A celebration of the professional life and career of Val Gordon FIScT

It is with a heavy heart that I write this tribute to our friend and colleague Val Gordon.

Val was not only a loving wife and mother but also a highly respected professional technician. Although this is a sad time for her family, I’m sure they draw comfort from those many happy family memories.

Val, Laura and Jane enjoying the winter scenery

It is also a time to celebrate Val’s professional life and career and her contribution to both the local and national technical communities.

I first met Val more than fifteen years ago at one of the many conferences and events hosted by the Institute of Science and Technology (IST). It soon became apparent that she wanted to play her part in improving the preconceived image of technicians as just being “goffers and fetchers” and to help get the recognition for the impact they make in the world of teaching and research. To this end, Val became a member of the IST in 2011. With her honours degree in Zoology from the University of Edinburgh and a wide knowledge of laboratory operations and related experience in a variety of technical skills gained from many technical and research roles, (from work in endocrinology to diagnostic virology, research into HIV at Glasgow University and finally as a Technical Officer at the University of Edinburgh), she was ideally placed to have an immediate impact on the work of the IST which supported the technical community at large. She gained professional accreditation in 2013 with the award of RSci from the Science Council’s Professional Registration Scheme, later becoming an assessor for the Science Council and the IST. More recently, she became a member of the Science Council’s new routes to registration committee.

Joan Ward, (IST Deputy Chair) said “Val was a friend and inspirational colleague and made a major contribution to the IST’s professional registration work, becoming a valued registration application assessor. Within her assessor role she was fair, supportive and committed to ensuring that registration standards were maintained, but she was always conscious that the application process could be a daunting task and was always positive and forward-looking in the feedback that she offered to applicants. She was keen to encourage staff within her University (and other surrounding HEI’s) to develop their skills and did much to promote the notion of professionalisation amongst the technical staff in her locality. She was always open to new ideas and able to drive initiatives forward because of her committed, cheery and sensitive approach. She will be sorely missed”.

Her passion and drive was also recognised by staff at HEaTED, (the Higher Education and Technician Educational Development, now a part of the National Technician Development Centre, NTDC), where she became their Scottish Network Coordinator. A post she held until 2019, when she then took up a new post of Technician Commitment Action Plan Coordinator on behalf of the University of Edinburgh. This was followed by further roles at the University, including membership of their strategic Technician Steering Committee.

The IST’s Registrar recalls her time spent with Val at HEaTED events. “Val was instrumental in setting up the Scottish Regional Network for HEaTED. A strong proponent of the technical workforce. Val was at the heart of the many events we ran together. She will be sadly missed.”

Sara Bacon, Centre Manager at the NTDC said “We were very lucky to have the input from Val who was the Scottish HEaTED Coordinator. Val’s contribution and collaboration with the other regional coordinators was a key offer that was much appreciated by the HEaTED community. I had the privilege of meeting Val at technician network events over the past 4 years and Val was always welcoming and generous in sharing her knowledge and experiences of the technician community. A sad loss to all that knew and worked with her.”

Natalie Homer (University of Edinburgh) made the following comments in an email sent to all Edinburgh University staff. The following is an extract from that email:

“Although Val was based in the Moray House School of Education and Support, her role as Technical Officer meant that she worked closely with many people in our CMVM Community. Val’s leadership and clear commitment to embedding the principles of the Technician Commitment across the University of Edinburgh led to the development of the University Technicians Commitment Action Plan. This brought people together and generated considerable momentum for change. We have a lot to thank Val for”.

Clearly demonstrating how Val was highly thought of and respected by her colleagues and friends and the impact she made at the University of Edinburgh.

Russell Wilson (Heriot Watt University/IST Scottish Network Co-ordinator) said “I first met Val at a HEaTED Scottish Regional Event in 2018, it was then I first learnt about the benefits of professional registration and expanding my technical network. Val was always there for me providing encouragement and support. Upon considering setting up the new IST Scottish Network I immediately turned to Val as I knew she would be willing to play a pivotal role. This was indeed the case and Val was keen to head up and highlight current/upcoming training and development opportunities for the technical community in Scotland. Tragically Val will not be able to see this through and I will miss not having her by my side, to learn from her experience, passion and drive which was always apparent whenever I was with her. I will miss of course miss her professionally, but it is my personal connection that I will miss the most. Val was an inspiration who supported me and many others across the UK, often knowing when to reach out with a supportive phone call or message. She was a helpful, approachable, and caring friend, it is this that I will miss the most. It feels fitting to finish with a message Val once sent to me, and I will try to follow this advice in the years to come.”

Nothing worthwhile ever came easy, but by challenging yourself you can help develop your confidence as well as your skillset”.

Val leading the workshop at St Andrews – one of the many HEaTED Scottish Regional Events she delivered

This enthusiasm to demonstrate just how well trained and up to date technicians are and that this is something to be encouraged by employers as they also reap the benefits from a highly trained and accredited technical workforce. Val definitely led from the front. There are many training courses and events that she attended to give her the necessary knowledge and experience to make a difference in her day-to-day duties at the University of Edinburgh as well as her national roles. Reviewing the list of courses, you can immediately see that she, (quite rightly), felt the need to cover a wide range of subjects from EDI, project management for technical staff, Health and Safety, emergence from lockdown, laboratory sustainability, in addition to courses by the Science Council to promote CPD and Professional Registration.

As you can see, Val was a committed, dedicated, passionate champion for technicians, continually supporting many organisations and events in promoting the exceptional work undertaken by the technical community at large. I was therefore, in 2018, privileged and honoured to be able to award her, (on behalf of the IST Executive Board), the prestigious award of Fellow of the Institute of Science and Technology, FIScT, which she so richly deserved.

There is so much more that could be said in this tribute to the professional life of Val. There are so many stories and comments from friends, colleagues and IST members where Val had made such a positive impact on their working lives and status in their workplace and a proud moment and memory for Hamish, Laura and Jane.  Therefore, apologies to those I haven’t been able to mention by name in this tribute.

However, I am going to leave the last words to Gillian Riddell (Queens University, Belfast). Gillian was not only an IST/HEaTED colleague but a colleague who became a good friend whose thoughts, recollections and words speak for us all.

“I was privileged to first meet Val at a HEaTED course in York in January 2018.  We immediately hit it off and began chatting about the plight of technicians and how the Technician Commitment was driving a change at our universities. At the end of the course, we promised to keep in touch.  A few weeks later, Val kindly accepted my invitation to Belfast where she shared her experiences with our Technician Committee.  I am honoured to say that this was the beginning of a wonderful friendship.  Val invited Queen’s University to join the Scotland Regional HEaTED network and I was excited to attend networking events across Scotland. With Val as facilitator, we even managed to host an event in Queen’s, just before we locked down in 2020.  For the next three years we had many Teams calls discussing how we could improve and implement plans for technicians in Edinburgh and Belfast.  Val was extremely supportive of me professionally, but also personally. She really helped me through a personal tragedy with frequent phone calls and messages with beautiful photos attached, to keep my spirits up. I was always delighted to attend any networking events knowing that my “wee pal” was going to be there.

Val’s greatest love was her family and friends, but she was also dedicated to making a difference for her technical colleagues. Her smile, her wit and her friendship will be greatly missed by all who knew her”.

                               Val’s “Quiet Place” to enjoy her keen interest in wildlife and nature photography

Val was an inspiration to us all, a perfect example of the “Professional Technician”, with an outstanding career, a colleague and a friend to many. So many happy memories that we will continue to remember and celebrate.

Terry Croft MBE, FIScT

Chair IST

Acknowledgements: Many thanks to Joan Ward (IST) and Russell Wilson(IST/Heriot Watt University) for their support in writing this tribute. Also, to Michelle Jackson (IST/University of Manchester), Sara Bacon (NTDC/HEaTED), Natalie Homer (University of Edinburgh) and Gillian Riddell (Queens University, Belfast), for their contributions.