“A boundary what?”

Some of you may have noticed on my blog description that all these posts about technician life are described as ramblings of a ‘boundary spanner’. But what on earth is one of those? And you’d be right to ask this question! Last year my colleague Richard and I attended a workshop about how to undertake field trials on farmers land and then ensure the results were fed back to the stakeholders involved. The lady running the event described a group of people as ‘boundary spanners’, those that can easily cross the line between doing the science and speaking to the people that the science matters to. Now I don’t usually go in for all this business speak, in fact I would say I have quite a healthy cynicism for all this sort of thing, but we particularly liked the idea of a boundary spanner as we think it does describe us rather well. And also it’s pretty funny to tell people that’s what you are, it’s certainly a talking point.

As technicians, we are both quite different from your usual sort. For a start I don’t wear a white lab coat, apart from when I’m spraying herbicides, so I’m sorry to disappoint on that myth already. Secondly, I spend as little time in the lab as possible, my natural habitat is in the greenhouse or sandbeds getting my hands dirty. And finally, I can’t pipette anything, I would be the worst pipetting technician, hands are too shaky which is why Lieselot is our white coat wearing lab technician extraordinaire and not me. But then we all have to realise our potential in life.

I believe that doing great science is really important but I think that getting the results and concepts across to the people that will be able to use it is much more critical. One element of our project is to involve the various stakeholders such as farmers, industry and scientists. The farmers are the most vital group to speak to because they are the ones who have to face the problem of black-grass everyday and hopefully our science can make help to make a difference. All of this is good for me because I really enjoy working at the applied end of science, I love speaking to people about what we do.

In fact the whole reason I started writing this blog was because I did a Soapbox Science event last summer which involved standing in Milton Keynes shopping centre telling poor unsuspecting shoppers about being a technician and I wrote a couple of pieces for their website and enjoyed it so much I thought I would start my own, which you are currently reading. And off the back of that event I did a schools day in October demonstrating to Y6 children about science and black-grass. Each year we attend the Cereals show which is lots of stands representing companies in the farming industry and thousands of farmers coming to speak to us to ask whether we’ve found the solution yet. It’s a long two days but great fun, the picture above is me stood in our plot. And this year culminated in a two day workshop last week all about our favourite green stuff with 70 delegates discussing ideas and current and future research. I did quite a lot of organising for this, sending emails out, ordering name badges and general logistics but secretly I love it.

I am very lucky that as part of my job I get the chance to communicate my science to lots of different people and there’s already more planned for next year. I hope this has gone some way to explaining what a boundary spanner is and maybe it describes yourself too. Although maybe I shouldn’t be giving people fuel to call us spanners…..!

I feel it’s now time to forget about Black-grass for a few days and all my thousands of pots and I would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.


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