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The life of a Fieldwork Technician

26 November 2012

Provost’s Teaching Award-winner Ian Patmore explains how his work helps the Department of Geography stay at the top of its game.

Ian Patmore working with students on a UCL Geography field trip to Majorca

Image: Ian Patmore (far right) on a Geography field trip to Majorca

What did you win your Provost’s Teaching Award for?

I think I won it because I’m always quite open to helping people: whether it’s students or academics, I just want to find a solution. Also, I’m organised and the academics are able to rely on me. I will get the equipment ready for their class or fieldtrip and they know they don’t have to worry about it; I usually have an idea of what they’re going to do, so I think about what they’d need so they can think about their teaching, not “Do I have the tape measures and the GPSs?”

You must have a lot of practical skills to do your job.

I’m a bit of a Bob the Builder, I make stuff without resources – I’ve hardly got any tools and I’m always scrounging bits of metal to make things with! I’m quite pleased when things that I’ve fixed or made get used in people’s research. It’s hardly trailblazing stuff but little things can make all the difference.

Did you enjoy the awards ceremony?

I was a bit humbled by how seriously it’s all taken. I don’t view what I do as anything special, so it was nice to know that it’s all appreciated – in fact just knowing that College has spotted me even though I work down here in the basement was great!

Do you have a lot of contact with students in your job?

A fair bit – I’m off on a field trip next week with two lots of Master’s students, then we’re doing a trip to Majorca with the second-years after that [see main image]; it’s busy at this time of year! Then when the students start thinking about their dissertations in the spring I get their kit ready, show them how to use it, demonstrate sampling techniques and just try to put them at ease because they can sometimes find doing a project on their own a bit daunting.

Working with undergraduates and postgraduates is quite different. Master’s students have been through the undergraduate process so they know what’s expected of them and are often more willing to accept new ideas. It gives me a different type of satisfaction because I’m not so involved but I can see that they’re really enjoying being allowed to go and find things out for themselves.

You mentioned the importance of active learning in your award submission. What are the benefits of teaching in this way?

Watching someone do something doesn’t allow you to properly understand the process; being able to try it for yourself is the only way to really build your skills so I always tell the students to have a go for themselves. Of course I’ll watch and give guidance, but it’s so important that they grow to understand the equipment and the environment they’re working in first-hand.

This was the first year that an award was given to a member of support staff. Do you think the ‘Staff involved in supporting student learning’ category was a positive addition to the list of awards?

Oh yes – a lot of the time at UCL, the technicians are the unsung people that make departments work! Technicians have always been slightly ‘seen and not heard’ so I think recognising their work is very important.

Do many departments around UCL have people doing what you do?

Not so far as I know. I think a lot of departments find that people will use equipment and often not look after it very well, then when the next person comes to use it it’s not been locked up and is broken because they haven’t got anyone dedicated to looking after it. I’m always rushed off my feet with that element of my role. Other universities don’t have people doing what I’m doing either – I remember someone being very jealous when they saw one of our PhD students using a bit of kit which they would have spent a fortune buying and they found out that I’d made it out of an old bit of plywood!

But I wouldn’t want a department to hire someone like me unless there was enough work to warrant them being employed long-term and there were opportunities for that person’s role to develop. They shouldn’t just be there to look after kit – they’re a part of that department so use them, don’t just keep them in a cupboard when they have the potential to become an asset to that department. The people I work with have been instrumental in allowing me to grow in my job. That’s all I ask for really.

Page last modified on 23 nov 12 16:34


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