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Technical support

The role of technical staff

audio

Lab and tech staff (audio)

Technical staff played a crucial role in the research that was carried out in the Faculty. Academic staff members needed to test processes and solutions to the problems that drove their research. They needed to be able to build the prototypes that their research created. Technical staff were critical in turning ideas into reality. They also worked closely with students, particularly fourth year students, on research projects, helping them test ideas, build custom equipment and carry our experiments. Gary Codner recalls heavy interaction with the ‘lab staff because they would help you with the experiments … When you got into the lab in the first place you didn’t know anything so they were in many ways your mentor, as opposed to the academic that was involved’.

Postgraduate research students also tended to have a particularly high level of interaction with the laboratory and technical staff. Tam Sridhar, current Dean of Engineering, started his career at Monash as a PhD student and remembers just how important technical staff were in helping to develop his skills as an engineer.

Well they may be building equipment for you, which is what happened in my case, helping with electronics problems, repairing it, teaching us what can be done and what can't be done and how to do it. Don't forget, a starting PhD student really has got a bit of bookish knowledge but you needed support staff who could actually teach you how to run equipment etc. A lot of the learning was from the support staff.

Chris Powell recalls the situation as a technical staff member who commenced working in the Faculty of Engineering in the early 1970s. First employed as a Technical Officer within the Department of Civil Engineering, Powell commented on the collaborative nature of the relationship between academics, students and technical staff.

In those days it was much smaller so you had a much more intimate relationship with the researchers, both academics and postgraduates … research is meant to be owned and developed by those people studying, but you can contribute too, and that sense of excitement, of triggering, watching people change from 'I don't really know what I'm doing because my academic supervisor has just given me a topic which I haven't really chosen', and watching that develop in a person – instead of being driven they become the driver of the research – that's where you can contribute too.

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