Pat Edwards is a Research Support Technician in the Structural Studies Division at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) in Cambridge. She spoke to The Long+Short about her job.
Pat Edwards (Image copyright: Chris Tate)
I suppose I am an archetypal technician. We have a lot of new people just trying to work out what’s going on, so I’m a knowledge base for a lot of the things, the methods and technologies, which go on in the lab.
We do structural biology of membrane proteins, which has huge implications for medicine. I do anything from expressing those proteins, to purification and crystallisation. I work with my boss and a postdoc on a project that will change depending on who that is. My work is acknowledged and I am always on the papers that result from it.
My background is an applied biology degree. I was interested in doing science, but not in doing a PhD – I’m not very good at studying, but I’m a very practical person. My first job was actually here in the LMB, and I guess I really learnt the trade, if you could call it that, in the lab – which is really the more practical side of science. Read more
Len Ward’s colleague Vic Wright in the NIMR chemistry lab in 1934. Len had to remove and clean all these bottles once a week (please see copyright disclaimer below.)
The vital work of laboratory technicians is often missing from accounts of modern medical research. Medical historian Professor Tilli Tansey studied practices at the MRC’s National Institute of Medical Research to explore changing attitudes to lab technicians over the past century.
The National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR) was established in Hampstead in 1919. Initially, four departments were formed: Applied Physiology; Bacteriology; Biochemistry & Pharmacology; and Statistics. Each departmental head employed a lab assistant, and negotiated directly with the MRC about their technician’s salary and conditions. However by 1920, with nine scientists and approximately 15 assistants (including technical, animal house and maintenance staff) this system became unworkable. Consequently, formal pay and pension scales for all staff were created and a limited number of higher ‘A’ technical grades. Read more