“So, what do you do for a living?” – The perennial question posed unfailingly by participants at a dinner party or similar social gatherings where getting to know the assembled guests is more of a courtesy as against a mandatory obligation. But few of us have the level of commitment which would drive us into showing a real interest by following the initial response with a list of supplementary questions. The first interaction is almost akin to the “hello, how are you?” salutation, where we really don’t want to know about the unbearable pain they have in their right groin which prevents their participation in a multiplicity of activities, best not recorded here. However, when the first response is “I’m a Biomedical Scientist”, often uttered with conviction and pride, it’s almost as if a starter’s gun has been fired which signals the release of an avalanche of questions, the first of which is most often - “oh, what do you actually do?”.
And so, for the last 50 years I have been able to hone my responses into as interesting and thought provoking comments as I consider the assembled informal audience might react to with at least some small spark of interest. I do have to admit to the inclusion of some, perhaps inappropriate, screening of my fellow socialisers. But I find this helps guide me towards the depth and focus that my responses should take and permits the opportunity to select the optimum package that might ultimately lead onto such stimulating discourses on Paroxysmal Nocturnal Haemoglobinuria or the less aggressive Haemolytic Disease of the New-born, or even LDL Cholesterol!!” There is, of course, the almost guaranteed risk that the topic of pain in the right groin will actually emerge at some point during the conversation. I also don’t remember IBMS training preparing me for questions such as “I’m a regular blood donor and have the blood group A and my mother and father are both group O. Is that normal?”
But it has been an incredibly rewarding, diverse and fulfilling career. From the long-past IBMS Intermediate Certificate; an ONC in Chemistry with supplements in Physics and Chemistry; Associateship of the IBMS in Haematology and Fellowship in Clinical Chemistry and finally a Masters in Pharmaceutical Chemistry through Strathclyde University, I think I can say I’ve had a reasonable exposure to Life Sciences. After 17 years as a Biomedical Scientist, I made the move into the commercial world and over the next 10 years progressed through to International Marketing Planning Manager for GSK (the then Wellcome Foundation). Throwing caution to the wind and triggering my wife to reach for the ACE Inhibitors, I then founded a couple of Businesses (Watson Biomedical Ltd and BioVue Management Services Ltd) and ultimately provided Business and Corporate services for over 80 Life Science companies, Professional Associations, Trade Associations, Institutes and Universities.
Two years ago, having crossed the 65 line, I decided it was probably time to put away the business cards. But nobody told me that reaching that milestone doesn’t automatically bestow any rights of escape. So 6 months later I eventually started saying yes instead of no when the phone rang and today I am probably as busy as before and have since added a Life Science recruitment consultancy to the list of activities.
When I first started work in the West of Scotland Blood Transfusion Service as a Student Medical Laboratory Technician I couldn’t have imagined what a career as a Biomedical Scientist could have offered. The opportunity for extensive world travel; meeting, getting to know and working with some of the most inspirational and brilliant Life Scientists; teaching the Advanced Classes in Coagulation; being co-opted onto the Executive of the British In Vitro Diagnostics Association and perhaps the ultimate being invited to the Palace in recognition for my work in in vitro Diagnostics.
I believe, however, the Institute has now reached a crossroads in its evolution. There is a compelling need to review our position and construct a viable strategy to help drive and steer the Institute forward so that it not only retains its unquestioned position of credibility, but is wholly in tune with the current and somewhat aggressive dynamics of our industry. As a Professional Association, we need to recognise and embrace those movements and focus our efforts in ensuring that the Institute not only maintains its absolute relevance in the support of its constituent members, but may be seen by other healthcare professionals as a beacon for its specific art and be respected as an essential component of total healthcare provision.
Alex B. Watson MSc FIBMS CMRS