Technical Staff Profile: Nicola Steel

Deputy Technical Manager 
Stopford Undergraduate Teaching, Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health

Describe your work area and its importance.

Stopford Undergraduate teaching has over 1000 students in each year. Our obligation to ensure our undergraduate students are the best trained in the country is at the forefront of what we deliver. The student experience is paramount so there are no second chances – everything must be perfect first time!

Teaching has expanded into the vacation period with the introduction of International Summer Schools and a Norwegian Winter School. These are hugely successful and growing in numbers each year.

Teaching is fully committed to the University of Manchester Apprenticeship Programme where we help in the training of the Apprentice Specialist Laboratory Support Technicians. This is done throughout the year where apprentices are rotated into teaching to gain technical skills. In addition to that support we offer training at our ‘NVQ bootcamp’ during the summer.

On a typical day, what do you spend most of your time on?

There is no typical day in Teaching. While the timetable is set very much in stone my time is spent doing everything from the ground up which also includes the nurturing and training of our University of Manchester Apprentices and much more!

Describe your career path to date, including highs and lows.

I came to the University in July 1997 with only basic qualifications (Maths and English GCSE). My first post as a Laboratory Assistant was in the division of Cells, Immunology and Development. This is where my love of science grew. I was lucky to work with those who could see my passion and potential and I started a Btec in Applied Science (Chemistry) on day release after completing a CVQ with the Institute of Science Technology. I went on to study HNC Biology and was the first ever cohort to graduate with a HNC Biology from North Trafford College!

One of the high points for me during my career was the first time I was author on a research paper. The sense of achievement and recognition for my work was the best feeling ever.

My qualifications and experience opened the door to apply for a Laboratory Technician post in the Undergraduate Teaching Labs in 2003 where I have since progressed to Deputy Technical Manager.

I am currently Pastoral Care Manager for the University of Manchester Apprenticeship Programme and one of 3 people who make up the Apprenticeship Operations Management Team.

What drives you?

I am driven by my love of science, people and the determination to deliver the highest quality in both areas of work – Stopford Undergraduate Teaching and the University of Manchester Apprenticeship Programme.

Tell us a funny story, work-related or not:

When I came for my interview in Teaching, the panel was made up of the Chief Technician, Senior Technician and a member of the technical teaching staff.  The member of teaching staff on the panel was Anthony Steel. Out of the 3 staff on the panel – I was Anthony’s least favourite and he was not convinced that I was the right person for the job. 14 years later I have gone from strength to strength, adapted to the ever changing structure of our faculty, teaching, increase in student numbers, changes in technology and also got married! – to Anthony Steel!

What’s the best career advice you’ve received?

You are never too old to learn!



Technical Staff Profile: Anthony Steel

Technical Manager for Stopford Undergraduate Teaching
Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health

Describe your work area and its importance.

As a University we have a huge obligation to ensure our Undergraduate students are amongst the best trained in the country. With over 1000 students in each year we have a lot of work to do! There are no second chances in teaching as the time table is set from the start of the semester. Classes must be out on time, reagents must be perfect first time, and equipment must be working first time. The student experience is first and foremost in everyone’s mind.

On a typical day, what do you spend most of your time on?

There is no typical day! We cover so many different disciplines, all of which require different techniques, equipment that every day must be different as a default. We cover medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, pharmacology and microbiology to name but a few, if it’s a Life Science we cover it. Every year technology and techniques move on, which keeps things exciting, this year we have run a CRISPR class which is still a pretty new technique and I think it’s wonderful that our undergraduates are already on a path to mastering cutting edge science.

Describe your career path to date, including highs and lows.

I started as a part time Technical Assistant in 1997 and I knew within the first two weeks that I would like to stay and work here for as long as possible. The atmosphere was fantastic and I had never seen labs so big and well equipped. A few years later we bought a 16 computers (a huge amount for the time) to run our electro-physiology classes, I always had an aptitude for working on computers but decided it was time to attend night school to train as an I.T. technician to carve myself a niche looking after this new kit. It was after this that I became a full time technician and if I ever had a low in my career it was saying good bye to the 15 weeks off in summer I used to have! On the flip side I had a full time job, which was great. My next move was to start a HNC in applied Biology so that I could develop a deeper understanding of my area as a whole; biology has always been my favourite subject so it wasn’t a difficult choice to make.

The next logical step was to attend management courses (ILM, interview techniques etc.) and H&S courses. I had now been working at the University for 10+ years and became the Deputy to the Senior Technician (today’s equivalent of a Technical Manager).

I am currently working as a Technical Manager but still feel I have a lot to learn, thankfully I have a job where learning is essential to the role.



Technical Staff Profile: Kara Simpson

Trainee Research Technician
School of Medical Sciences, Division of Diabetes, Endocrinology & Gastroenterology

Describe your work area and its importance.

I am a technician for the Piper-Hanley Research Group. The group focuses their research on fibrosis mainly in the liver.

On a typical day, what do you spend most of your time on?

On a typical day I send a lot of time conducting immunohistochemistry stains using different antibodies and polymer kits to identify where different antibodies are in relation to different forms of scarring.

Describe your career path to date, including highs and lows.

From finishing high school I went on to study Alevels ( Chemistry, Biology, Maths and Psychology). From the second week of my biology course the teacher told me I was going to fail the year… This comment was then repeated multiple times throughout the year. So I put all of my effort into my biology revision and none of the other subjects. Subsequently my grades in the other subjects began to slip and I went on to fail 3 of the 4 subjects at the end of the year (Biology was one that I failed). This meant that I could not enrol onto the second year.
The day after I got my results I applied for the Laboratory Technical Apprenticeship Scheme at the University and was one of 6 successful candidates. Over the last two years I have been on rotations around different parts of the university varying from 3 month placements to 6 months. At the end of my second year I applied for my current post in the Piper-Hanley Research Group and was successfully appointed due to the experience I gained whilst on the scheme. This is currently my third year at the university. And most importantly I am working in a biology environment. A career path with didn’t seem possible three years ago.

What drives you?

The motivation to push myself and improve both my knowledge and my skills to further my career.

Tell us a funny story, work-related or not:

I don’t have any…

What’s the best career advice you’ve received?

Don’t Give Up




Technical Staff Profile: Harry Wardle

Apprentice Specialist Laboratory Support Technician
Faculty of Science & Engineering

Describe your work area and its importance.

The main aim(s) of the apprenticeship is to provide an apprentice with a transferable skills set that will afford the opportunity to develop a rewarding career as a specialist laboratory support technician, upon successful completion of the apprenticeship program.

On a typical day, what do you spend most of your time on?

Everything form the ground up! As an apprentice I rotate 3-4 times a year around different labs and disciplines to gain a broad skill set. I am provided with instruction, information and training from senior laboratory staff and managers, so that I am able to independently and competently undertake many key chemical procedures, and prepare a broad-range of geological and biological materials used in both teaching and research, within the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences, Faculty of Life Sciences and Faculty of Humanities. So as you can se, my job varies from day to day, month to month.

Describe your career path to date, including highs and lows.

After leaving school I studied A ‘levels. During my first year of A ‘levels I applied for an Apprenticeship in Engineering at the University of Manchester. My application was successful and I started Trafford College in Sept 2015 where I studied a level 2 Btec in Mechanical engineering. During my second year on the apprenticeship programme I moved into the workshop on campus where I realised that Engineering was not for me so I applied to be transferred onto the Apprentice Specialist Laboratory Support Technician programme. I was able to do this because I had good Biology and Chemistry GCSE’s and AS Levels.

I am currently studying at Level 3 Btec in Chemistry on day release while I rotate through different labs to gain some practical experience.

Low point – realising I was on the wrong career path

High point – being given the opportunity to switch from Engineering to Apprentice Specialist Laboratory Support Technician


Technical Achievements

Yvonne Duxbury, Sally Ashe and Loris Doyle passed the IOSH course this year, congratulations!

Green Technicians team (Green Impact) Gemma Chapman, Patricia Turnbull, Shahla Khan and Roy Kershaw won a bronze lab award for Lab B23. Well done!

Clare McManus from CRUK Manchester Institute has won the Proteintech Group Best Lab Manager Award 2017, Clare was  the only UK nomination to make it into the top 5 selected for the voting! Fantastic achievement!





Optometry Technician praised for ‘playing’ with Lego!

Dr Andy Gridley, Optometry Lecturer and Lead for Clinical Teaching in the Division of Pharmacy and Optometry and Optometry Technician, Stephen Craig, have been recognised by Optometry Today for their innovative use of Lego in teaching their year 2 Optometry students.  Selina Powell, columnist for the award winning monthly journal wrote:

May the fundus be with you

In an optometry class far, far away a shared passion for Lego has seen students learn with a slit lamp constructed from a Millennium Falcon Star Wars kit

Manchester University lecturer, Andrew Gridley, was inspired to help students learn about the slit lamp with the aid of Lego after attending a Higher Education Academy Conference in July.

“A couple of academics from Salford University ran a Crystal Maze-style session where one of the challenges was to build something out of Lego. I thought this is brilliant. I started thinking about how I could do this in my teaching,” Mr Gridley told OT.

After coming up with the idea of creating a slit lamp from the blocks, optometry technician and fellow Lego enthusiast, Stephen Craig, was on hand to see the project through to fruition.

“His work has been incredible,” Mr Gridley added. “I had the idea but he is the one who made the final design and sourced all of the pieces.”

The initial slit lamp prototype was created with a Millennium Falcon Star Wars Lego kit. After the pair worked out which pieces were required for the design, they sourced enough blocks online to create 10 slit lamps.

The course of 100 students were split into groups and tasked with building the model ophthalmic instruments.

“When they are finished, they hopefully have a bit of an idea about the different elements of the slit lamp. There is an observation system, an illumination system and a base unit. It is quite hard to describe those to students without having something physical in front of them,” Mr Gridley explained. The models are able to move forwards and backwards, side-to-side and pivot from a point like a real slit lamp.

Optometry student, Tamara Hasan, told OT that she thought building the Lego slit lamp was a great teamwork exercise.

The activity also helped with visualising different components of the equipment, she observed. “The fact that it was original and hands on made it more memorable,” Ms Hasan added.

Image credit: Andrew Gridley


TEaM celebrates Technical Excellence at Manchester

Nearly 200 technical staff gathered together on Tuesday 12th December to celebrate TEaM (Technical Excellence at Manchester).  Created by technical staff, for technical staff, the group aims to raise their profile across campus, ensure their contributions to the University are recognised, and empower them to develop their careers.

The event featured presentations from Dr Elaine Bignell ‘breaking the mould’ and Dr Emily Grossman ‘Too sensitive for STEM’ both were very interesting.

The event also featured a feedback and interactive session based on the recent Technical Excellence at Manchester workshops, this provided a fantastic opportunity to discuss ideas and provide additional feedback to help shape the future of TEaM.

There were also technical stands showcasing the work of brilliant technicians across the University, from Histology to Geography, as well as stand for Manchester University Apprentices.




£1.125 million invested in new National Technician Development Centre for Higher Education.

Based in Sheffield, the National Centre will tackle the shortage of specialist technical skills in the Higher Education sector. The National Technician Development Centre for Higher Education will provide HE Institutions with access to information, expertise and tools that will enable them to create a sustainable future for their technical staff and services.

The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) has awarded funding of £546,000 from its Catalyst Fund to the National Centre, which along with funding from the University of Sheffield and other partners of over £580k, represents a total investment of £1.125 million in the new National Centre.

Professor Sir Keith Burnett, President of the Science Council and the President and Vice- Chancellor of the University of Sheffield, who has been a long-term advocate for technical education through his work with HEaTED and recently the Science Council, said: “Professional Technicians play a vital role in research and education, not only in industry but in the world-leading universities which drive innovation in fields ranging from science and medicine to engineering. Finding a way to nurture and develop this crucial capacity and to support individual professional development matters for individual technicians and the wider community of universities. “I am delighted that this need has been officially recognised by funding being made available to create this National Technician Development Centre, which will be the one stop shop for all universities. The work of the National Centre will make a massive contribution to our understanding of the roles and contribution the Professional Technicians make in the Higher Education sector.”

The work of highly skilled professional technicians can often be overlooked by the Higher Education sector and the challenges of recruitment are widely known. Research by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation suggests that the UK needs 700,000 more technicians by 2020. The expertise of the team at the new National Centre is available to universities across the UK and covers a number of strategic issues around restructuring technical services, business continuity, succession planning, recruitment and other related areas.The work of the National Centre includes the HEI Technical Resources Toolkit, a resource available to aid universities in understanding their technical staff and improving the sustainability of their technical services. The Toolkit and work of the National Centre also enables universities to address and meet the pledges they made to the Science Council’s Technician Commitment, to which nearly half of UK Universities are signatories.

The National Technician Development Centre will continue to work with both partners in HE and related institutions to provide a national framework for standardised job titles, grading and career pathways across the technical workforce. The Centre also examines and signposts to best practice in areas of technical training and development. Yvonne Hawkins, HEFCE’s Director for Universities and Colleges said, ‘We are extremely pleased to support these important developments for higher education and its technical workforce, which builds upon previous investment by HEFCE, the University of Sheffield and partners. Our aim through the funding provided is for the Centre to work on behalf of and for the HE sector, to continue to develop the technical workforce, deliver new ways of working in order to meet future skills needs, and provide a sustainable way forward.’Speaking about the new Centre, Terry Croft, Chairman of the Institute of Science and Technology (IST) and Director of the National Technician Development Centre said: “Official recognition for the new National Centre will galvanise the Higher Education sector to publicise the career opportunities available for technicians in the UK. This will help universities attract and retain the best talent and develop a workforce that is fit for the research challenges ahead.” We look forward to working with all HEIs across the sector to deliver a sustainable future for technical staff and services, which will sustain our internationally recognised teaching and research capabilities well into the 21st century.


For further information, please contact the National Centre on: 0114 222 9773 or, 8 Palmerston Road, Sheffield, S10 2TE. Or visit our website at HEFCE’s Catalyst Fund provides targeted investment in activity led by universities and colleges. The fund supports a range of student and sector priorities, including innovation in higher education, efficiency and effectiveness, and student interest issues.

Read a recently published report by Deloitte, on the economic impact of HEFCE’s Catalyst Fund, which found significant benefits for students, the economy and society.

Terry Croft MBE FIScT CSci is the Director of the National Technician Development Centre for Higher Education

He is also the Chair and CEO of the Institute of Science and Technology., Director: HEFCE Catalyst Project “Development and Embedding of Career Pathways for Technicians across the Higher Education Sector” and a Science Council Top 100 Leading Practising Scientist 2014




Technical Excellence at Manchester – TEaM Local representatives

During the initial meetings to discuss the establishment of an all-inclusive networking group for the Technical staff of The University of Manchester, it very soon became clear that there would be a requirement, beyond the main Steering Group, for more numerous and embedded local representation. As Team now enters its second year, the activities undertaken and the issues encountered since the launch event in December 2016 have only confirmed the need for ‘more hands on deck’. We envisage that these local reps would play a vital role in facilitating improved two-way communications, as well as providing practical support at TEaM events.

It is suggested that the role would include (but not be restricted to) the following elements:

  • Promotion and Marketing of TEaM events and initiatives to fellow members of the Technical Staff (verbal, posters, flyers etc.)
  • Monitoring and encouraging uptake for events, initiatives and surveys;
  • Active collection of or point of contact for, feedback, concerns or suggestions for the attention of the Steering/Executive group. Attendance of group meetings, by request or invitation, as necessary;
  • Organisational help with TEaM events (bookings, risk assessments, catering etc.)
  • Practical, hands-on help before, during or after TEaM events.

If you feel that you have the time and that your circumstances would allow you to become involved in helping support the TEaM network, then please approach any member of the Steering Group at an event, or email for further details.