N8 Research Culture: “It’s an exciting time to be a technician!” – The University of Liverpool’s Paul Gilbert reflects


Paul Gilbert is a Technical Manager at the University of Liverpool where he oversees the technical staff and facilities supporting research and teaching in a large, varied institute within the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences.

Paul sits on the university’s Technician Commitment steering group, which has been instrumental in the University of Liverpool recognising and developing its fantastic technical staff.

Paul is also Chairperson of the UK-wide Technical Managers in Universities (TMU) network and Co-Chair of a national Technician Council which serves to advise the new UK Institute of Technical Skills and Strategy (ITSS) and ensure that the voice of the technical community is present in all of the institute’s strategic plans and activities.

What does a positive research culture look like to you?

To me a positive research culture is one in which the contributions and expertise of all who enable and engage in research are appropriately recognised, valued, and rewarded. Technicians play an absolutely vital role in research, but for a long time their contributions have been largely overlooked and under-valued.

A healthy research environment should encourage the collaborative inclusion and recognition of research contributors from all career paths and backgrounds, with continued development and support embedded into everyday practice.

If you could change one thing about current research culture, what would it be?

I would like technicians and technical careers to be held in much higher esteem, but more broadly I think that behaviours and characteristics which enhance the wider research environment such as collaboration, integrity, innovation, and mentorship should be seen as equally valuable to an institution as grant income.

If we only measure research success or excellence by counting publications in ‘high-impact’ journals and grant income awarded, then we enable a culture that encourages bad practice, exclusion, and individualism.

And of course I would like to see more technicians leading on research grants. I think that was three things, sorry!

How does being part of the N8 benefit research culture at your university?

The University of Liverpool is leading on some genuinely innovative and impactful initiatives such as our Research Technical Professional career pathway, our Prosper program, and the Thrive project.

Similarly, there is lot of good work around research culture happening at the other N8 universities. Being a part of the N8 enables us to share and collaborate with our partner institutions, to learn from them, and to collectively drive good practice and progress across the North of England.

None of us can hope to achieve lasting culture change in isolation or in competition with each other, so if we all improve together, we all benefit together. The N8’s collective commitment to creating a better research culture for technicians is very welcome and should be applauded.

How will the N8’s statement in response to the TALENT commission support technicians?

The N8’s response to the TALENT commission report is a clear statement to all technicians that they are valued, that they matter. By committing to and meeting these recommendations, the N8 partner institutions will be creating a more equitable, inclusive environment for technicians to thrive and a framework for sustainable and rewarding technical careers.

I was once told that “technicians don’t get their names on papers, that’s just how it is” and I can tell you first hand the impact that has on individual and team morale. Within my institute at the University of Liverpool I am lucky to be surrounded by many research groups who actively seek and acknowledge the expertise and input of technical staff.

I hope that my fellow technicians and technical managers will seize this opportunity to build on the great progress we have seen so far and get stuck in to help shape the positive and enriching research environment that we all want to see.

I also want to recognise here the huge impact that the Technician Commitment, the MI TALENT project, and the ITSS are making on research culture and the technical landscape in the UK. It is an exciting time to be a technician!