Technical Profile: Michelle Jackson, Head of Technical Services, FBMH

Describe your work area and its importance.

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.

Michelle working at the University of Warwick, 1996

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.

The Hidden Team – How to Organise an Event

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?

From L to R: panellists Xiangli Zhong, Dr Dharshika Pathiranage, Vicki Kelly; and chair Dr Jessica Boland

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.

(contributed by Andrew Angus-Whiteoak)

IST Conference 14th September 2022 Part 2

This post should have been published back in September – apologies for it appearing late!

Spinner Construction Lab

Senior Technician in Electronic Engineering Mark Hough, pictured, led the demonstration.

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.

(contributed by Andrew Angus-Whiteoak)

IST Conference 14th September 2022 Part 1

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.