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PhD student featured in Nature careers podcast

“Couldn’t cut it as a scientist.” How lab managers and technicians are smashing outdated stereotypes

Elaine Fitzcharles, a senior lab manager at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), says the role is sometimes wrongly perceived as someone who “couldn’t cut it as a scientist.”

Fitzcharles and her team oversee five BAS research stations, its main facility in Cambridge, UK, and the research vessel RRS Sir David Attenborough. Their responsibilities include advising on health and safety, import licenses, and chemicals and kit can be taken into the field.

Their skillsets are completely different to those of researcher colleagues, she argues in the fourth episode of a six-part Working Scientist podcast series about team science. “Recognising that everybody brings different things to the table gives you a much stronger organization, and much better science output,” Fitzcharles adds.

Outdoor portrait of Devin Lake
Devin Lake

One obvious example of recognition for lab managers and technicians is to acknowledge their contributions in publications. But Devin Lake, a lab manager and PhD student at Michigan State University in East Lansing, and an EEB member, has mixed feelings about this. “Some lab managers don’t intend on moving forward in academia, so it doesn’t matter to them whether or not their name is added,” he says.

Terri Adams, a scientific glassblower at the University of Oxford, UK, says speaking up at work helps to promote the contributions of lab managers and technicians: “It pays to ask for investment, to tell people what you can do, and to be proactive in seeking things out and publicizing yourself rather than sitting back,” she says.

Team Science showcases the roles of research managers, administrators and technicians, and their often hidden contributions to the scientific enterprise, and is a collaboration between Nature Careers and Nature Index. The series is sponsored by Western Sydney University. This episode, and others in the series, concludes with a section looking at how it is helping to champion team science.