Owning your own technical career; The Research Institute Technician Symposium 2021

The first ever Research Institute Technician Awards (RITAS) were handed out at the 2021 Research Institute Technician Symposium on 5 November.

It was organised by the Research Institute Technician Group (RITG) a collaboration of nine Research Institutes, designed to boost the confidence of technical staff and empower them to seize opportunities to enhance their career. The event was kindly hosted by MRC Harwell.

The morning included a series of engaging and excellent talks focused on the tools and traits you need to focus on to gain confidence and take control of your professional and personal development.

There was also an opportunity to hear from three technicians who were selected to talk about how interests and passions had influenced their careers.

Among these was Julia Mundy from the John Innes Centre, who gave a talk on how her passion for drawing had influenced her career plans and how she can bring these skills in to her job as a technician on our crystallography and biophysical analysis platforms.

“My abstract was selected for one of three technician talks at RITS 2021, with the theme of how our interests have shaped our career paths.

Outside of my work at the John Innes Centre I am a part-time illustrator and digital artist, and I have recently started to bring my artistic interests into my work, doing drawings for outreach materials and cover art submissions for Journals. It was hugely enjoyable to be able to share about this side of myself and how it is now starting to come into my role” explained Julia.

Before adding; “All the sessions were hugely useful and inspiring, and I came away with a better sense of control over my career and some ideas for the future. I’m really keen now to bring my artistic skills further in to my work in science and feel like I gained both confidence and ideas about how to do this from RITS 2021.

A lot of the time we can put opportunities down to luck or being ‘in the right place at the right time’. But RITS was very much about how you can make your own luck, and where you can get the means to be in the right place at that right time. It was also enjoyable to meet and interact with other technicians who are passionate about their careers and development.”

The afternoon workshops gave people a chance to put the suggestions contained within the keynote talks into action. This session included a networking workshop run by one of the keynote speakers, Dr Steve Cross and another with practical advice on how to engage with a coach or mentor.

A goal setting workshop from Dr Clare Stevenson and Newcastle University’s Mel Leitch also gave delegates the tools to set goals and achieve them, inspired by Clare’s own weight loss journey.

The day was rounded off with the first inter-institute technician awards, dubbed the RITA’s (Research Institute Technician Awards) where Lesley Mitchenall from the Maxwell group was awarded the lifetime achievement award for her excellent contributions to both research and pastoral care of colleagues.

Member of the organising committee Dr Clare Stevenson said; “I was delighted to organise the conference, obtain funding from the Technician Commitment collaboration fund, and had the pleasure of introducing the first ever awards.

I was delighted that five technical staff took the opportunity to attend the event from the John Innes Centre and Julia Mundy was selected to give a talk.  I hope by hearing about their experience at RIT2021 it will encourage other technical staff at the John Innes Centre to engage with the work of the group and engage with future events.”

One of those five attendees was Scientific Support Administrator, Sarah Tolland who was effusive in her praise for the event; “The keynote talks were interactive and inspiring, and the technician talks were also very interesting. I particularly enjoyed hearing about how others had taken alternative and innovative paths into their current roles and how some of their outside interests had sparked ideas and become incorporated into their role.

It was great to have the opportunity to speak to colleagues from other institutes and working in other technical roles, sharing experiences, ideas, and best practice. There was a real buzz during all the breaks and you could feel the positive energy in the room during the talks.”

While Sophie Able, part of our Horticultural Services team added; “Not only is this a wonderful experience for technicians, but I feel anyone of a higher academic level could benefit from the event. Attendees leave with the recognition they deserve, the motivation to own their roles, and the confidence to take control of their careers”.

Crop Transformation team member Dr Penny Hundleby went further; For some people showcasing themselves and asking for help doesn’t come easily, which is another great reason for these kind of events because you find the people who are happy to help make you shine.

For example, Julia Mundy, who presented at the event is unlikely to come back to the John Innes Centre and tell everyone how fantastic her talk was , but as someone who watched it, I can absolutely say how brilliant her talk was. It actually made me feel quite emotional.

I knew Julia liked to do a bit of art on the side, but I had no idea how incredible her artwork is. During lockdown, Julia had time to showcase her digital art on ‘tik tok’ and was blown away at gathering a following of over 36,000 people, which has led to commissions and the opportunity to do artwork for publications (see below)”.

We will give the final word to Lifetime Achievement Award winner Lesley Mitchenall;

“This was my first time attending a RITS conference and to be honest I would not have gone at all if I had not been nominated for an award, but boy would I have missed out on something special had I not gone.

The whole day from start to finish was amazing. There was a thoroughly supportive atmosphere and it was so thought provoking to boot. The buzz, energy, and emotion from the all the speakers was just incredible. It gave me a lot to ponder upon especially about myself and where I am in my life and career. I am so glad that I said yes.

I met lots of lovely genuine people and feel blessed that I am a part of this community. The fact that, amazingly, I won the lifetime achievement award was actually the icing on an already very wonderful cake”.

Julia Mundy illustration

Illustration by Julia Mundy

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