Carl Atkinson

Country: United Kingdom
Sector: Veterinary
Job title: Microbiology Laboratory Manager
Subject of study: Biological Sciences
Year of graduation: 2008
Type/Level of study: Undergraduate

Current Employer/Organisation Name

Axiom Veterinary Laboratories

What have you been doing since leaving Exeter, and what are you doing now?

I joined a Veterinary Pathology Laboratory as soon as I left University. I have been there ever since but in different roles. I started off as a Scientific Officer, which is an equivalent to a Laboratory Technician. The company caters to veterinary clients across the UK and overseas. We offer a variety of pathological tests to aid in diagnosis of ailments, diseases and disorders of both small companion animals (pets), equine and other large (farm and zoo) animals. Our testing covers disciplines such as Biochemistry, Haematology, Endocrinology, Cytology, Serology, Molecular Diagnostics and Microbiology. I started employment in the Microbiology department, learning many skills using microscopic and macroscopic techniques to identify significant bacterial, fungal and parasitic pathogens of animals. Once I had trained to the highest level in the Microbiology department I was keen to diversify and moved to the Serology department which focused on detecting both infectious processes and autoimmune processes using antibody-antigen interactions. I then applied to be a Senior Scientific Officer which involved being the spearhead in the lab for all queries and troubleshooting and provides a liaison between the lab staff and management. Following a slight restructure the opportunity to become the departmental manager arose and, whilst I had no management experience I had been the senior team member for over a year, I applied for the position. I was successful in this application and have been managing the department ever since. We have also evolved since I have been a manager, growing the department from two factions to four which included the creation of a Molecular Diagnostics Unit. Year on year we have increased our workload and therefore the team I manage has grown in numbers and expertise. This has led to a number of the technical disciplines splitting to be managed by other colleagues. I continue to manage the Microbiology department and am dedicated to advancing both the staff and resources that we employ at the lab.

Why did you choose this career? And what do you enjoy most about your work?

I wanted a hands on job role. I enjoyed learning all the different aspects of Microbiology whilst I was studying at Exeter. I felt that the drive was more to molecular biology as technology advances and, although some may think it old fashioned, I still enjoy the experience of using your senses to help to the detective work. I’m not as much of a technophobe as I used to be but sometimes the old ways are still the best! Although now my role is mainly office based I do still enjoy spending time on the workbench. I also now relish passing on the skills I learned when first training and seeing the enthusiasm and (in some instances) excitement that my team has going about their daily duties.

Please tell us if you were a member of any societies, groups or sports clubs?

Yes, I joined the BioSoc (fairly obviously) and also joined the Pub Sports Society, although I didn’t really do much with the latter as I never needed much persuasion to visit a public house with my friends. In our first year a few friends and I organised an inter-mural 5-a-side football league which proved popular.

What did you enjoy most about your programme and what was the biggest highlight?

I really felt that the academics at Exeter were hugely passionate about their respective subjects and, for me, that makes a huge difference when conveying topics to young minds. Highlights were mainly spending time in the laboratory. I knew then that was the environment for me to begin a professional career in, albeit in a commercial (as opposed to academic/research) institute.

What did you enjoy most about studying here?

The community. I felt Exeter was a large family. I felt safe on campus and was happy walking amongst likeminded people. Although very different to the surroundings now I was happy with the facilities at Exeter and that everything I needed was at hand. I’m not a fan of large cities as they feel very impersonal. Exeter was the perfect place to study for me because it was a relatively small place which felt very close knit.

Why did you choose to study at Exeter?

I knew Exeter was a great university because it is close to my home town and I had been in and around Exeter as a city numerous times before. My sister also studied at Exeter (she started two years before I did) so I had heard great reports from her and spent time visiting her before I decided to study at Exeter.

What skills and experiences have been most useful for your career?

Diplomacy! I think being an active listener helps. I’ve always felt quite intuitive when it comes to reading people and, as my role relies heavily on person-person interaction, it’s really important for staff wellbeing for me to understand my team as best I can. On a technical note, I think it’s important to understand that a mixture of theoretical learning and practical experience are likely to give people the best chance at thriving in particular disciplines. If too heavily weighted either way I think some people can struggle to champion the technical aspects of a scientific career, especially in diagnostics.

What advice would you give to a current student who wishes to pursue your career?

Never think that you know it all. Always try to absorb what people tell you. In this particular sector there are a lot more companies utilising automated systems and therefore experienced advice will be even more limited from when I graduated. Invariably if you start on a similar career path you will undoubtedly have to observe or shadow for a period of time, it is worth trying to take on board everything you can from the people who are teaching you. You can learn so much from those with experience. Also, there is no quick substitute for hard work!

What are your plans for the future?

I don’t try and set particular goals for the future (I don’t have a 5 year plan) but I continually look to develop my department and help move our company forward. That will include advancements in hardware and software but also a huge amount of personal development for my staff. At home, I’ll carry on enjoying spending time with my young daughter and watching her grow up!


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