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Ryan has been part of DPAG’s Teaching and Technical Support team since March 2017, working on setting up and running the physiology practical classes, and has recently taken up the post of Practical Teaching and Technician Manager. Prior to this, he worked at the John Radcliffe Hospital and has also worked in the department before, first joining in November 2007 to work in the Mortuary. Interview on Wednesday 2 October 2019.

Ryan Green profileTell us about your career so far and how you came to work at the department?

I actually started out in science. My dad and my brother have a genetic condition called neurofibromatosis, which led me down the route of doing a genetics degree. Although I didn’t complete it for a number of reasons, a little while later my mum spotted a job working in the mortuary at the John Radcliffe Hospital helping out with post-mortem work. I did this for 4 years before finding a job in the DPAG mortuary in 2007. My boss retired a couple of years later, so I took over to become the mortuary supervisor. After a while, I was looking for a change, so I returned to the JR Hospital to work as a Lab Manager. And then a couple of years after that, I got the opportunity to return here to work on the physiology side of things and became a Teaching Technician and Safety Officer – I’m still one of the Deputy Biological Safety Officers now. 6 months after that, Lynne Scott took over from David O’Connor as the Teaching and Technical Manager, and now she has recently retired, that role has passed to me.

What made you decide to return to DPAG?

I’ve always said that Oxford University is a great employer, and I’ll always encourage people to go for it if a job comes up here. As for DPAG, although I first came to the department mostly by chance, I’ve really enjoyed working here as the people I’ve worked with have been absolutely amazing. I’ve always said that I could do any job in the world as long as the people are fun to work with, and we’ve had so many laughs here. One thing I’ve also come to appreciate is how massive the department is. There are so many different projects and research into different areas of the body. My understanding of its size was brought to the fore through the job I had in between DPAG roles at the John Radcliffe, which was a small department. There was still a lot of research going on, but there was essentially two areas looking at the gut and microbiology. Coming back to DPAG has made me realise just how big the department is and how wide ranging it is in its function.

What does your job entail?

For the last two and a half years I’ve been working on the physiology practicals, which involves setting and running the classes. I love the interaction with the students this brings. When I worked in the mortuary, surgical trainees from the hospital handled the anatomy teaching. However, on the physiology side, it’s far more interactive as we have to show the students how to use the equipment, make sure it’s all working, and if it’s not working, use our technical knowhow to figure out what’s wrong, and then break it all down afterwards. Outside of these duties, I help look after the biological safety, for example, doing the biological returns every year. Now, in my new role, it’s all about bringing everything together and making sure everyone is up to speed with what they need to be doing within a specific timeframe. For example, many classes need specific things ordering a couple of months in advance, so I make sure everyone does so. There’s also an HR side to this job – maintaining relationships within the team, liaising with the class leaders and PIs who come in to do the teaching. I’ve had managerial experience from previous roles, and I am hoping that this will serve me in good stead, for example as a JR Lab Manager and as Mortuary Supervisor here, which involved dealing with outside organisations who run courses here.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

Definitely the interaction, with students and people in general. I enjoy the managerial stuff, even the difficult stuff that comes up like when two people are at loggerheads with each other. I enjoy being able to find a road through that to help both of them work better together. Although it’s a challenge, it’s a good challenge.

Speaking of challenges, what is the hardest part of your job?

There’s been a lot of change over the years with a number of people leaving, so the job has become more intense for us as a team. But, we’ve taken steps to make sure we’re not overwhelmed through basic changes in the way we run classes. In terms of individual toughest parts, equipment breakdown is a big one. We had a bad patch a year and a half ago where we had three or four classes in a row where all the equipment failed beyond repair, but we managed to get through it! Since re-joining I’ve done my best to encourage others to modernise classes and equipment, particularly the special senses class where they study the ears and eyes as a lot of equipment needed updating. As result, we’ve done a lot of investment particularly over the last two or three years. It can be tough to apply to fund new equipment, but within the last year we’ve seen a great deal of money being spent on the department as a whole, so people realise it’s time to revamp everything, and this is great for DPAG.

What is your highlight of your time here so far?

Getting the funds for new equipment has been the biggest project. For this year’s budget, we’ve asked for a lot of the equipment to be replaced, and we got a yes to everything, which is a major highlight.  Particularly for the money to go towards the special senses classes, that was a major win. It’s great to have achieved something positive for the students.

Is there anything you wish people understood about your job?

It’s mainly a question of resources. Our staff members have reduced a lot of the last 10 years. In the past, I think people had the preconception that we didn’t do much outside of term time. Actually, we do a lot of planning to work out how best to use our resources. And there’s only a finite amount of resources that we have in terms of money, equipment and time. It can be difficult to manage expectations about what a class should involve. If a PI comes to us and asks to run a new class, it’s a question of being able to fit it into the timetable. I hope people can appreciate that our resources are finite, but we always try our best to implement them as best we can.

What do you do outside of work?

My wife is starting a bakery business, so when I get home I’m looking after our 2 kids aged 5 and 7. Mostly at the minute, it’s ferrying them around everywhere as they’re both at school now. Mondays is dance class, Tuesdays is swimming, Thursdays is martial arts and Fridays is drama. They’re doing really well and I’m really proud of them. Also it’s great that my wife’s a Baker as I get to bring cakes into work occasionally! I also enjoy travelling, running and going down the pub to socialise.

Is there anything that might surprise people to know about you?

I’m also a freelance voiceover artist and have done a lot of radio and internet commercials. My first ever job was also my biggest project – it was for a betting site and I had a 22,000 word script! The most interesting job I had was for a company called BFGoodrich, one of the largest American companies who make aeronautical equipment for the aerospace industry – I voiced one of their videos to celebrate their 140th anniversary. Also, if you ever go to work for Elsevier, you’ll hear my voice on their induction!

What's coming up for you and your team this year?

It’s going to be a very interesting year or two for us. It’s a new academic year, we’ve got new equipment, we’re getting new staff members, with one starting on the first day of term. We’ve also got some new academic staff coming to work on the classes.

There’s also a great new initiative coming soon. The Science Council started a new Technician Commitment in May 2017, which means an exciting new project for universities and other companies using technicians across the whole country and it’s brilliant. The basic premise is this: there used to be a lot more technicians, but numbers have reduced, and there’s also been a move away from technicians being paid for by the department and towards being paid for by grants. This means people tend to come on three year contracts, build up a certain catalogue of experience and move on. This commitment is about raising awareness, and there are four main parts to this. The first is visibility and making people aware of who the technicians are. The second is recognition for the wide range of work carried out by technicians, whether it’s research or teaching. The third is career development and helping technicians progress. The fourth is sustainability in the sense of giving people the power to ask for certain things to happen to make them more interested in their work. We’ve spoken to a lot technicians in the department about it and my colleague Barbara Kirby has done a lot of work towards this. One of our plans is to set up a meeting for technicians, so people know who the technicians are and so technicians are given more of a voice. If someone has a particular issue and needs someone with more experience, then they know who to call on. We have to face the fact that we all have very different roles, but there’s certain amount of crossover: if a new technique comes out that you’re not too familiar with, someone else might be. We also want to create a space on the DPAG website to highlight the work of our technicians and provide a forum for ideas and disseminating information.  It’s early days, but watch this space!