As part of our Technician Commitment award we are showcasing the valuable role our technicians play across the University in helping Essex deliver excellence in research and excellence in education.

In this blog specialist technician in the School of Life Sciences Russell Smart reveals how his unique job takes him from teaching safety skills in the lab to working on field trips to Indonesia, Greece and Scotland.

Russell Smart diving in a deep blue sea, he is holding up the ok symbol in his hands

What does your role as a technician in the School of Life Science entail?

I work as a Specialist Technician in the School of Life Science Environmental and Microbiology group.

Over the years my role at Essex has evolved into more specialist skill sets within the environmental group.

Here, I still principally work as a research technician, fieldworker and laboratory technician, but as the team has grown and following the recent refurbishment of the School of Life Sciences Ecology and Aquatic labs there are greater responsibilities in the field and in the lab, managing research aquaria and coral livestock husbandry.

Alongside this, my role as a fieldwork operator, boat skipper and diver, is also increasing each year and now there is a growing team of HSE and Scientific divers at Essex which are supporting marine research in local environments.

I feel privileged and excited to be part of this team alongside Life Science and Computer Science and Electronic Engineering academics.

As my role as a Fieldworker, I have also been keen on utilising drones and have initiated a UAV service for the School, enabling us to map coastal environments, which has been useful for carbon sequestration projects in saltmarsh habitats.

Of course, my principal duties still remain, where I provide lab and field supervision for UG/PG projects and practicals.

This is paramount to my role as a School of Life Science Technician, conducting small group teaching of skills and safety in the lab and field environments on and off campus.

This is probably the most enjoyable part of my role – being in the field and engaging with young people during their formation as scientists.

This stimulating and enjoyable aspect is further enhanced whilst fulfilling my other duties as field course technician on residential Marine and Ecology field modules to Indonesia, Greece, and Scotland.

For this I have developed skills in leadership, incident management, remote first aid, and teaching by pursuing a Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education to meet the teaching standards that the university request.

This has allowed me to clearly understand the design and delivery of the teaching and learning of undergraduate and postgraduate students.

What challenges have you got to overcome in your job?

I have a varied and enjoyable role at Essex but with many challenges.

The main challenge being how to manage the variety of different roles I play.

Most of the time workload is proportioned with things happening at different times of the academic year, however, every now and again the planets align and an unmanageable workload descends.

Fortunately, I have excellent colleagues who appreciate the different roles I play, and they rally support to achieve what needs to be done.

I am sure this is the case for most staff at Essex, but I certainly couldn’t play my role here well without a great team of understanding and helpful people around me. 

You recently completed a course on the identification of marine invertebrate which was funded through the Technician Commitment. How did the course support your work as a technician?

I love the role I have at Essex.

The variety of work, the travel, the process of continually learning new skills, new equipment, and meeting new people!

It’s a vibrant and stimulating place to work and I have benefited in many ways over the years from the support of the School of Life Sciences and the Technicians Commitment initiative.

Recently, I obtained funding to pursue further training in Marine Invertebrate Taxonomy to support teaching practises on undergraduate courses and research and consultancy projects that occur from time to time.

For this I travelled to Ireland and followed a course in higher level identification of the major groups of marine invertebrates.

This was an excellent experience and great for networking with other research institutions and government bodies.

This would not have been possible without the Technicians Travel and Training fund provided by the Technician Commitment.

And lastly, what are your future aspirations in your role as a technician?

I look forward to the coming years working at Essex and am always searching for new experiences, skill sets and challenges.

Most of all, as a technician, I aim to be useful to the school's research and teaching objectives and am excited when new skill requirements present themselves.

It keeps my professional life fresh and engaging and I wouldn’t want it any other way!