I am competing in the Manchester Half Marathon in October. I am fundraising for Alzheimer’s Society, and I would really appreciate any extra support. I witnessed firsthand this tragic disease with my late Mother and how distressing it can be for all concerned.
You can donate to my JustGiving page by clicking here.
Donating through JustGiving is simple, fast and totally secure. Once you donate, they’ll send your money directly to Alzheimer’s Society, so it’s the most efficient way to give – saving time and cutting costs for the charity.
Stephen Bunn, Senior Mechanical Technician, Schuster Workshop
(Contributed by Cassandra Hodgkinson, edited by Andrew Angus-Whiteoak)
International Women’s Day (IWD) – celebrated across the world annually on 8th March. The University of Manchester marks this day each year with a week of events. This year is no different. #EmbraceEquity is the theme for 2023. You can find out details about events on StaffNet.
With so many brilliant events planned, Technical Excellence at Manchester (TEaM) wanted to make sure to get in first to start things off with a roar. As a network that really speaks for a core body of essential staff at the University, it was critical to provide a platform for technical voices to be heard.
On Wednesday 15th February, a panel discussion took place in celebration of IWD. We made clear with our diverse and experienced panel that we truly support the University’s core values especially, in light of IWD, with respect to Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. The panel consisted of women in technical roles, including:
• Xiangli Zhong (she/her) – Senior Technical Specialist in Focused Ion Beam Systems (FSE) • Dr Dharshika Pathiranage (she/her) (FBMH) – Laboratory Manager for a research group (FBMH) • Victoria Kelly (she/her) – Risk and Compliance Officer (FBMH); and • Dr Abby Ragazzon-Smith (she/her) – Analytical Specialist in the Physical and Elemental Characterisation team (FSE) (absent on the day, but the chair shared her thoughts/contributions on the day). • Dr Jessica Boland (she/her) (chair) – Academic based in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering (FSE), leading the CUSTOM near-field microscopy facility in the Photon Science Institute.
It was wonderful to hear each person share their experiences of their career journey, highlighting the positive and not so positive encounters along the way. Topics of discussion included:
Discrepancy between technical and academic structures
Challenges to promotion / moving up grades
Lack of a career path
Some of these issues resulting the loss of skilled people to other institutions/industry
Feeling that there are limited opportunities for recognition
The need for greater representation of technical staff on decision making panels/committees
Technical staff needing their own structure, rather than sit within Professional Services
Each panel member highlighted the support received from fellow technical staff and other colleagues, despite harrowing personal journeys. Having this support, and being encouraged to recognise their personal and professional value, helped them see the importance of their role within our organisation.
Some questions posed to the panel around their feeling of representation:
Do you feel well represented? As a person with a protected characteristic or a technical member of staff?
Any challenges faced to get that representation?
The responses covered aspects of disability; hidden disabilities and the importance of speaking up to increase awareness and access to support; the limited visibility of women in some areas of the organisation; the flexible working approach to cater for staff with caring responsibilities, and the difference in support / accessibility of this. There was a sense that things have improved within our organisation over the years. As with anything, there is always more that could/should be done. We know the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion office are progressing things more and more each year. The pandemic revealed the capacity for our organisation to adapt and change working practices rapidly when there is a desire to. Hybrid working was made possible through the introduction of technology, systems and procedures. This has been well received and encouraged by so many as we strive for greater inclusion and a work-life balance. However, there is a cautionary tale from technical staff. Some systems previously embraced during the pandemic have been removed as the desire for a greater physical presence increases. Technical staff understand the requirement for delivering high quality teaching and research services, and would like an open mind to be maintained as to how this can look and the flexible approaches that may be suitable to implement (if service deliver and safety requirements allow). Jessica closed the session with words of inspiration shared from Abby:
“Be the change you want to see!”
Encouragement provided to everyone, especially recognition that our technical staff are excellent! You are encouraged to shout about the issues in your area. Seek out the advice and support you need to improve the way we work here at the University of Manchester so that we can #EmbraceEquity.
Support The University aims to take a holistic approach that celebrates individuals. There are a number of policies and guidance documents to support gender equity. These include:
Shout out to another Staff Network Group: Women@Manchester Women@Manchester is a staff network group open to all colleagues at the University. The network are committed to non-binary and trans inclusion and welcome the contribution of all women.
The network is about creating a group who can learn from, work with and support each other’s careers and the conditions for success whilst in parallel continuing to accelerate gender equity within our University. This network is intended to complement the existing vibrant networks that we have across the University. More information: Women@Manchester staff network
A lot of the heavy lifting to coordinate this event was carried out by Andrew Angus-Whiteoak. The TEaM Committee and all of our network members are very grateful to you for making this event happen.
Victoria Kelly: “The most interesting question was “All other E&D networks have allies and champions, is there similar support for disabled staff?”. We were lucky enough to have Hamied Haroon in the audience, who is a research associate in FBMH. Who in 2006, go together with other colleagues to set up a disabled staff network at the University. It was one of the first in the UK, Hamied has since launched – and is Chair of – the National Association of Disabled Staff Networks (NADSN) who fielded this question. If you are interested, this Network is open to all members of staff at The University of Manchester who consider themselves to have an impairment, cognitive difference, or long-term health/medical condition, and to members of staff who have a specific interest in this area of work.” More information can be found here.
I have strategic oversight of technical staff in the Faculty of Medicine, Biology and Health which, comprises about 250 staff. Technical services are a very diverse group and include very specialist technologists, as well as the essential staff supporting key services such as media prep and practical student classes. However, most of our technicians work directly on grant funded projects from the molecular to the whole organism level. My job is about making sure that we have a technical service that is fit for purpose and future focussed. One of the key apects of my role is to make sure that our technical staff are supported in terms of their wellbeing, H&S and their development needs. I am a member of the University Technical Commitment Leadership Groups, and work with them to help the university meet all requirements associated with being a signatory of the Technicians Commitment.
On a typical day, what do you spend most of your time on?
Oh that’s kind of hard to say as it varies so much, and because I’ve only been in post from January 2023. So far when I am on campus, I tend to use the time to meet with people face to face and that can range from attending Professional Services Leadership Team meetings, Estates, Compliance and Risk as well as technical teams and individuals in our Faculty. When i work from home I tend to spend the time gathering data and compiling reports and responding to emails.
Describe your career path to date, including highs and lows.
My career path started in biological sciences research, and after deciding that the academic route was not a good fit for me, I moved into the technical family undertaking research, but ultimately moving into technical management. It’s not been a linear pathway though, and personal circumstances have meant that my family and I have moved around quite a bit. I had the great opportunity to work on two national HEfCE funded projects which allowed me to visit UK HEIs and research institutes across the country, where I learnt that technicians were facing the same issues no matter where they were based. I also spent a couple of years working as a Technical Careers Manager for the MI TALENT project, which was great fun. The low points for me were when I had to leave some great jobs due to family moves but the highs were when working on the national projects getting to meet some fantastic technicians and working with them to create positive changes.
What’s your proudest accomplishment at work
I think my proudest achievements are to do with seeing members of my team developing and achieving their career goals. When I was working for the MI TALENT project I developed an EDI recruitment check list which I am also very proud of.
What was your lowest moment?
My lowest moment was when I spent four months unemployed between securing my first technical post and leaving a post-doctoral position.
What drives you?
I am very much a people person and I want people to be happy at work, to feel recognised and rewarded for what they do.
Tell us a funny story, work-related or not:
During my PhD I was setting up a bioreactor system that involved a series of media filters, I couldn’t understand why tubes kept bursting until it was pointed out to me that I was using the paper inserts between the filters rather than the filters themselves.
What’s the best career advice you’ve received?
Take every opportunity that comes your way and try different things, you may discover something new that you enjoy.
As a Research Technician, organising university wide events had never before been part my job. Coming to this completely untrained, and unexperienced, my recent experience of organising the panel discussion for IWD was a learning experience. And an enjoyable and insightful one. What it really uncovered for me was an insight into the hidden team.
You go to a lunchtime event, head full of previous meetings and plans for the remainder of your day. So of course, the event might be a learning experience, but also, a bit of a break from your day. You enter a relaxed, friendly lecture hall (we had 45 attendees and spirits were high,) view a talk, perhaps take part in a G&Q, then enjoy what you can of the buffet and social time before heading back to the office. But what really made that happen?
I identified over 24 people doing their part to make the afternoon run smoothly. I know that a good handful of those will be team leaders of others whom I did not even manage to interact with. In sum (you’ll be able to identify some from description) there were: • Two at front desk were an enormous help, booking the lecture theatre and booking the lunch space. They were able to spot a gap in the bookings and query a group who had not previously used their lecture hall bookings to ensure the panel could meet. • These two and two others in the finance and administration team all gave great advice on how to make all aspects of the day go smoothly. And, of course, the latter two helped with the nitty gritty of procuring and purchasing for the luncheon. That was done both on the school credit card and via Food on Campus. • Two more dealt directly with aspects of the budget. • Five division administrators got the word out within their respective divisions. • Eight network leads also spread the word across staff networks. That includes one who was essential in sourcing an experienced chair for the panel when other avenues were less successful. • One person helped alert the wider university, via a Columba form which gets the news onto the weekly university announcements. • One person freely allowed use of their multiple coffee pod machines. • Three people from house services made sure that all furniture would be properly set up and in the right place for the right time, and one made time to sit and talk to me about how exactly I’d like the layout to be. • Two people from hospitality communicated with me to set up a buffet that was fresh, on time, and beautifully tasty. And it’s not hard to guess that plenty more staff that I did not meet were involved in putting together such a scrumptious buffet. There are menus to view and a simple list of questions to answer to let hospitality know what you need, and they cater nicely to dietary requirements. All bookings need to be made a week ahead of time. • And of course, there were members of the committee who asked around, and gleaned suggestions for possible panellists, as well as the panel themselves.
As our committee’s tactic was to get in early before the bulk of the International Women’s Month celebrations took over. So we planned the entire event in just less than 8 working days. This included two pre-panel meetings with the panellists and chair so that personalities could gel, and stories and plans could cohere before the session. Our panellists came from a variety of technical roles so some had met only for this event. Organising it all was exciting, nerve wracking as I was unsure how many would come, and in the end both a relief as so many did show and a pleasure as it turned out so well. But my take home message was a great appreciation and value for how many people work unseen to make all aspects of university life what it is.
This post should have been published back in September – apologies for it appearing late!
Spinner Construction Lab
This session was a brilliantly fun lesson in which we soldered circuits under the supervision of technical staff in Electronic Engineering. Normally used as a show piece for incoming students, this resulted in light-up “spinners.” Spinners respond to centrifugal force by lighting alternate bulbs on a wand to spell out “York” or alternately display a smiley face dependent on our button presses. Having not soldered in over a decade, the lab renewed my confidence in this task. It was so much fun, I’m sure where I to rewind the clock back to my school days I might easily have been swayed from Biology!
The spinner lab is pictured below, with conference attendees at their stations. Technical staff from York including Mike Angus (far left) are seen standing in the moments before the class began.
This post should have been published back in September – apologies for it appearing late!
Delivering Clearer Results through Accessibility
This session demonstrated how to write technical documentation for visually impaired and blind people. For EDI purposes, accessibility levels the playing field for people of all abilities, and further, using accessibility features also makes documentation more useful for non-disabled and sighted people.
The premise was based on the website SCULPT for Accessibility, which proves a very useful beginner’s guide. I found it a very useful demo and worth reading into more deeply. The acronym, SCULPT, was covered as follows.
Structure Using headings and styles appropriately. It was pointed out that a screen reader doesn’t just read out loud, word for word. It also simulates a navigation menu of chapters and topics dependent on the use of headings and styles. With such navigation visually impaired people can more easily tab through to get the information they need.
Colour and Contrast (skipped over)
Use of Images This meant using images that support the text, never instead of text, and the use of alt text to describe images.
Links Make links more accessible by having them named for the location they’re headed to, and not part of a stream of continuous text.
Plain English This not only helps with sight loss but also with those under time pressure or who might be multi-tasking.
Tables Finally we went over how to make tables clearer and more succinct, and never as a way of formatting a page as is so often the case with Risk Assessments!
Pictured above, a selfie of me (Andrew Angus-Whiteoak) enjoying the IST conference.
This week we had a brilliant workplace tour of the B15 model making workshop by Scott Miller and his team. Great to see how our future architects are taught such a wide spectrum of bespoke skills in a wide variety of materials from wood, jesmonite to concrete.
The finished models are breathtaking!
B.15 modelmaking workshop was established in 1970 with the opening of the Architecture and Planning Building, now known as the Humanities Bridgeford Street Building. At the time of it’s opening and throughout the ensuing years the school consisted of 100-150 students. This changed dramatically upon the joint agreement between The University of Manchester and Manchester Metroplitan University to form the Manchester School of Architecture in 1996 which continues to present day.
Today the school has over 1000 students and the workshop continues to offer Modelmaking services and advice across all UG and PG courses on offer. At its heart B.15 is a traditional machine shop that has evolved to accommodate more contemporary equipment such as Laser Cutter, 3D Printers and a CNC machine and craft processes such as moulding and casting. This range of equipment and processes is utilised through staff student consultation that is tailored to each students requirements. The space is supervised by four members of technical staff from a range of backgrounds. They are Scott Miller, Paulina Voang, Lara Gerrard and Angus Riddell. Find out more about their work via B.15 social media @b15workshop and the B.15 Blog page: www.manchester.ac.uk/b15workshop
As the Archaeology technician at the University of Manchester, I manage two laboratories in the Mansfield Cooper Building, and both overlook an area behind the campus known as Greenheys. This area has an interesting recent history, being a parkland in the mid-1800s it was popular with wealthy families who built large houses. Most of these wealthy families had relocated by the late 1890s as encroaching worker terraced housing started to change the character of the area. Fast forward to the ‘slum clearances’ of the 1970s and the families living in this same terraced housing were relocated to other parts of Manchester, and their homes demolished. My laboratories now overlook the Manchester Science Park and in particular the recently constructed Bright Building. Hidden from my gaze, but nestled within the centre of the Science Park is The Old Abbey Taphouse.
The Old Abbey Taphouse was built in the 1890s and is one of the few buildings from this period left in the area. In its current iteration it is a Community Hub in a pub and one of the landlords, Rachele Evaroa, asked me if it would be possible to find out how the pub got its name. It is hard to separate out the history of the pub from the more comprehensive history of the area, and in my research, I found out that the writer, Thomas de Quincey, had grown up locally. The source of this information was a biography of de Quincey by the now retired University of Manchester Professor of Romantic Literature, Grevel Lindop. Grevel didn’t know exactly where de Quincey’s home was, only that it was called Green Hay, built in 1791 and demolished by 1860. Again, as Archaeology Technician I have access to Digimap, a mapping resource that allows digital access to maps from the 1850s onwards, so of course I had a look on the 1850s map of the area.
Once again, we held a Technicial Stills competition, but with a slight difference.
This year we were looking for photographs to represent the work that techncial staff across The Unviersity of Manchester had been involved with over the past year – whether working from home, back on campus, in the field or something in-between.
There were over 50 photographs submitted, and we hope you enjoy the collage of them that we include with this article. They were all sent for judging by Russell Hart.
Russell works for The Unviersity of Manchester as a designer in the Division of Communications, Marketing and Student Recruitment. However, he is also a freelance photographer, who specialises in football, people and events. If you would like to see more of his work, you can visit his website https://www.russell-hart.co.uk/. It is his passion and interest in photography that qualified him as the right person to assess the photographs that were submitted.
In 3rd place:
Megan Barker – Research Technician, Department of Earth and Environmental Science (FSE) with the photo “Amanita muscaria – an ectomycorrhizal beauty”.
In 2nd place:
Holly Langridge – Research Technician, Department of Earth and Environmental Science, (FSE) with the photo “Suspended roots wide”.
In 1st place:
Sanjai Patel – Fly Facility Manager (FBMH) with the photo “Sorting fruit flies for gender and phenotype”.
The comment submitted from Russells:
The winning photo is a strong documentative composition and to me represents how staff have continued to perform their field of work despite the unique circumstances of the last year or so, and images such as this will act as an important record for people to look back on in years to come!
Everyone on the TEaM Steering Group is very appreciative for the engagement with this competition, and will look forward to using the entries to produce the TEaM desk calendar for the 2021/22 academic year.
This year’s Technical Excellence and Manchester (TEaM) event will be held on 7th July 2021 (9:15am-12:30pm) online via Zoom Webinar. As always, the event will be a celebration of Technicians at Manchester.
The Technical Excellence awards will be presented, alongside the winner of this year’s technical stills competition being announced.
This year’s keynote speech will be delivered by Professor Perdita Barran: “Mass Spectrometry in the time of COVID – Collaboration and Joy”. Professor Barran holds the Chair of Mass Spectrometry in the Department of Chemistry, is Associate Dean for Research Facilities and Director of the Michael Barber Centre for Collaborative Mass Spectrometry at the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology, The University of Manchester, UK.
Professor Michael Shaver will also be giving a talk titled “Sustainability and Plastics – Recycling, Collecting, Degrading”. Professor holds the Chair of Polymer Science in the School of Natural Sciences at the University of Manchester, where he leads initiatives in sustainable polymers, plastics and materials for the school and for the Henry Royce Institute, the UK’s national advanced materials science centre, for which he is the Sustainable Materials Champion.