The backbone of the science department

The responsibilities for the hazardous register and the chemsafety are huge.

She’s not a teacher but Pam Waller loves enthusing kids about science, and showing them its fun and relevant to everyday life.

Pam has been the lab technician at St Paul’s High School Booragul, near Newcastle, for 15 years.

She used to work in industry and as a university research assistant, but began volunteering at school when her children were younger and eventually was employed as a science assistant in a high school.

“I enjoy the variety. Okay, we do the same pracs every year, but I’m always looking out for ways to make things fun. I buy toys the teachers can use to show scientific principles in a fun way.

“I used to help out, showing the children how to do chemical techniques properly, such as how to use a pipette correctly.

“However, now the school is too big, and the responsibilities I have for chemsafety take so much time that it does not allow me any time to do this.”

Pam said because lab technicians in schools often work alone they can feel isolated and misunderstood.

“We don’t have anyone to talk shop with. A lot of people, even in the science department, don’t appreciate how much preparation we are doing behind the scenes [including snake handling, stick insect wrangler and fish feeder at some schools].

“The responsibilities for the hazardous register and the chemsafety are huge. I could kill someone with a spelling mistake.

“But as we often work alone, it’s not always acknowledged or registered by school communities.”

Pam has been an IEU member throughout her career and said the support of the Union has done much to alleviate the feeling of isolation.

“My father was a HR manager and anti-union. So it was a big step for me to join, but I’ve never regretted it. It’s often the only support lab technicians have and the Union is always at the end of the phone to offer advice.

“I think for all lab technicians the IEU would be a great help.”

Sue Osborne Journalist

Sue Osborne