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An Interview With Dan Stones

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Dan Stones

Dan is the Technical Resource Manager at the School of Engineering

In his role, he manages a departmental team of 3 technicians; he manages the work coming in and ensures it is allocated to the correct technician, whether this be research or teaching. He is the health and safety coordinator for the department so takes part in audits for mechanical equipment, RF and other electronic equipment, chemical solvents, flammable/compressed gasses etc. He liaises with industry and suppliers of educational/research equipment regarding services, equipment and materials, (including CSG for waste, BOC for gasses, etc.)

Before working at the University of Lincoln Dan was in the RAF for 30 years as an electrical/electronic engineer. He was a specialist in one of 8 or 9 different trades on aircraft components which, due to cost cutting, was reduced to just 2 trades forcing staff to become more multi-skilled. Dan is quite keen on the concept of skills sharing and this is something he thinks is useful and can provide more flexibility of available personnel in difficult circumstances. In the RAF he reached the rank of Chief Technician and became involved in flight safety, health and safety, quality assurance and policy making, so was well equipped for a position in management.

Dan started at the University of Lincoln in 2012 as a technician in the brand new School of Engineering on a one year contract funded through academic research grants; he then became a full-time, permanent Grade 5 technician in 2013. One of his first memories of working in the School of Engineering at that time was the Princess Royal visiting to open the newly completed Engineering Hub which now forms part of the Isaac Newton Building. Dan was the first technician in the school, so he played a large part in processing and setting up the new equipment and deciding how to store and manage it effectively. He arrived at the University half way through the first ever cohort of engineering students, a real baptism of fire and, as the only technician, he had to quickly learn skills outside his realm of knowledge, such as fluid dynamics and dynamic mechanics, to add to his knowledge in electronics. One of the first research projects Dan had to work on was water flow in a chest freezer, a part of engineering he had never practiced before and a real challenge to his resourcefulness and ingenuity. In 2015, an Electrical Engineering course was introduced at the University of Lincoln alongside its Mechanical Engineering degree, something that Dan is more specialised in. At the end of 2018, Dan applied for, and was offered the role of, Technical Resource Manager for the School of Engineering where he now attends Technical Manager’s conferences to share experience and best practise among his peers.

Within his and other School of Engineering Technicians roles, there is a lot of inter-school collaboration, having previously worked with the School of Arts to help project students “listen to nothing” in their anechoic chamber, and has assisted the School of Conservation in tensile testing of fabric samples, organic glues, tapestry stitching and hand-made Japanese papers. Due to the analytical equipment in the School of Engineering, many departments often ask for help, such as for the testing of the chemical composition of stained glass or use of the department’s Scanning Electron Microscope. Dan believes a major element of being a technician is being helpful and flexible.

The School of Engineering has many links with Industry. In the earlier years of the school being established, there were strong links with Siemens. Siemens were a major investor in the Engineering Hub which the School of Engineering is a part of. The School of Engineering at that time offered part time degrees to Siemens staff; in return, Siemens needed qualified post graduate engineers, so offered bursaries to University of Lincoln students who did summer placements with them and

worked at Siemens for a period of time after graduating. There is a still a large amount of research collaboration, for example in combustion and rotating machinery, and Siemens still gather information and present this to the School of Engineering in the MindSphere studio, where the School then analyses the data to investigate trends and patterns affecting Siemens equipment.

The School of Engineering is now becoming more focussed on Electronics, Robotics and Automation, which brings different links with other industrial partners. Moving away from part time degrees, companies are now offered degree apprenticeships which involve staff at Schneider Electric UK amongst others. The School of Engineering also has connections with the University’s National Centre for Food Manufacturing at Holbeach campus, mainly working on automation and laser research. The research activity of the School of Engineering really is huge, a large amount of which involves input from the department’s technicians. In these research roles, Dan thinks that it is important that academics consider funding for technicians when applying for grants for research. This should be included right at the beginning of the grant application, to allow technicians to get involved in research, and to fund their time dedicated to the project.

Dan believes that there are many things to love about the role; such as the opportunity to give back from his own experiences and show students how the things they are learning apply to real life. The variety of the work is rewarding; the days are so different, one day staff will be looking at a gas turbine, then another will focus on fluid dynamics, the next day building a go kart. He loves the problem solving, resourcefulness is constantly challenging and really shows the difference a technician can make.

Dan recently won a personal merit award at the University and has in the past also won a team award and feels proud that the amount of hard work and effort put in by his whole team has been reflected in these awards. He feels that people often don’t realise the work that technicians put in behind the scenes; for example, an academic will put in a module request, technicians will then draw the circuits required, order the parts, build them and then help teach this module to the students. The session may be over in 2 hours, but they don’t see the 3 to 6 month’s work that was put in prior, or the money that the technicians have saved the university on consultants and ‘off-the-shelf’ equipment.

It’s interesting to note that, as the ‘only technician’, Dan had become something of a poster boy for the School of Engineering and has appeared in several University promotional videos and photo advertisements, has appeared in videos for the Royal Society alongside students and has also starred in a case study video for TecQuipment, one of the School’s main suppliers of teaching equipment.

When asked to give advice to other technicians, Dan advised others to stick with it, stay patient and stay focussed; one day you might feel like you’re being taken for granted but then the next day you’ll be ‘saving the world’. It’s important to remember that your value is understood by the people who know you make a difference.

About the Author

Tom Reed

Computer Technician and Software Engineer for the School of Computer Science.

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