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Ian Hands-Portman

I’m the microscopy manager for the School of Life Sciences, University of Warwick. I’m responsible for maintaining the department’s microscopes. I carry out basic repairs myself, often with phone assistance from the manufacturer and call out engineers when I need to. I train new microscope users, provide advice on planning new experiments and help interpret experimental data. As a significant side line I’m involved in the department’s public engagement activities, I’ve run activities at the Big Bang Fair, Cheltenham science festival and with children from local nursery schools – which is why I’m occasionally spotted in a beetle costume or multi coloured lab coat.
Route to the role
I started at Warwick in 1996 after my contract at the Institute of Food Research finished. I had a degree in Biochemistry and two years of lab experience. My first role was as general technician to a small group working in X-ray crystallography where I was responsible for sample preparation and data collection as well as day-to-day running of the laboratory. As the group grew and other groups moved into my areas, my role became increasingly administrative at the expense of experimental input. When the department had a major reorganisation nine years ago, I saw the chance to get back into a hands-on role; applied for the job of Imaging Suite Manager and began overseeing our confocal and electron microscope systems.
Future plans
I’m happy in my job and have no plans to move. There are areas of technology such as super-resolution that didn’t exist even ten years ago, and I’d like to see more of these come into the department whilst they’re still emerging techniques. It can be a risky strategy but can raise the profile of the facility a good deal.
Anything you would have done differently or advice you would give to others?
Look at the methods researchers from outside your own discipline use. I get very varied samples from groups working in other fields, preparing samples from metallurgists and chemists wanting to use our equipment has taught me many useful tricks that are often applicable to our biological samples.