Case study

Technical support manager — Mike Kerr

Mike enjoys managing issues within the lab and classroom and likes the autonomy that the job allows

How did you get into lab work?

When I left school I went to college and did a HND in biology. This was a three-year course where I spent two terms studying and the third term and the summer working in industry.

I did my placement at Scottish and Newcastle Breweries as my dad worked there and knew the lab manager.

When I left college I was unemployed for around nine months before I got a job working on a research grant in the bacteriology department of the University of Edinburgh. The initial grant was for two years and I was still there six years later having had a few extensions to my contract. I was two weeks away from being made redundant when I was offered a permanent staff contract with the university, which I took. During this time I completed a life sciences degree at Edinburgh Napier University, on a day release basis.

I spent a few years running the lab and was then offered the chance to take over the running of practical classes for bacteriology. It was a new challenge but I really enjoyed it and seemed to find it was just right for me.

Get a science qualification and some life experience, you need to be able to deal with people and not get wound up too easily

How relevant is your life sciences degree?

Very, as the course taught me both some managerial skills plus a range of practical techniques, which I use to this day.

Initially my experience, although limited, was what they were looking for in a junior post. Since then I have gone on to use all the skills we were taught, plus a lot more learnt on the way.

What are your main work activities?

My day to day work is preparation of bacterial cultures, biochemical reagents and media, along with the setting up and providing technical support during and clearing up after our classes. I also have to be around when someone presses the wrong button in the teaching rooms to sort out the problems.

I'm responsible for liaising with works division for the upkeep of the fabric of the building, security, support for academic and administrative staff, the planning for the future of the BMTO (BioMedical Teaching Organisation) and anything else that comes along.

How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?

Since we moved to the BMTO I have taken over the running of the technical side. We have a team of five technicians providing support for a range of classes from microbiology, physiology, reproductive biology, biochemistry and a couple of others.

At present I don't really have 'ambitions' as such as I am at the top position for my role and have never been particularly career focused. As long as I enjoy the work and still want to get up in the morning then I'm happy.

What do you enjoy about your job?

I like the day to day interaction with students, staff and the public. I enjoy the satisfaction gained from solving people's problems and helping them out. Another positive is that I'm pretty much left to deal with things myself.

Any words of advice for someone who wants to work in a lab?

Get a science qualification (it doesn't necessarily have to be at degree level) and get some life experience, you need to be able to deal with people and not get wound up too easily.

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