Issue 36

Career journey with Steve Gamble

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Introduce yourself – what is your name, place of work, job title?   

My name is Steve Gamble. I have recently retired as a Research Assistant from the Wellcome Sanger Institute. I have worked in several areas of science in a career spanning over 46 years, mainly in medical research.

Q. What did you want to be when you were little? 

A. I have been interested in science from a very early age, maybe from about age 8 or 9. When I was young I was inspired by the early American spaceflights and TV programmes like “Young Scientists of the Year” and “Tomorrows World”. As well as my interest in spaceflight and astronomy, my love for laboratory science was boosted when, about age 10, I got a chemistry set. When I started secondary school our year group was addressed by the deputy head who asked if anybody had considered what they would do when they left school. I was the only one to put a hand up and said I wanted to be a scientist.


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Q. If you are retired how do you spend your time? 

A. Giving up full time work doesn’t mean I have given up science but it gives me time to investigate my own interests. I am doing some writing and discussing collaborations with various people. Being retired has also allowed me to devote more time to the professional bodies that I belong to. I am a great believer in continuous professional development (CPD) and a keen supporter of the Technician Commitment (TC). The TC is concerned with the career development and recognition of technicians. Whilst senior scientists have the vision, technicians make it happen.

Q. When and why did you decide to follow your profession?

A. My ‘A’ Levels were best suited to a career in something like biochemistry. However, I needed a break from full time education, so decided against going to university.

Shortly before leaving school I encountered a friend who was working as a trainee in the local hospital pathology lab and enjoying it. I contacted the head technician and was invited to visit their lab and find out about the profession. I liked what I found out and soon found a job as a junior technician in the Clinical Chemistry lab at Great Ormond Street Hospital. This was essentially an apprenticeship in biomedical science, it involved attending college one day and one evening per week to obtain a Higher National Certificate. This reignited my interest in learning.

Q.  How has your job changed over the years? 

A. After a couple of years I moved from the hospital to the Medical Research Council (MRC) Division of Psychiatry, a neuroscience research environment where they required somebody with Clinical Chemistry experience. During my eleven years here my role expanded to include writing computer programs to collect and analyse data. This lead to a role in the MRC Computing Services Division. After nine years here most of our group transferred to the MRC Human Genome Mapping Project Resource Centre. A couple of years after the first Human Genome had been mapped this job came to an end.

This provided me with an opportunity to reassess what I wanted to do with the rest of my career. I decided I wanted to go back to bench biology rather than computing. I took a computing job with a drug trials company whilst I retrained in molecular biology, then a short job with a company making DNA primers. This gave me enough lab experience to take up a position with the Sanger Institute, firstly in the Sample Management team then in the Cancer, Aging and Somatic Mutation team.

“One of the best things about my jobs is seeing a headline that reports some scientific or medical breakthrough and feeling proud that that is a project I worked on.”

Q. You mention that you are a supporter of continuing professional development

A. Every job evolves over time. Continuous professional development allows me to keep up to date with new developments and to extend my skills. I have studied part time for most of the last 46 years, not bad for somebody who didn’t want to go to university.

After the HNC I extended my specialist clinical chemistry skills by studying for the Special Exam of the Institute of Biomedical Science, a Masters level qualification. As I became more involved in neuroscience, this allowed me direct entry into a MSc in Neurophysiology.

When I moved into computing I studied part time for a BSc in computing and statistics. When I moved back into bench biology I studied for a Certificate in Genetics then took a new BSc mainly in biology with the Open University.

In between I have studied a few short courses with various colleges. In the few months since I retired I have continued to study short courses online and continue reading journals to maintain my interests and skills.

Q. How does your work affect our lives or society?   

A. When I worked in the hospital diagnostic lab my work directly affected the immediate medical treatment of people, but since I moved into research the affect has been less immediate.

Through various research jobs I have contributed to a number of projects and publications which have either found out something about the biological cause or the treatment of a disease. Although these results have a less immediate effect down the line they will hopefully turn into effective treatments and improve people’s lives.

Q. What were the best things about your jobs?

A. One of the best things about my jobs is seeing a headline on the TV, radio or in a newspaper, that reports some scientific or medical breakthrough and feeling proud that that is a project I worked on (even if I am not mentioned by name).  Another is training other members of staff in techniques in which I am proficient which included methods I have worked up or adapted. I also like demonstrating/talking to people at public engagement events.

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Steve Gamble
Retired Research Assistant from the Wellcome Sanger Institute

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