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A day in the life of...Peter Heath, Senior Technician in Chemistry

Peter Heath

Peter Heath Senior Technician, Chemistry

Peter Heath has had an extraordinarily long career at the University. He joined 45 years ago as a junior technician on the grand salary of £5 19s 0d (or £5.95) per week.

In response to a letter from the University of Reading to local schools calling for trainee technicians, a 17 year old Peter was one of 200-300 school leavers chosen by the University in August 1965. (Peter is not the only technician that joined the University that summer that is still with us. Joe Gibbs, Senior Technician in Psychology can also claim 45 years service.)

Peter was always fond of chemistry and science at his school in Gillot's Hill, Henley, and was therefore pleased to be chosen to work in the Department of Chemistry:

What were your first days at the University like?

My first job was to make tea. But as my knowledge increased during my five-year training course, I quickly grew to enjoy issuing chemicals and assisting lecturers with practical chemistry experiments which incidentally took place on Saturday mornings as well as throughout the week.

What are the major changes that you have witnessed over the last 45 years?

The physical environment has changed a lot and for the better since those days. The environment is a lot safer. There were days when you could find your way around the building by following the smell of pungent chemicals - the fume cupboards were not very efficient!

I was here for the first lectures in the new Chemistry building which was very exciting and a great improvement. There was a very formal hierarchy in those days. Senior academics did not speak to us junior technicians; they would relay their messages via the chief technician, Mr Watson. It was also a sack-able offence to use the passenger lift that was the preserve of senior academics only. Things are much friendlier now. Technicians are recognised as being essential to students' and academics' teaching and research work which makes my job a lot more interesting.

Would you say you have become an expert in your own right with the amount of experience and knowledge you have gained over the years?

The University has enabled me to specialise in what interested me most. I have been lucky to work on the nuclear magnetic resonance instruments that first arrived at the University in 1968. This was a very innovative move introduced by Professor Guggenheim, who was then Head of Department.

Over time I learned the theory behind the chemistry and now I find great pleasure in helping undergraduates and graduate researchers devise experiments and help them decipher their results which these days are all computer generated.                                                                                      

This must bring you a great deal of satisfaction

Absolutely, to be able to contribute in some small way towards someone's Degree or Doctorate is very rewarding. I love to ‘go that extra mile' to help them if I can.

I also find the interaction with the people I meet, work colleagues and students from lots of different countries and cultures extremely interesting, which is something probably unique to a university environment.

Would you say that you have enjoyed your long career here at Reading?

I have, yes. I have been able to pursue a field of science that I may never have been able to elsewhere and I have been given the opportunity to learn as much as I wanted to so that I now feel qualified to advise new researchers as well as students.

I also feel lucky to have been involved in a field of science that has progressed so far during my career. We are now at a stage where nuclear magnetic resonance - being able to analyse atoms individually - has become essential to all scientific spheres not only organic chemistry, which means that my expertise is able to be used by several other departments within the University.

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