students are still managing to get some work done, albeit whilst juggling other responsibilities and the obvious restrictions to accessing resources. We’re supporting them to do what they can, where we can, when they can.

When the university closed, we started the process of putting our instruments to sleep. Given that a key part of our job is to keep all the kit running, this is a strange and sometimes disturbing thing to have to do.

We loaned out some microscopes to our research students so they can work and made copies of the data archives so we could finish reporting data from home. A few days later all our gloves and aprons made their way to the local hospitals and hospices.

When the university closed, we started the process of putting our instruments to sleep. Given that a key part of our job is to keep all the kit running, this is a strange and sometimes disturbing thing to have to do. 

 

One of the things I appreciate about my job is the clear division between my home and work life - you can't bring a lab’ home with you, so time at home is time for family, friends and hobbies. Not all jobs have that luxury, but all this has been turned on its head, so my partner and I spent the first few days getting setup for working from home, clearing tables to make way for workstations.

I spent some time helping academic colleagues with various videoconferencing platforms and remote access; I’ve been introduced to many pets over the last fortnight!

The team is using this desk time to review and update our methods and procedures and see where we can introduce new or improved methods. For example, we've lately been experimenting with different ways of measuring polluting microplastics in the environment, and this is the perfect opportunity to write up our experiments into a guide for the lab.

The technicians in the Geography Laboratories have a diverse range of backgrounds, from ecology and climate change research to analytical chemistry and industrial applications, and we are exposed to the entire cross-section of laboratory research work in our department. This means we have always offered advice on project planning, data processing and analysis. Most of our advice and tuition is offered one-to-one, as required, tailored for the lab user for their research project.

As they work hard in worrisome and unfamiliar circumstances, I hope they find some comfort in their purpose.

 

With many of our students now considering writing final year projects using secondary data rather than working through the summer in the laboratory, our analytical support is needed more than ever. We’ve been pooling our knowledge to list suitable secondary data sources for project work and trying to advertise and structure the informal support we offer.

Because technicians work so closely with data, we often have considerable expertise in how to process and analyse it. I’m currently offering a course on statistical programming and considering another more specialist course. It’s a learning experience for me as well – I don’t usually write or deliver taught courses, let alone remotely. I was pleasantly surprised at the attendance, and I hope my new students find it as educational and I do. It’s a strange feeling delivering a course to experienced lecturers, especially setting them homework!

I often think of the biomedical technicians working in all the research and diagnostic labs right now – many have packed up their laboratories onto pallets or volunteered for secondment to government facilities. As they work hard in worrisome and unfamiliar circumstances, I hope they find some comfort in their purpose.

Sign up to our newsletter