Introducing RITS nominee and Field Technician, Rebecca Lee

This month saw the awards ceremony for the RITS (Research Institute Technicians’) Awards take place on 3rd March.

The RITAs, organised by the Research Institute Technician Group (RITG) and sponsored by UKRI, aim to celebrate and recognise the valuable and considerable contribution of technicians and support staff to research institutes across the UK.

This year many well-deserving John Innes Centre staff were nominated for these awards.

Among this year’s nominees was Field Technician, Rebecca Lee, who was nominated for the Rising Star Award following the vital changes she has made to the Field Experimentation platform at the Dorothea de Winton field station at Church Farm, Bawburgh.

Before joining the John Innes Centre in March 2020, Rebecca worked with young children and on her family’s farm.

Nowadays her daily duties vary seasonally, from preparing seed and hand-drilling crops for field trials, to assisting researchers with setting up unique experiments where variables such as air and soil temperature are controlled.

Rebecca was nominated for the Rising Star Award by the Field Experimentation Manager, Darryl Playford, who said: “Coming into the team with little experience other than the knowledge and skills gained on the family farm, Rebecca (Becca) very quickly grasped the basics of what is needed and then pushed on to find improvements in herself and the overall team methodology.

“Frustrated by errors made in the processing of pea experiments, Becca sought to improve this by creating individual plans and harvest lists and has been instrumental in looking for a labelling system that will allow for barcoding and provision of data not previously possible.”  

“Many of the improvements made to the way that the platform operates would not have been possible without Rebecca,” continues Darryl.  

The same sentiment is echoed by Crop Genetics research assistant, Dr Clare Lister: “Personally I think it’s really great to see a young woman holding her own in this male-dominated role.” 

As well as being a crucial driver of changes to overall systems for the platform, Rebecca has been involved in helping with individual experiments too.  

“Over the last two years we experimented with complicated abiotic stress applications in the field,” said Crop Genetics Group Leader, Cristobal Uauy.  

“This required new strategies to apply shading netting to wheat plots at precise moments during the growing season to ensure physiological relevance of the treatments. Rebecca was a vital part of the team that made the applications of these treatments possible.”  

“Her knowledge of the field and novel ideas solved many problems that came with applying the shading netting. She went above and beyond her responsibilities and helped with coordinating the team and checking in on the trials over the growing season to be prepared for any upcoming actions or problems.”  

Her significant contributions to this research led to Rebecca being named as a co-author on a scientific publication. 

Outside of practical research applications, Rebecca has also taken on other roles and responsibilities within the team, from maintaining the Field Experimentation’s intranet site to joining the JIC Employee Consultation Forum. Rebecca is also regularly involved with public engagement events at the field station, such as open days and school visits, as well as stakeholder events, including Breeders’ Day.  

Rebecca sums up her role, commenting, “The varied nature of the work, the link to agriculture and my families heritage, and the fact that I get to support world-leading research means that I find it incredibly rewarding to work at Church Farm. Every day is different, and I enjoy the problem solving elements of the projects that I have been involved with so far”.   

You can find out more about the Field Experimentation platform based at Church Farm, Bawburgh here.

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