Rachel Summerfield – Client Interface Manager
What is your role at MRC Harwell? How long have you worked here?
I am a Client Interface Manager and have worked in this role for about 4 and a half years. I’ve been at MRC Harwell for about 16 years, having previously worked as an Animal Technician and as Deputy Quarantine Manager.
My role as Client Interface Manager requires me to manage and coordinate multiple projects for the importation and exportation of mouse stocks for internal and external scientific research projects and provide complex scientific information about mouse lines to the global scientific community, as well as managing a small team and performing other roles as a Named Animal Care and Welfare Officer and Wellbeing Champion.
What is your career/education background?
Before joining MRC Harwell, I had had a couple of technician roles at labs elsewhere – at the Institute for Animal Health (now the Pirbright Institute) and RSSL (Reading Scientific Services Ltd) – as well as part-time roles as a kennel and cattery maid, pet shop assistant, apprentice veterinary nurse, and dog-walker. I ended up here at MRC Harwell after moving to Newbury and wanted to find another animal technician role after working in a DNA and Protein lab at RSSL.
Did you see yourself doing this kind of job when you were younger?
I’d always wanted to work with animals, but I guess the main exposure I’d had to animal research was seeing protesters in Reading, so it wasn’t something I’d considered or knew enough about. Instead, I first wanted to be a veterinary nurse and then trained as a dog behaviourist with a plan that I might one day run my own kennels. But then I saw an advert for an animal technician position that had a focus on caring and decided to go for it!
What do you enjoy most about your job/working at MRC Harwell?
The work we do has real impact on important research, for example, I was really proud of our contributions to research around COVID, but there’s been so many examples of this and I feel really passionate about it when I describe what I do to people I meet outside of work.
I also really enjoy dealing with clients in my current role and can see that a desire to do this kind of work might be the thing that drives any future career decisions. If I can combine this with working with animals, I would be very happy,
How has your role changed?
Across the years here, I’ve had a lot of different responsibilities in my different roles, such as breeding mice, performing IVF, cryopreserving mouse embryos and sperm, and managing the training and development of my team. Moving out of the wards and having less contact with the mice is clearly a big change from my first role at MRC Harwell, but it felt like an obvious next step as I had already been helping out with imports and exports while Deputy Quarantine Manager and I was excited to take on more responsibilities and more direct interactions with clients.
What advice do you give to new colleagues starting in junior roles?
Take any opportunities open to you, put yourself out there, and learn as much as you can! I’m finally doing a degree now and would advise others that it’s better to do it when you’re younger and don’t have to balance so many different life and work commitments!
What are the skills you have gained during your career that have made the biggest impact?
Leadership and management training has been incredibly helpful and made me a much better manager. But record-keeping, time-keeping, and organisational skills gained from experience have all been very important and my lab experience is key to being able to manage what’s going on around me and how I work with clients elsewhere.
Are you professionally registered? Would you recommend others to do it?
Yes, I am a Registered Scientist. I encourage all my staff to do it, as it’s good to gain recognition both for your own sense of achievement and as a useful thing to go on your CV and help your career going forwards. I was planning to upgrade to Chartered Scientist, but then started my degree and don’t think I can do everything at once!
What do you like to do outside of work?
Apart from studying for my degree which takes up a lot of my time, I like to stay fit, do weight-training, and play table tennis!