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Graeme McAllister

Experimental Officer

"There's no such thing as a "typical day" - that's one of the things I enjoy about this role."

Photo of Graeme McAllister, Experimental Officer in Chemistry, working in the lab.

I am an Experimental Officer in the Department of Chemistry. I completed my undergraduate and postgraduate studies at the University of Glasgow, studying for a PhD in organic synthesis and enzyme chemistry. I then moved to York in 1999 as a postdoc with Professor Richard Taylor in the organic chemistry section. In 2001, the Experimental Officer announced his departure, and I was asked if I would "keep the seat warm" until a replacement was found. I was also encouraged to apply for the role, and with end of my postdoc looming, decided to do so. I officially took over the role in October of that year. It turns out I quite liked the seat warming, and nearly 20 years later, I'm still here!

As Experimental Officer, I have responsibility for the operation of several synthetic organic chemistry research laboratories and the departmental microanalysis service. I also line manage one member of the technical team. I am a member of the departmental Safety Team, sit on the Chemistry-Estates working group, TechYork Committee and Technician Commitment Steering Group, and the Environmental Performance Group. I also deputise the Operations Manager on occasions of his absence, as a point of contact for any operational issues. As you can imagine from this list, there tends to be no such thing as a "typical day", and that's one of the things I enjoy about this role.

I've always had the greatest respect for technicians, both at school (working behind the scenes getting experiments ready) and as a student (great support and a massive source of department gossip!). However, I wouldn't say that I set out to become a technician. After my PhD I wanted to stay in the research field (hence the postdoc), but never felt that my future lay down the academic path. Even after I started as EO, I considered myself to be more of a senior postdoc who happened to keep the lab running.

Over time, however, the role has changed. I still support the research labs, but I am now more departmentally focused, most notably in my responsibility for the microanalysis service. In addition, I train postgraduates and staff in procedures such as cylinder handling and liquid nitrogen dispensing, and I also do some undergraduate teaching and demonstrating.

In 2016, I decided to apply for professional registration. To be honest, I couldn't tell you the precise reason, beyond the fact I quite fancied the letters after my name! I'd be lying if I said it was a straightforward process – the application form is quite daunting and it took me a couple of attempts before I was awarded RSci, but now that I have the award, it's not an onerous task to maintain. In fact, the main benefit for me has been the encouragement it gives to pursue CPD activities I wouldn't normally have done. I now have Chartered Scientist (CSci) in my sights, and plan on working towards that level this year.

One of the most rewarding things for me recently has been my involvement with TechYork, through which I think I have met and got to know more people (outside Chemistry) in the last two years than in the 17 before that! I have felt a greater sense of community across the institution and I know from conversations with others, that I am not alone in that.

TechYork and the Technician Commitment have made me think appreciate and value my position in the grand scheme of things, and while I wouldn't exactly say I have a 5-year plan (who knows what will happen?), I feel I am in a better place to think about it.

Career timeline

  • June 1996 – Graduated from the University of Glasgow (BSc (Hons) - Chemistry with Medicinal Chemistry)
  • September 1999 - Finished at the University of Glasgow (PhD) - graduated July 2000
  • December 1999 - Started at the University of York as a PDRA
  • September 2001 - Took up new position as Experimental Officer
  • August 2016 - Professionally registered as RSci
  • July 2017 to present - Volunteered to be part of the TechYork organising committee
  • January 2019 to present – My involvement with the Technician Commitment began after being invited onto the steering group and being involved in the presentation of a series of roadshows to technical colleagues