The RITAs 2023: Celebrating Technical Excellence

Technical experts from the research community have been recognised for their excellence, across a range of categories.  

The Research Institute Technician Awards, known as the RITAs, celebrate the skills, talent, experience and dedication of technicians at research institutes across the UK. The 2023 awards were presented at the Research Institute Technician Symposium at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, Cambridge. 

The John Innes Centre’s Head of Directorate, Dr Clare Stevenson says, “I am delighted to see the Research Institute Technician Symposium and Awards going from strength to strength. This year, I was delighted to help judge the awards, and the standard of nominations was extremely high, the winners and everyone nominated should be incredibly proud of their achievements and dedication.” 

Clare continues, “I know the hard work that goes into organising the Symposium and Awards, and want to thank all the members of the committee that have worked so hard to deliver this event and awards scheme.” 

This year the prize sponsors for the RITAs are UKRI, and the awards were presented by Nik Ogryzko from the UKRI Talent team.  

Congratulations to the 2023 award winners are, who are: 

Rising Star: 

  • Edward Hems (John Innes Centre) 
  • Rebecca Orha (Institute of Cancer Research) 

Technical Skills Specialist: 

  • Richard D Pearson (Wellcome Sanger Institute) 
  • Kim Findlay (John Innes Centre) 

Outstanding Collaborator: 

  • Babraham Animal Tech Conference Team (Babraham Institute) 
  • Naomi Wang (John Innes Centre) 

Outstanding Contribution to Outreach or Knowledge Exchange: 

  • Crop Transformation Team (John Innes Centre) 
  • Petra Korlevic (Wellcome Sanger Institute) 

Outstanding Contribution to Training and Mentoring: 

  • Matthew J. Bush (John Innes Centre) 
  • Rosie Hillier (Mary Lyon Centre at MRC Harwell) 
  • Hazel Rogers (Wellcome Sanger Institute) 

Lifetime Achievement:  

  • Derek Davies (The Francis Crick Institute)

We would also like to extend our congratulations to the following John Innes Centre staff who were nominated for awards: 

  • Rebecca Lee – Rising Star 
  • Tom Lawrenson – Technical Skills specialist  
  • Anne Edwards – Lifetime achievement 

Then RITAs and the Research Institute Technician Symposium are organised by Research Institute Technician Group (RITG), a group of research institutes working together on Technician Commitment initiatives.  The institutes are the John Innes Centre, Wellcome Sanger, Babraham Institute, MRC LMB, MRC LMS, Mary Lyon Centre, ICR, Francis Crick and UKRI STFC. 

More about the John Innes Centre Winners 

Naomi Wang – Winner of Outstanding Collaborator Award 

Naomi is an Administrative Assistant, and is outstanding in her work supporting our scientists and visitors. Her exceptional and proactive attitude, kindness, efficiency and sunny demeanour make it a true pleasure to work with her. One of her colleague told us, “If you could bottle Naomi’s work ethic, energy and drive, the world would be a better place.” 

Naomi makes a connection with everyone she meets, and her ability to bring people together, creating a welcoming environment where science can thrive, is truly special and impactful, making her both an excellent collaborator and an enabler of collaboration. A post-doctoral researcher sums up Naomi’s contribution to the John Innes Centre, “Naomi is the consummate example of an outstanding team player. She is one of the main ingredients in the glue that holds our department and institute together. 

Edward Hems – Winner of the Rising Star Award  

Ed is committed to ensure not only his own group but other groups within his department run effectively. He trains students and postdocs, helps with grant applications, and is involved in the purchase and installation of new equipment. Ed’s exceptional technical abilities, willingness to train and collaborate with colleagues, and his wider contributions to inspire the next generation of scientists make him deserving winner of the rising star award. 

He regularly goes beyond what is expected of his role and contributes greatly to the life at the Institute. In particular, he has shown leadership in communication and outreach activities, particularly with school children.  

Notable activities include the ‘Meet the Wilkinson Lab’ video, events with the Science Art and Writing Trust and he even found time to publish a science inspired children’s book.  

Matt Bush – Winner of the Outstanding contribution to Training and Mentoring Award 

Matt’s is described by his colleagues an approachable, knowledgeable and supportive, and it is a pleasure to acknowledge and celebrate his achievements through this Outstanding contribution to Training and Mentoring Award. 

In 2022, Matt was awarded the John Innes Centre’s Mentor Champion Award and has been selected to serve as one of the JIC Culture champions, a small group of JIC employees known to support positive behaviours at work and who will provide an independent and informal point of contact to offer guidance when any concerns arise. 

When describing the impact Matt has had in their personal and professional development, his colleagues’ answers frequently included “role model”, “inspirational” and “highlight of my career”. Matt’s style is described as “sincerely approachable”, he is “extremely knowledgeable”, “kind”, “incredibly supportive” and “very generous with his time”.  

Matt’s contributions to training and teaching also transcends the lab with regular outreach events he coordinates with the Teacher Science Network and the Science, Art, Writing Trust, where Matt shares his love of science with school children.   

Kim Findlay – Winner of the Technical Skills Specialist Award 

Kim is head of the Bioimaging facility at the John Innes Centre. With more than 35 years of experience in microscopy, she has established Bioimaging as a core scientific support facility. The award brings recognition of her unsurpassed technical skills in the field. 

Kim specialises in electron microscopy (both scanning and transmission electron microscopy) and her expertise supports a wide range of research at the Norwich Research Park and beyond. In 2022 alone, she has overseen £4.1 million investment in new microscopes and technologies. 

Her images have made many journal covers, including Nature Microbiology and a number of her recommendation letters classed Kim’s unique capturing of images to be unsurpassed in the field.   

She is a member of the Royal Microscopical Society Council and is the lead scientific organiser for the next RMS International Botanical Microscopy Meeting (2-6 April 2023).  

Crop Transformation Group – Winner of the Outreach and Knowledge Exchange Team Award. 

The Crop Transformation Group provide Genetic Modification and Gene Editing resources to the UK and international research community, providing access to protocols, molecular resources, 

services and online and in-person training.  

Rapid developments in genome editing science and regulation mean that it is an exciting time for the UK, and for the team, as outreach and policy engagement ensures that their work contributes long term impact for farmers, consumers, the environment and the UK economy. 

The Group undertake a wide range of knowledge exchange, and stakeholder engagement work; delivering training and international workshops, public outreach, engaging with industries wanting to learn more about these emerging technologies and with policy makers.  

Their collective knowledge of the technologies, together with the changing global regulatory climate and their ability to convey complex science in an accessible way mean they are regularly called upon to engage with MPs and scientific advisors. The team deliver public engagement events such as the Norwich Science Festival, and the ‘Pint of Science’ lecture series, and many of these contributions are undertaken in addition to their main duties.  

Members of the group have contributed to policy engagement surrounding the new ‘Genetic Technologies (Precision Breeding) Bill’, providing evidence to Government departments and in Westminster. 

 

 

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