In the lab with Gawain

Gawain works in the Library Construction Group at the Genome Analysis Centre as a Research Assistant. If you would like to follow in Gawain’s footsteps working to improve our understanding of crops and their diseases then read on, your future career could start right here.


The Big Picture…

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be an actor or writer but was always interested in nature.

Who or what inspired you to become a scientist?

David Attenborough was a big influence on me when I was growing up, and then when I was about 18 years old I read a book called Chaos by James Gleick which got me fascinated in the theories of evolution. This further confirmed for me that I was going to take up some form of biology as a career in my future.

What do you love about your job and what would you change?

I love the people I work with and the fact that I could be doing something different every day. This is a great place to work with a really nice environment so I have a high level of job satisfaction.

If I were to change anything it would be the way that information is passed on. We are working as only one small part in the pipeline and don’t often get to see the other end of what happens to our work after we pass it onto the next stage.


What qualifications did you take at school/college?

I carried out A-levels in Physics, Biology & Maths. I then went to work for a few years but in my early 20’s I decided to go to university to study for a degree in life sciences.

Was a degree required for your role?

A degree or an equivalent level of competency and knowledge is required.


What does your typical day involve?

My job is very varied and there is not really such a thing as a typical day for me. I could be at the lab bench doing some molecular biology; I could be programming machines to carry out high throughput versions of what I do at the lab bench; or I could be writing and developing new protocols.

What gives you the most job satisfaction?

For me, it is when I am given a particular project to do to automate a particular process that has never been done before. This means that I can put my mark on it and really make a difference.

What are the biggest implications your work will/could have in the future?

My work is helping to improve our understanding of crops and their diseases which could have a huge potential level of impact and help towards improving yields and finding cures for these diseases in the future.

How well is your job compensated? What is the starting salary for someone in your field and how much can this be expected to rise?

The starting salary is around £25k. This can then rise depending on how much you want to push yourself and progress through the roles within the organisation.

What’s the most unexpected thing about your job?

The work! You never know what will come your way and may have to change your work plans at the last minute to accommodate these changes.


What do your friends and family think about your job?

I don’t think that my friends and family really know what I do beyond working in science with robots. They think I have a good job and enjoy what I do, but wouldn’t be able to explain my work in detail to you.

Would you say you have a good standard of living/work-life balance?

Yes I think I do. Sometimes work does encroach on my family life but it is a very flexible environment here which means there is less pressure. As long as the work gets done I can also be there for my children and look after them if required.

What kind of hobbies or extracurricular activities do you do to relax?

I enjoy reading, watching films, walking and camping with my family. I have also just started to develop an interest in electronics.

…and finally…

What are your aspirations for the future? Where do you see yourself in five years time?

I would like to think that I will still be here in 5 years time doing something similar. I have a very relaxed plan that at some point I would like to move away from web-based work and more into the analysis and technological side of things but I have no fixed plan of how I will achieve this.

What would you like people to remember about your life as a scientist?

I’d like my colleagues to remember that I was easy to get on with in the lab. The people you work with are important. My team is made up of 15 people – 6 in my group, and we all have very good working relationships which I value and respect.

If you had a super power, what would it be?

I have always been fascinated by what goes on deep under the ocean so I think that my super power would have to be having the ability to breathe under water with no breathing apparatus so that I could stay down there exploring the sea bed long after a standard oxygen tank will have run out.


With thanks to the Genome Analyis Centre and Dee Rawsthorne of the Norwich Bioscience Institutes.