Sandrine works closely with teachers to design and safely prepare exciting classroom chemistry experiments to inspire children

What is a science technician?

I design, prepare and test practical activities for chemistry lessons and extra-curricular activities at a secondary school in London. My team and I support about 15 science teachers and 1,650 students aged 11-18.

Salary range and qualifications required 

  • Minimum qualification for role: A-level science is essential and a degree is a bonus. Apprenticeships are excellent for those who want to learn “on the job”.
  • Starting salary band: £15,000 to £38,000 (dependent on location and experience).

How did you become inspired to work in chemistry?

When I was 13, I was given a chemistry laboratory set for Christmas. It was so exciting to follow the instructions and learn about chemical changes and my passion for chemistry started. My mind was made up and I definitely wanted to do more as I really enjoyed and did well in chemistry. 

How did you become a science technician? 

I was lucky enough to come to England from France after completing my chemistry degree. When funding for the research I was doing stopped I had to find another job. I checked the job vacancies in the local newspaper and came across this job. I thought “I can do that and find something else later on”. I got the job and realised how much I had to learn but was supported by another technician. In that school the preparation room had a “Hogwarts® feel” with dark wood and shelves full of chemicals. We even had an old cupboard locked by a padlock where we kept red and white phosphorus and a rather large jar of arsenic. 25 years later I have changed school a few times but never left education; being a science technician is definitely my vocation. 

What do you love about your job? 

You never get bored working in a school. There are many enthusiastic students who ask lots of questions and I often find myself saying, “I don’t know but I will find out”. I enjoy interacting with teachers and students and they always appreciate the support you give them. It’s extremely rewarding to see students thrive. I also enjoy being able to test new ideas and I try to keep up-to-date with the latest scientific news so I can share this information with our students.

Every year, we run a summer school hosted by Professor Brian Cox with inspirational talks from scientists and a series of laboratory workshops. Lots of schools all over England and Northern Ireland take part and it gives us an opportunity to design experiments that they all enjoy. A lot of work is involved in planning the event but it is always so rewarding to see everyone enjoying themselves and learning. 

What is your typical day like?

Every day is different and you have to be flexible but on a typical day, I will check what experiments are planned and distribute the required equipment for each lesson. I also collect and wash the used equipment. We aim to prepare all our equipment the day before but there are some chemicals that can only be safely prepared or removed from the chemical store just before a lesson. Occasionally, I deliver extra-curricular activities like a STEM club with the help of my colleagues. It is nice to engage with smaller groups of students especially the younger ones who still call chemistry “magic”.

Feedback is very helpful so I work closely with teachers to reflect on how we can improve our experiments for students. Being inclusive is very important as some experiments may need adjusting, presenting in different ways, or a different set of instructions for individual students. Teamwork is important and ensures that we support and inspire our students the best we can.

I work closely with trainees and newly qualified teachers providing advice and training as some may not have used specific equipment before or need advice with planning their lessons. I also organise and run a network for science technicians in London. Science technicians are very supportive group of people providing advice and encouragement, lending equipment and cheering you up if you’ve had a bad day, which happens to all of us every now and then.

What advice would you give to a young person considering a career in chemistry?

I would say, “Do not give up”. A career is a lifetime achievement and it requires accepting that time is not a limiting factor. If you do not find the right opportunity today, it might happen tomorrow. The skills you learn through chemistry can be applied to many different types of work so keep your eyes open for new and exciting opportunities. I am proud of being a chemist. Chemistry is everywhere and is involved in so many aspects of our lives. I really enjoy sharing stories and explaining concepts involving chemistry to others. 

What are your plans for the future?

I would like to be involved in organising virtual meetings between professional chemists and schools so students can learn more about chemistry and the exciting careers in chemistry. 

Want to find out more?

  • Ask the science technician at your school about the job. Perhaps there is an opportunity for you to do some job shadowing. 
  • Talk to your career adviser about getting some work experience.

First published August 2020