Colin Beesley, Head of Media Services
Colin has been with the department since June 1983, joining us from Oxford Town Hall. He offers a full range of reprographics and photography services for the department, which includes printing a wide range of academic, scientific and administrative materials, alongside taking and printing bespoke photographs for both events and research work. Interview on Thursday 23 January 2020.
What brought you to this line of work?
At school I enjoyed Art with an interest in photography. After passing my O Level Art exams I felt this was something that I wanted to do. From there, I did technical drawing and toolmaking for Rover cars, now Mini, for a short time, which involved designing and producing their manufacturing tools. But, it was such a large company, I found it a little impersonal. I wanted to find something where I could have a more "one on one" working environment.
How did you come to work at DPAG?
Just before coming here, I worked in Oxford Town Hall doing large scale printing for the Council, where I operated their massive newspaper printer. I really enjoyed the work, but they didn't have a permanent post, so I ended up coming here on the Government funded Youth Training Scheme. I came to my interview in my t-shirt and jeans and I remember my mum telling me off for not cutting my long hair before I came! I got set up in my studio here in Le Gros Clark, back when it was the Department of Human Anatomy before it later merged with the Laboratory of Physiology. My experience in the Town Hall stood me in good stead, as the reprographics machine we had at the time was a bit of a nightmare for my boss - we didn't have copiers back then, everything was done in ink and needed to be cleaned out every night - my boss was a photographer and needed someone to work it properly! Also when he realised I was interested in photography, he showed me the ropes. Photographs were captured on film and took much longer to develop, so he was happy to have the help!
What were your first impressions of DPAG?
I found the people very welcoming and friendly. It was like one big family.
What does heading up DPAG's media services entail?
I look after the department's printing needs, which covers everything from posters, leaflets, booklets, brochures, handouts, to name just a few, to thesis printing and binding, for which I offer three different binding options. Essentially, it's anything that will help both researchers and students to present their academic work.
In addition to reprographics, I can also help with aspects of the design such as giving advice on the images used in posters or publications. So, a big part of my work involves using Photoshop, Powerpoint, Word and various other programmes to enhance the work and give it that professional finish. It might be that a certain image is too low resolution, so I can advise on the technical requirements to achieve a higher quality piece of work. A large proportion of my printing comes through supporting the teaching work within the department, such as printing their class books and handouts, and I often copy-edit these to ensure accuracy and utilise the best possible images and drawings.
The big scientific posters researchers present at conferences and symposiums are probably the most common printing requests from the research community. Fabric posters are now the most popular type of poster printed due to the fact that they can be folded. I can also print to non-standard sizes - I once printed an 8-foot long poster, so anything is possible as long as the formatting is right!
Overall, I'd say I print around half a million copies a year! My customers don’t just come from this department, some come from other departments, such as Biochemistry and the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology, and even the hospitals; the John Radcliffe, Nuffield Orthopaedic and Churchill. I am always pleased to see new customers and continue to be as helpful as possible.
Alongside that, I also do a whole range of photography work; from taking photographs at departmental events to be used in official promotions, which includes the big named lectures delivered by prestigious speakers, to simple portraits and lab group shots, to taking bespoke research images for publications or scientific posters. Last year, I took the picture of the Mexican Cavefish that was used to promote her major paper Heart Regeneration in the Mexican Cavefish.
What do you most enjoy about your job?
I love seeing people’s faces when they see all their hard work come alive in a poster or especially the joy in a student's face once they have completed a thesis and see it all printed and bound up into a book. A thesis is the culmination of three or four years of their life, and I've even had people give me a hug when they've seen the final product! I also really enjoy the interaction at the end of a job - I may not have met this student in person in the years they've been here, then when I give them their printed thesis we have a good chat.
What’s the hardest part about your job?
I handle multiple printing jobs for a large department, so I need to make sure that service is as smooth and reliable as possible, which means I need the right equipment. Sometimes I may need to request a piece of equipment that isn't made by a University preferred supplier, so the challenge can be making it clear that being the user of this equipment, my experience tells me which is the best option. For example, I made the case for our current printer which is supplied by Copyright rather than the University contractor Xerox, because Copyright has an excellent customer service team, and I knew they would always respond quickly if there is a breakdown.
What do you wish people understood about your job?
While there are no fixed deadlines, it is best to give me some notice to enable me to provide a more complete service. Our printed materials reflects on both the Department and the wider University, so if there is a piece of work where you need more input and advice to make it the best it can be, then you need to allow more time.
I also think many people may not know about the services I can offer. If there's a job you are planning to send to the main university print studio, you can probably get it done in-house with me! It's also a more personalised service if the work is done in-house - I can take the time to advise you on University specifications and requirements. For example, if a student sends me their thesis to print, I'll always have that chat with them to make sure it's done correctly, help them with any formatting issues and adjust it my end if necessary. It's a similar process with my photography work. If a researcher wants a certain image, I'll take a few options for them so they have a choice.
Tell us about a highlight of your time here so far?
Soon after arriving here, I went to Reading University to do the City and Guilds Photography course for three years alongside my job. I really enjoyed it and it enabled me to develop my skills and broaden the services I was able to provide.
Since then, photography has evolved from film to digital which has given everyone more options and flexibility. Where once it would take a couple of weeks just to print the pictures and colour was too expensive, now you can print quickly and in all kinds of finishes. It was great to say goodbye to the old developer/fixer!
What do you do outside of work?
I enjoy walking my golden retriever who is 8 but still thinks he is a puppy! I also enjoy visiting National trust houses, going to the beach and in the last view years visiting Rome and Venice. I am also a keen DIYer and am currently restoring an old Singer sewing machine table. I once made a dining table from recycled scaffolding boards, everyone loved it but gosh it was heavy!
Are there any big changes or developments coming up for you?
The main big change is that I will be moving from the Le Gros Clark Building to the Sherrington building in the near future. I've now formally joined the Digital Media and Communications team, so I think some of the work and the way we do things may change. For example, I will likely get more closely involved in producing some of the main departmental communications materials, such as the large seminar posters. Watch this space!