Interview with Lola, Lab Apprentice at the University of Nottingham

Technicians have been wonderful in many ways during 2020 from ensuring we’re kept entertained during lockdown, to testing vaccines so we can see our loved ones again.

Another way in which they have been vital is in education, by making sure that with all the turbulence students can return to learning environments safely, whether at school or university. As a lab apprentice at the University of Nottingham, Lola is a key part of this awesome technical team. Read on to learn more

Hi! Please can you tell us what you do?

Hi, my name is Lola and I am a trainee analytical services technician in the School of Chemistry at the University of Nottingham.

I work on the maintenance of various analytical instruments including Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) and Mass Spectroscopy. This includes ensuring that NMR instruments are sufficiently filled with liquid nitrogen, performing quality control tests, and submitting & clearing samples. I also help manage our database of users (these could be anyone from fellow technicians, to PhD students and academic colleagues), training new users and answering queries. As I am also completing an apprenticeship, I spend a portion of my working hours studying for a chemistry degree.

What are you currently working on, and why are technicians like you important in the fight against Covid-19?

As a technician I have played a role in supporting the core facilities that underpin research. Throughout the lockdown, I was the only apprentice working in the School of Chemistry and part of the team responsible for the weekly top of liquid nitrogen for the NMR instruments. The superconducting coils of the magnet in an NMR must remain at ten degrees above absolute zero to work (unbelievably cold!) or they fail - and that’s a very expensive problem to have! I would also do weekly health and safety checks to ensure everything was good to go once we re-opened. Technicians have played a huge role in ensuring that research could progress and continue smoothly during Covid-19 and I am proud to have played my part in that.

A technical career is wonderful as you get to do a little bit of everything in your chosen field 

 

What skills/attributes do you normally need to do your job? Have you had to apply them differently during Covid-19?

When working with valuable but potentially dangerous equipment, you need to pay close attention to detail and notice small changes in your environment. You also need to know when and have the confidence to ask for help or a second opinion.

Due to Covid-19, we have had to change how we provide some of our services which has led to more direct communication with researchers, so I feel like I have developed my customer-facing skills. With fewer colleagues on-site, I’ve had to be more pro-active with problem solving which has helped improve my independent working.

Crucially, I’ve become even better at planning ahead – you never know what’s around the corner!

What would you say to a young person thinking about a technical career?

A technical career is wonderful as you get to do a little bit of everything in your chosen field. I get to do, teach, learn about and help others with analytical chemistry. There are lots of opportunities to learn and grow with support available from employers and external groups like the Technician Commitment and the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC). I really believe that more young people should consider technical apprenticeships as you get respected, recognised qualifications as well as valuable practical experience which is useful wherever your career takes you.

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