Article People Science

Recognition a step closer for technician heroes

November sees the first anniversary of the Earlham Institute’s signing of the Technician Commitment - and the ball is definitely starting to roll.

30 October 2023

The Commitment is an organisational promise to safeguard vital technical skills and mark previously overlooked contributions to research. 

It champions people who are working in roles which contribute to cutting edge research projects but may not receive the traditional recognition or reward.

Proud supporter of the Technician Commitment logo

The scheme, for professional, technical and operational staff at the Earlham Institute,  aims for greater visibility, recognition, sustainability and career development and opportunities for these staff.

Fiona Fraser, Senior Research Assistant in Genomics Pipelines, is the Earlham Institute’s technical lead for the Commitment. She says the Institute is collaborating closely with the John Innes Centre and the Sainsbury Laboratory.

“We are a small institute, in terms of number of people,” she says. “We don’t have the critical mass to achieve some of the things we want to achieve. If we work closely with other organisations on the Norwich Research Park, we can do more.”

“After signing the Commitment, the Institute worked with a group of staff in technical roles to put together an action plan to identify and address challenges,” she says.

Fiona Fraser, Senior Research Assistant and Technical Lead for the Commitment at the Earlham Institute.
Fiona Fraser, Research Assistant at the Earlham Institute

When the plan is finalised and put into motion, it will be published on the Earlham Institute and Technician Commitment websites. The Institute will have two years to work on it and, at the end of that time, progress on the Commitment will be checked and the plan will be reassessed.

Fraser says senior management at the Earlham Institute have been welcoming and positive about the Commitment.

“The senior management team have been really supportive and have made this a priority - they have made sure we have everything we need from the Earlham Institute to make this work.”

The initiative has been very much welcomed, the level of interest and engagement was really high - we were oversubscribed at the launch event - and interest has continued throughout the year.

The commitment has very broad applications and supports a spectrum of careers.

While the traditional technician is someone who supports research in a wet lab, technical staff can also be computer specialists, software engineers, or general support staff. They can be post-docs or data scientists and work in operations or administration.

Helen Murdoch, the Institute’s Athena Swan and Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Co-ordinator, worked on the project with Fraser. She says the two did not expect such a high level of interest at the Institute.

“The initiative has been very much welcomed,” she says. “The level of interest and engagement was really high - we were oversubscribed at the launch event - and interest has continued throughout the year. 

“We were delighted that so many staff were interested and wanted to be involved.  We’ve done our best to include as many suggestions from the workshop at the Launch event as we can into the final plan.”

She says the commitment sits in the same ballpark as other initiatives to raise profiles for underrepresented groups. 

“There is a lot of cross-over,” she says. “Some of the actions we suggest in our plan for the Technician Commitment will also apply to Athena Swan.”

She feels the Technician Commitment will eventually be recognised at the same level as Athena Swan, as a marker of an organisation which cares about its employees.

Jim Lipscombe giving a talk at a recent Accessible Science event sponsored by the Technician's Commitment
Tom Brabbs, Senior Research Assistant in the Genomics Group at EI
Lesley and Carolina in the Earlham Biofoundry

Over the last year, Murdoch and Fraser have worked with a steering committee for the Technician Commitment and made a successful joint bid, with the John Innes Centre and Sainsbury Laboratory, to the Technician Commitment Collaboration Fund to support the first NBI – Cross Institute Technician Networking Symposium and the first NBI Accessible Science talk day on 10 October.

The Institute also joined the Research Institutes Technician Group (RITG) in July. This group represents technicians at research institutes and includes the Babraham Institute, Sanger Institute, John Innes Centre, Institute of Cancer Research and the Medical Research Council.

More than 115 institutions have already enrolled in the Technician Commitment, which was begun at the University of Nottingham in May 2017 by then-technician Kelly Vere MBE.

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Amy Lyall

Scientific Communications and Outreach Officer