Technical Staff Profile: Marie Emerson

Instrumentation & Control Engineer

School of Chemical Engineering and Analytical Science, Faculty of Science & Engineering 

Describe your work area and its importance.

I design, implement and maintain systems for data acquisition and process automation, for teaching and research experiments. I use software such as Labview and our Siemens PCS7 distributed control system (DCS), plus hardware such as sensors and pumps. My work is important because Chemical Engineers need data to understand how a process works, and they need to control it to achieve the desired results.

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

I have a steady stream of requests from researchers who need support in developing their experiment, so I will spend some time consulting with them and some time working alone on my contribution. I am continually developing our DCS, so take the opportunity to work on that when it is not is use. Most days there will also be some sort of ad hoc troubleshooting that I need to attend to, which could end up being the task that I spend most of my time on that day.

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

I graduated from Leeds University in 2003 with a Mechatronics MEng degree, keen to work in robotics. My first permanent job was testing robotic high throughput assay platforms for pharmaceutical R&D. Configuring and testing the hardware was great fun, but I found testing the software quite dull at times. I wanted to be more involved in the development of automated systems, and fancied working for a large company with global presence. Siemens was an ideal fit, so I joined in 2006. Initially I worked as a project engineer, designing large motor and drive systems for clients such as power stations and steel plants. The international travel was great, although it was often at short notice. I achieved Chartered status in 2011, an achievement I remain very proud of. I then side-stepped into a design engineer role in another part of Siemens to learn more about distributed control, working with clients in different industries such as food, chemical and pharmaceutical production. It was fun visiting the manufacturing facilities, especially Hartley’s Jam and BMW Mini. Alongside my engineering work I enjoyed supporting entry level talent as a placement manager and mentor. As coordinator of the undergraduate sponsorship scheme I worked with managers across the business and with Universities, to help our undergraduates develop the skills they need to become professional engineers. I decided I wanted to work in a University and took this post at the end of 2014. In the future I would like to facilitate collaborations between industry and academia, to address the engineering skills gap or to aid development of innovative technologies.

What drives you?

Making things work. I like bringing together technology and people to find solutions to engineering problems. It’s a brilliant feeling when you solve a problem that you’ve never encountered before, and even better to share that feeling with others.

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

I used to have an inspirational mentor who worked at BAE Systems in Warton, and I would visit her there for meetings. On my first visit the security guard – quite deliberately – made a ‘hilarious’ comment whilst taking the photo for my ID badge. I of course indulged him with a hearty laugh, head thrown back for good measure. He insisted that the system only allowed him to take one photo, and proceeded to print what looked like a security pass for a braying donkey. He loved printing it out every time I came to visit; I loved wearing it a little less.

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

Progressing your career isn’t necessarily about what you know, or even who you know, it’s often about who knows you. Take every opportunity to let people know who you are, what you do, what your strengths are. Getting involved with the TE@M network is a great way to do this, it enables technical staff to meet new people across the university and to increase their own visibility – for example writing a profile for this newsletter is a brilliant opportunity which any member can take advantage of.


Apprenticeship Technical Vacancies- Live Now

The University of Manchester Technical Apprenticeship Programme in Engineering Operations and Laboratory and Associated Technical Activities was created in 2013 by Technical managers across FSE to help solve the future demand for skilled technical staff across the University by granting young local people entry to employment via well thought out and structured training positions.

The programme is organised to encourage apprentices to develop their careers over time and become analytical scientist/support staff, senior experimental officers, laboratory technicians, technical service managers or project managers, replacing some of the outgoing staff.

The programme of activities needed to be extensive and beyond a ‘standard’ apprenticeship. We recognise young people won’t necessarily know precisely what they want to do. The structure includes continuous rotation through laboratories and workshop facilities throughout their training period. This ensures our apprentices are aware of the whole University operation and are more able to select and be selected for appropriate vacancies as they arise.

The programme equips the apprentice with a set of transferable skills that will afford the opportunity to develop a rewarding career as either a ‘Specialist Laboratory Support Technician’ or ‘Specialist Engineering Support Technician’ upon successful completion of the apprenticeship. In addition the apprentices are taught essential life skills such as University accounting procedures, interview skills, report writing, people and project management skills. Apprentices are encouraged to network across the Faculties, providing a chance for them to grow their personal networks and maintain contacts throughout their lifetime. Regular ‘get-togethers’ across all the cohorts for peer support and networking are organized centrally to facilitate networking, team building and communication.

Since the Technical Apprenticeship Programme began in 2013, 9 apprentices have secured permanent positions within the University indicating the success of the programmed activities and the quality of education and training received. It is anticipated that all apprentices will secure employment. We understand that on completion of their apprenticeship, some may choose to seek employment elsewhere using their University of Manchester Technical Apprenticeship as a lever. Since we have a massive variety of roles at all levels, we actively endeavor to place our learners within the organization at a point that is acceptable to both apprentice and management.

The University is ambitious, raising its expectations and current targets year on year. These goals cannot be achieved without a significant investment in professionalism and training of our technical staff. The apprenticeship programme seeks to filter staff in from the base, continue to educate and train continuously and allow these highly motivated individuals to permeate the entire technical structure, carrying and spreading their enthusiasm as they go. One of the greatest challenges is keeping all our young learners motivated and on-message as they pursue their careers throughout the University.

Great thanks go to all our technical staff connected to the Technical Apprenticeship Programme. Their dedication, enthusiasm and ability to pass on technical knowledge are key to the future success of the programme.

Recruitment for a September 2017 start is underway, see following link:

FBMH Tea Party


On Thursday 20th July FBMH hosted a tea party for all Technical staff. The event was well attended with over 100 technical staff attending and it was a great way to celebrate all the hard work and contributions made by staff in the faculty.

There was a crepe stall providing hot desserts, cake and refreshments the day also consisted of some fun out door games including, Play your cards right, Giant chess, Giant Jenga and Quoits, all of which provided good entertainment.

There was also an element of competition with a Technician’s Bake Off. Elaine Jones and Lindsey Loughtman from the University of Manchester Busy Bees Women’s Institute were the judges, they did a fantastic job of assessing and tasting each entry.

Bake Off Entries

The winners:

Best Biscuit – winner: Lisa Jameson with rose water and ginger biscuits.  The prize (donated by Eppendorf) was an Oscar the Octopus.

Best Cake – winner: Lisa Jameson with a chocolate orange cake. The prize was an afternoon tea for two from a choice of 250 locations in the UK.

Best Cake – runner up: Peter Yates with a gluten free chocolate torte. The prize (donated by Eppendorf) was a Lab Wars game.

A total of £23 in donation was contributed by technical staff for the WI’s nominated charities: The Pankhurst Trust and We Love Manchester Emergency Fund.

Manchester Signs up to the Technician Commitment

The University of Manchester has become a founding member of the ‘Technician Commitment’ – a national initiative launched by the Science Council to raise the profile of Technicians and their contribution to the UK’s higher education sector.

As a highly skilled workforce within Higher Education Institutions and Research Institutes, Technicians bring a diverse range of expertise and knowledge to their role providing essential support to research and teaching activities. The University of Manchester currently employs over 700 Technicians across its three Faculties.

Universities are under increasing pressure to improve quality of teaching and research outcomes which impacts on all staff including Technical Staff. Yet Technical Staff have not always received the professional recognition or structured career development opportunities they deserve.

Within the UK as a whole more Technicians are retiring each year than are entering the profession. The resulting shortfall will have a negative impact on our future research and teaching if action is not taken to encourage sustainability within the profession.

Launched on 31 May 2017, the Technician Commitment builds on previous work carried out by the Science Council, supported by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, towards gaining professional recognition for Technicians. Signatories are asked to commit to taking action across five key areas:


Visibility – ensure that all Technicians within an organisation are identifiable and that the contribution of Technicians is visible within and beyond the institution.

Recognition – support Technicians to gain recognition through professional registration

Career Development – enable career development opportunities for Technicians through the provision of clear, documented career pathways

Sustainability – ensure the future sustainability of technical skills across the organisation and that technical expertise is fully utilised

Evaluating Impact – regularly assess the impact of actions taken in support of the commitment to ensure their effectiveness


A Steering Group led by the Science Council will monitor progress and institutions signed up to the Commitment will assess their own progress using a specially developed toolkit of resources.

The University of Manchester signatory to the commitment is Karen Heaton, Director of Human Resources, and our Institutional Leads are Peter Crowe, Faculty Head of Technical Services [FBMH] and Colin Baines, Faculty Head of Technical Services [FSE].

This is an Important opportunity for the University of Manchester and all its Technical Staff to engage with a national initiative to improve the recognition of Technical Staff and their significant contribution to research and teaching. The expertise held by the Technical Staff, which is considerable in its range and depth, is highly specialised and often unique. Providing development opportunities for these expert staff will be critical in adapting their support to new emerging technologies and innovations.

In addition, clear support by Karen Heaton, our HR Partners, Jonathan Winter (Head of Staff learning & Development) and our Training Partners, demonstrates wider University commitment that will assist us greatly in our future aims.

In many ways we are fortunate that the aims of our own Technical Excellence at Manchester [TEaM] mirror many of the aims of the national Technical Commitment. However, TEaM aims to tailor the initiatives to our local needs and preferences, whilst still achieving or exceeding the national goals. TEaM is currently shaping the way forward through consultation with as many Technical Staff as possible over the coming months to ensure that the ‘tailoring’ is appropriately placed for you and your colleagues. Please do engage with the workshop consultations.

Further information is available from:

Peter Crowe                                                      Colin Baines



Geography (SEED) Lab Tour

Geography (SEED) tours at the Arthur Lewis building were a huge success, thanks to John Moore for leading them.

Fidel Peacock “I was really impressed by the lengths with which John and his colleagues at the Geography Labs went to accommodate us. To start, we had a freebie (LED light keychain) commemorating 125 years (1892-2017) of Geography at Manchester.  Not only could we observe as many of the different equipment and facilities they had but we also learned about the breadth of their applications. First, we were shown how soil and water samples were taken, the various equipment they took on fieldtrips (such as a CO2-measuring chamber) and the different types of tree pollens under a microscope.

One of the topical projects involved looking at microbeads – the variety of sizes, colour and quantity, across different commercially available products. We were then shown state-of-the-art equipment, only a handful in the country, which made possible to automate the study and analysis of soil samples. They also had mass spectrometry machines to achieve greater sensitivity. We then went on to learn about a computational project involving data from different satellites and how they were being used to curate geographical locations.

Lastly, we walked across to the basement of the Humanities Bridgeford St. building where the workshop for architect students was housed. We had the chance to speak and listen to architect students about their latest projects as well as the workshop technicians about how they supported the students’ visions. Besides all the equipment you would expect with model making, they also had a 3D printer which could be really handy for anyone in the University.

All in all, this was a very well-planned, thought out and executed tour. There was a good balance of show and tell and all the designated people at each station articulated their stations with confidence, passion and a touch of humour. I would really hope they would be running the tour again in the future and highly recommend others to get themselves onto this tour!

Virtual Vivarium: Community Festival

Gail Millin-Chalabi – GIS and Remote Sensing Officer for the School of Environment, Education and Development (SEED) led the Virtual Vivarium stand for the Community Festival on 17 June 2017 at Manchester Museum.

She was supported by the dedicated help of MSc Geographical Information Science students Judith Angwech, Zhadra Taibassarova and Sandaru Weerasinghe from the Geography department.

The event provided an excellent opportunity for the Geography postgraduate students to showcase to the general public the Virtual Vivarium Google Earth app and Fabulous Frogs augmented reality app (see below photographs). The stand which ran for four hours was well attended with over 75 visitors from a variety of different age groups.

The Virtual Vivarium team would like to thank Peter Leigh – Multimedia Technician (SEED) for installing the Blippar augmented reality app onto several iPads in readiness for this public engagement event.

Virtual Vivarium Team – Community Festival, Manchester Museum, 17 June 2017. Top left photo from left to right: Gail (SEED Technical Team), Sandaru (Geography PGT student), Zhadra (Geography  PGT student) and Judith (Geography  PGT student).

Raising, Recognising & Empowering: TEaM: “Have Your Say”

December will mark the end of TEaM’s first full year and, as we’re planning to host a large celebration event then, we’d like to be able to report your feedback on what we’ve done so far, and whether the direction we’ve taken has been useful to all technical staff.

To get that feedback, we have arranged a series of workshops at Staff Learning and Development, and we’re inviting all technical staff to come and discuss how worthwhile the events, information and resources we’ve produced have been, what needs to change, and where you’d like us to take things from now on.  Discussions will be in small groups and the ideas from those will be pooled to give us a list to work through.  Tea, coffee and biscuits will be provided!  We’d be very grateful if you can spare the time to share your thoughts.

The following dates are available:

Thursday 24/08/2017 13:00 – 15:00, Roscoe Building 5th Floor Reception

Wednesday 30/08/2017 10:00 – 12:00, Roscoe Building 5th Floor Reception

Monday 02/10/2017 10:00 – 12:00, Roscoe Building 5th Floor Reception

Monday 02/10/2017 14:00 – 16:00, Roscoe Building 5th Floor Reception

Tuesday 31/10/2017 10:00 – 12:00, Roscoe Building 5th Floor Reception

Tuesday 31/10/2017 14:00 – 16:00, Roscoe Building 5th Floor Reception

Please sign up through the SLD catalogue:

We do need to control numbers, so signing up is essential.  We really hope you can help us provide the right support for technical staff: thanks in advance!



Tours of the Firs Botanical Grounds

The Firs Botanical Grounds are tucked away between Owens Park and the Armitage Sports Centre in Fallowfield, on land that previously formed part of Joseph Whitworth’s estate – the house of the estate is now known as Chancellors, but Whitworth had a long brick firing range on the grounds, and part of this was converted into greenhouses.  Further greenhouses have since been built on the site, as well as a specialist section for mosses and ferns.

The two tours were led by David Grantham, who has worked as the technician and effective manager of the site since 2009.  It was amazing how many plants from different parts of the world could be made to grow and even fruit using relatively modest amounts of heat and humidity.  A range of different experiments were in progress, as well as mass plant propagation for use both in experiments on main campus and for outreach projects elsewhere.

Through a programme of plant exchange with other institutions and with the various volunteer groups that help maintain the Firs,  the range of plants housed there has been increased over the years.  Banana plants, ginger, tea and coffee grew next door to giant (and toxic) euphorbia cacti and delicate Norfolk Island pines.

The greenhouses themselves are very vulnerable to both the weather and damage from the plants growing up inside, so it is a constant battle to keep the plants alive, but cut them back and contain their growth, particularly the cacti which grow much faster than in their arid native conditions.

Alongside all of the larger plants, David is also experimenting with propagating large quantities of seedum for potential use as green roofing material, and looks after a number of Venus fly-trap plants, which will be sent off to be prodded and poked by schoolchildren as part of the University’s Widening Participation programme.

Manchester Institute of Biotechnology tours

  In early June, Sandra Taylor led three tours of the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology, on Sackville Street.  MIB is a largely research driven environment with mostly Masters or Postgrad level students and research staff. There is a small core of technical staff underpinning the work and the running of the building. The groups are by design multidisciplinary and have a range of core facilities to support their research themes: Industrial Biotechnology, Biomedical and Healthcare (such as drug production), Biofuels and Synthetic Biology.

Tour-goers were shown a selection of the Bionanotechnology, Biophysics, EPR, Mass spectrometry, NMR, Protein expression, Protein structure and Transcriptomics core facilities, each of which is administered by their own Experimental Officer.  Further detailed information on these core facilities can be found here.

While the tours were well-attended, we did have some last-minute cancellations – please hold back from booking if you’re not sure you can make it as it prevents other people from going on the tours.

Technical Staff Profile – Karen Fry

Karen Fry
Master Technician
Biological Services Facility, Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health

Describe your work area and its importance.
Working with animals used in the field of medical research is an important and valued job.   Caring for animals used in medical research means you are also contributing to helping find treatments for debilitating human diseases and conditions.  Many people’s lives have been saved or just made so much better using the information gained from this type of work.  You only have to look at the treatments discovered using animal research and how these treatments have improved the lives of men, women & children to know that it’s important.  The animals in our care are looked after with compassion and respect, and we as a University are constantly doing everything we can to ethically reduce the number of animals we use.  Whenever possible, animals within our care are replaced to use other non-animal methods to gain the same results.  When replacement isn’t possible and animals are used we are constantly looking for ways to refine the work to use the least number of animals possible.

On a typical day, what do you spend most of your time on?
My typical day at work consists of the general husbandry and care of rodents.  This mainly involves the health checking, cleaning and feeding of mice.  I have many other duties such as staff supervision, ordering of supplies, contact with researchers and the cleaning and general upkeep of our SPF (Specified Pathogen Free) animal unit.  There are also many other areas to my job (too many to mention) and this variation is one of the reasons that I love it so much.

Describe your career path to date, including highs and lows.
I started in retail work which suited my family situation at the time.  As soon as the children were older I began to pursue my dream of working with animals.  I studied for a BTEC National Diploma in Animal Care alongside working part-time.  After completing the course in 2004 I got the trainee animal technician job at the University but carried on studying whilst working.  I did several Open University courses (all biology based) and some work defined courses (1 year/2 year) all whilst working full-time.  Finally I completed level 5 & all but one module on level 6 animal technology degree level course.  I stopped studying late 2016.
High: Completing all of my study work whilst working full-time and raising a family, and of course my recent upgrade.
Low: Not being able to speak about my job openly.  I am proud of what I do and it would be wonderful to speak about it without fear of reprisals. Close friends and family know what I do but I’m not sure they fully understand what’s involved.

What drives you?
Firstly working with animals.  I have always had a life-long love of animals.  Being paid for doing what you love is the best motivation in the world.   This Job is challenging and different everyday which is why I love it. I know that I am making a huge difference and I am helping towards medically treating some terrible human illnesses.  Now that I have been upgraded I have a new level of responsibility, which adds a new interesting dimension to my job.  I work with an excellent hard-working team which enables the animal unit to run as efficiently and ethically as possible.  I am lucky enough to work in a pleasant work environment which makes going to work every day a pleasure.

Tell us a funny story, work-related or not:
On the day of my very first interview for the trainee position at the University I was asked to come to the Stopford Building reception and ask for Mr Terry Priest.  I was so nervous that I told the receptionist that I had an interview scheduled with Terry Waite!  I quickly corrected myself and I think (hope!) that I got away with it.

What’s the best career advice you’ve received?
I don’t recall being given any specific career advice.  The best career advice I could give is that it’s never too late to train for something you’ve always wanted to do.  I came into this type of work quite late because of family commitments, but have never regretted it.  Yes it was a struggle sometimes, but I’m glad I did it.  You spend too much time at work to be doing something that doesn’t make you happy.  If you’re unhappy with your present role, retrain.  You’ll be so glad you did.