Laura Crook is currently a research technician at Rothamsted Research, an agricultural institute in Harpenden, Hertfordshire. She is a weed ecologist studying herbicide resistance in black-grass, a major weed affecting yields in cereal crops in the UK. Here, Laura explains how she ended up as a technician but loves the role because no two days are the same. Come and meet Laura on her Soapbox at the Milton Keynes event on 9 July, where she tells us about “Black-grass: the farmers number one nemesis”
SS: How did you get to your current position?
LC: I greatly enjoyed studying the broad range of subjects included in my Environmental Conservation degree at Bangor University, from agriculture to invertebrates and soils to conservation policy. I assisted PhD students in the labs during the summer holidays and undertook two breeding seasons of lapwing surveying for the RSPB after completing my degree in 2008. I became a research technician at Sheffield University in 2011 and thus began my career as a weed ecologist. I spent two years measuring all aspects of weeds at sites across Sheffield and the Peak District before moving to Rothamsted Research in May 2014. I continued my role as a research technician but this time specifically on black-grass, a weed causing huge problems to UK farmers through herbicide resistance.
SS: What, or who, inspired you to get a career in science?
LC: I have always had an interest in science, nature and being outdoors so I knew I wanted to pursue a career in one or all of these areas. In the couple of years after I first graduated I tried to get a job in conservation which proved to be difficult. But during all these job applications I applied for a technician role at Sheffield University, got an interview and I suppose the rest is history! To be honest, being a technician wasn’t a role I had decided upon, I sort of fell into the job but I have really enjoyed the past 4 years.
SS: What is the most fascinating aspect of your research/work?
LC: The fact that no two days are the same!! There is such a lot of variety being a technician, from spraying plants, measuring plants, harvesting plants to sticking labels on bags and fighting with spreadsheets.
SS: What attracted you to Soapbox Science in the first place?
LC: When the email came into my inbox, I thought ‘I could do that’ then I sat on it for a couple of days and wondered if I actually could, before deciding that it would be a great opportunity to challenge myself and build my confidence so I applied. It’s a fantastic way to promote women in science which I’m a big supporter of and would also be a chance to engage the public in my subject, particularly as a technician.
SS: Sum up in one word your expectations for the day – excitement? Fear? Thrill? Anticipation?
SS: If you could change one thing about the scientific culture right now, what would it be?
LC: I would address the balance between scientists and technicians to ensure that all levels of research have a voice and can contribute to the work being carried out.
SS: What would be your top recommendation to a female student considering pursuing a career as a technician?
LC: Being a technician is actually a very important role as without us a lot of the research work couldn’t be done. You will need to work hard but it’s very rewarding and fun at the same time. And you don’t necessarily need to have a PhD to be a scientist. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty, the variety of tasks is the best part of being a technician!