From apprentice to Research Technician and onwards: Mictroy Mitchell

From apprentice to Research Technician and onwards: Mictroy Mitchell

“I will probably end up teaching and mentoring whilst still working in the University. Helping the younger generation is always going to be critical during my life.”

Mictroy started in Engineering as an apprentice in 2014, and swapped labs when he successfully applied for a Research Technician post at the end of his apprenticeship. He tells us how he has juggled work, studying and family life to get where he is today, and how he is inspiring the next generation of Black and Minority Ethnic young people to follow in his footsteps.

Tell us about you – where are you from, who you are outside of work?

I was born in Jamaica. I came to Bristol when I was six and have been here ever since. I started at UoB as an apprentice in 2014 where I worked for four years in the Dynamics Laboratory. I am now a Research Technician in the Earthquake laboratory.

Outside of work I produce music – I song-write and work with a variety of heads in the music industry also. I spend lots of time with my son – he’s four now. I enjoy watching educational documentaries and reading books. ‘The Secret Power of Music’ is my current read, and there’s even some Engineering elements within it, such as the example of soldiers damaging a bridge they march over due to synchronised footsteps creating resonance/natural frequencies… the military now march with broken steps across bridges to prevent accidental structural damage. ‘Creative Visualisations’ is another recent read of mine, all about how to make your dreams manifest into reality. I honestly felt like I did that to get into my job as a Research Technician at UoB… I believed I was going to get this job so much I told people I had got it before I did!

Tell us how you got here – what did you do to get here, what decisions did you make, what motivated you?

I started working at UoB after a short career working on the railway with a Welsh company called ‘Mikerry Ltd’. Although my pay was greater whilst working in the railway industry, I much prefer my time here at the UoB – plus the company was moving up north. I was the only applicant to turn up to the interview at the Faculty of Engineering which some would call luck, I call it fate. I finished my NVQ within 2 years of the apprenticeship. The structure of my apprenticeship was very unusual – I was studying sciences even though the work in the labs was Engineering, it was odd but I like science so there were no complaints.

When the NVQ finished, I suggested that for my personal development I go to do an HNC, which was quite brave of me, as I hadn’t studied higher level Maths (I have A Levels in subjects like Business Studies) and I had only got a D in Maths at GCSE (I didn’t really revise for it!). However, I knew I was capable of doing Maths at this level if I put my mind to it. I did some catching up on Maths in the summer before I started the HNC, which involved lots of studying, and it was just as my son was born… I was going to work, studying, then waking up multiple times in the night to make up his bottles. These two years were the most testing times of my life, and I put in a lot of work and effort to achieve the HNC qualification. I never missed a day, I listened to teachers, I was never late. It was hard because my son had been born, I had a car, I had to give my mum rent all whilst I was on an apprentice’s salary. Finances were hard. However, I managed to get a distinction in HNC Mathematics against all these odds!

At the end of my apprenticeship there was a technician job opening in the Earthquake lab that I applied for and was successful. Earthquake research is still about vibrations, which is what we worked on in the Dynamics lab when I was an apprentice – I now deal with lower frequencies and bigger displacements – luckily, I was able to easily transfer my knowledge. During 2017, my last year as an apprentice, I ran the dynamics lab by myself because my mentor/colleague went to run a new Propulsion lab in the Faculty of Engineering. I had to ensure all the student and research projects were looked after during that period by myself so I was heavily tested. I was designing and manufacturing test set ups for an EU research project, assisting 3 undergrads with their student projects, deep cleaning the lab, and trying to find time to do tasks for my HNC. Although it was testing, I am grateful because I grew massively as a technician within that period.

There are three people I want to mention:
One of my biggest inspirations and motivation was my mentor, Clive Rendall, who was a technician in the Dynamics lab/Propulsion lab. I was fascinated by how much technical and academic knowledge he had obtained during his life and I really wanted to be like him as a technician. He is the reason I am where I am today, I will always have a great amount of love for him.

My mum was very proud of me and what I’ve achieved. Sadly, she passed away at the age of 44 at the start of this year, so now I am my nine-year-old sister’s guardian. I had a lot of support from UoB to sort things out when my mum passed away. My managers are very supportive, I’ll give that to them.

Having my son helped me – he was not an easy baby at all, but he motivated me to be better and to achieve. Children follow in their parent’s footsteps. I want to go as far as I can in all aspects of life so he can have great representation right at his fingertips.

Why do you like your job?

Working in the Earthquake job is highly rewarding. One of the main things I like is that there are always new people and projects coming through the door so I can network and meet people. I enjoy working with researchers because they come to us with unique projects. Commercial work in the Earthquake lab is also rewarding as I get to network with small to large scale businesses when they visit us to get seismic testing done on their products. I stay connected with these individuals through LinkedIn. I induct everyone who comes into the lab, so they get to know me as soon as they start here.

The variety of things we do in the lab is good – sometimes I am in a cherry picker five metres high and sometimes I am involved with research projects that have never been done before. I never know what’s going to come through the door. I am involved in any research/commercial/student project that comes to us. I’ve learnt so much through the research I am involved with – sometimes the outcome of these projects may not be what the academic thought it would be, but that the data could be useful in another aspect. I want to become a technical specialist so I am currently working towards that goal.

I had to do a presentation to Engineering Design students on Rapid Prototyping in 2014 and that’s when I realised that teaching makes you learn at a faster rate. I knew nothing about Rapid prototyping when I was first asked to take part but I picked it up really quickly… I aim to teach students at some point in my career in a classroom setting and I know I will really enjoy it. My job is challenging sometimes and I love the challenge. My friends say I make a challenge out of everything! If someone tells me that I can’t do something I will try and prove them wrong.

Due to our tight schedule in the lab, we are normally under pressure to get projects completed but we normally get them completed in time. I am a very smiley happy person and I truly believe my work environment plays a big part in that aspect of my personality. It is a pleasure working here.

How do you make it work in terms of work/life balance?

I balance my life with a schedule. I dedicate time every day after work and on weekends for achieving all my goals – song writing and perhaps something creative on the laptop, or studying the financial markets as I also aim to gain huge capital via trading in the foreign exchange markets! I schedule in the gym after work, dedicate time to reading, dedicate time to my family, I visit family members after work – it’s lots of scheduling! When I am in work, I keep my time and focus on work related tasks by constantly monitoring work emails, checking the labs schedule, and working through a to-do-list. Inversely, when I am at home I focus on my family, home duties, leisure, and personal goals. There’s so much I want to do and so much I can do! The skills I have acquired here are great – I have learnt many handy technical skills.

How have you been supported, and how do you support others?

Growing up I did not have any role models (that are alive at least); I aspire to be a great role model for my son and many other young BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) children in Bristol. A lot of kids are not fully aware of the possibilities they have because of the lack of representation in areas such as higher education. I would never be able to visualise myself in this job when I was younger, I had no black role models for me and there was no representation for me to look up to.

I mentioned Clive Rendall before: he really helped me improve my Maths when studying for my HNC. He was very good at Maths as he had completed an Engineering degree. He was able to explain to me in visual contexts which worked for me because I am a visual learner. This helped me grow and learn Maths very quickly. My teacher in HNC Maths would ask me to explain how I answered some of his questions so easily – I would use Computer Aided Design (CAD) to find angles for his trigonometry questions e.g. and he never used CAD so it impressed him that I was able to do this. Clive had taught me how to use CAD as an apprentice and this really helped me achieve Distinction in my HNC.

Allison McRitchie always made me want to learn! She was leading the apprentice development whilst I was an apprentice. She is so bubbly and definitely motivated me to grow.

Steve Eichorn, a Professor in Engineering, whom I met on a BME student day has opened to my eyes to the care and passion the UoB has for helping the underrepresented BME community. I believe with our leaders in line with this task equality will greatly improve across the UoB and I hope other organisations will follow.

The support culture within Technical Services is great, I feel comfortable to go and ask any of my colleagues for their help if needed. As an apprentice here I had a mentor who would support me on a day-to-day basis. Now that I am in a professional role, I no longer have a mentor but I do have very supportive managers and colleagues who are always ready and willing to give their advice or offer a hand. Much has changed in the faculty within the past four years but I am grateful that the supportive culture across Technical Services remains the same.

I like meeting people that are in places I want to be in my life – they can give me advice or teach me their skills, likewise, I can teach people things and share my knowledge too – I try to keep balance in life! If there’s a PhD student in the lab and they’re using tools incorrectly, I’ll help them, but also in another aspect, I try to help colleagues/students adapt their mindset mentally as opposed to just practically – it’s technical support plus a mindset approach.

What next?

I have been in the Research Technician role for coming up to 3 years and feel like I have progressed well. I plan to keep growing in my role and eventually become a Technical Specialist at UoB. I recently became a part of a black mentor’s group at the UoB and I aim to continually shed light to the BME youths in the UK on how important proper education is for their future. I’m trying to show them you can reach what you want with the right work ethic and belief system – the only thing missing is the representation and I am here now to be part of that representation. I grew up in poverty as a BME young boy, so I know how hard it is to be black and visualise yourself in a role like the one that I am currently in, but anything is possible with the right belief system and willingness to learn. The opportunities are endless!

As part of a BME in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) event, I did a presentation on the Chaotic pendulum for students from my old school and later on one of the student’s mums saw me out and about and told me that her son had gone on to do a Engineering apprenticeship – I was so happy to have motivated someone else to follow this path!
I will probably end up teaching and mentoring whilst still working in the University. Helping the younger generation is always going to be critical during my life.

What advice would you give people considering a similar career?

You must always be willing to evolve and learn new things – uplift your skills. Technicians are generally quite knowledgeable people, so it is a good idea to do some sort of higher education e.g. an HNC to widen your knowledge in the area you want to work in. Do not be afraid to ask for advice at times if you lack understanding – no one knows everything – learn, grow and make sure you learn the right way. Ask!

How do you think the CV19 period will change your role or workplace?

Lockdown was tough with my little sister at home and having to home-school her – particularly as the school knows she is one of the brightest in her class so they wanted to keep challenging her.

CV19 has slowed down our schedule in the Earthquake lab slightly leaving us more space and time to organise the local paperwork, change our seismic table controllers, asset capture all our valuable items within the lab, and plan how we can improve our space for the future. As an engineer/scientific technician I like to look at the world with data and not just blindly follow without logical thought. For example, something I like to consider is the idea that fear lowers your immune system – definitely something to think about in how you approach the virus. Be fear free!