Chris Hill and Svet Tzokov
Chris Hill and Svet Tzokov manage the Electron Microscopy Facility in the Faculty of Science, working in a challenging and dynamic environment.
Chris Hill and Svet Tzokov run the Cryo-Electron Microscopy Facility in the Faculty of Science, hosted by the Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology. Chris learned Electron Microscopy (EM) during his post-graduate studies in cellular biology, and it became his favourite technique. He has been in his current position for 15 years. Initially with a background in biotechnology and biocatalysis, Svet learned EM for one of his research projects, and never looked back. He has been in his current position for 11 years.
When talking about their daily routine, both Chris and Svet acknowledge that having a hands-on "dream job" in an exciting and fast-developing field can be very difficult.
As we need to manage all aspects of facility operation including finance, at times it feels like running your own business within the university.
Electron Microscopy Facility Manager
"Running a research facility is a challenging and dynamic job. Every day is different, plans often have to change. As we need to manage all aspects of facility operation including finance, at times it feels like running your own business within the university. It is exciting, you learn a lot, and it is truly fulfilling when projects do get done. However, it can be extremely stressful as well. Operating complex and sensitive (not to mention expensive!) instruments requires patience and precision, and it can be very difficult to find time for everything you need to do” explains Svet.
"When I started working at my present position we had to deal with about 30-50 users per year. As funding requirements changed, and interest in EM gradually increased over time, together with Chris we now have more than 200 users per year, including around 100 new users annually. We need to find time to interact with all of them, to understand their projects, and eventually train many of them to run their own EM experiments."
“There are other challenges at work” adds Chris. “We need to maintain high-precision, state-of-the-art research instruments in operational condition. This requires spending time on the instruments, working with our department, the Faculty, and the University Estates & Facilities Management, and also dealing with service engineers.
“We are also required to fund our work sustainably through the research grants of our users. To do that we need to spend time with colleagues from Finance developing and applying user charges, as well as advertising/marketing the facility in collaboration with the Faculty of Science.
With so many challenges, keeping to high standards is only possible because we work as a team.
Electron Microscopy Officer
“With so many challenges, keeping to high standards is only possible because we work as a team. Although each of us has his own area of expertise, we both can cover each other for most of our day-to-day tasks. To keep operating the facility as a single unit, we also need to coordinate many aspects of our work, like user training and charges."
“Our cryo-EM academic staff, Prof Per Bullough and Dr Julien Bergeron are also part of the EM team” adds Svet. “Their support and help are essential for our work. Unfortunately, Julien Bergeron is leaving Sheffield in the near future, but we are prepared to provide continuity of service until a new appointment.
“Sometimes it is very difficult to explain how challenging our work can be to people not familiar with what we do. Because of that, it is always amazing to get full support for our ideas from the department, the faculty, and the university. We are very grateful for the recent upgrade of the facility as part of Imagine: Imaging Life initiative, and for all the support we received from many places. It was hard work, but as a result we have state-of-the-art Cryo-EM unit, available to colleagues from our university and beyond.”
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