Prof Clive Thompson on climbing the career ladder
15 Feb 2012
talk to SCI Trustee Prof
about his career
and how he got to
his current position
as chief scientist
What does your current job
I am charged with the development of an
integrated overall scientific development
programme for ALcontrol. Alongside
that, I find and develop new business
opportunities, liaise with clients with
regard to scientific back-up, special
projects and other key issues, including
emergency incident issues.
I carry out consultancy work and
represent ALcontrol on various national
and international committees, including
BSi, CEN and ISO.
I also used to have responsibility
for running the LEAP (Laboratory
Environmental Analysis Proficiency) Testing
Schemes for potable water; effluents;
emergency incidents; contaminated land;
bacteriological and Cryptosporidium, for
15 years before they were sold to CSL (now
Food and Environment Agency - Fera).
Even now, I still act as an adviser to Fera
for the LEAP Scheme.
Did you have an interest in
science from childhood?
Very much so. At 12, I had a really
inspirational chemistry master, I never
ever considered a career in any other
How did you decide that you
wanted a career in science?
In 1957, the practical aspects of chemistry
really attracted me to the subject. We had
a shed converted into a laboratory in our
back garden. I dread to think what the
2011 health and safety authorities would
do if they came across an equivalent
laboratory now. The local chemist sold me
virtually any chemical that I requested.
This would not happen now.
What motivated you to pursue
The love of research and publishing
papers in new areas of analytical science.
What has your experience
ascending the career ladder
I have been really fortunate in my career,
which has been more like a hobby.
I started out as a university lecturer
at Imperial College. I then spent six
years designing and marketing atomic
spectroscopic equipment for Shandon
I worked for five years at Severn Trent
Water as a deputy laboratory manager
at its Malvern Regional laboratory and
I've been with my present employer since
1980; initially in sewage works treatment
optimisation, then as a laboratory
manager for 15 years, before becoming
I've served on numerous committees,
and presented lectures at many national
and international conferences. In later
years I've been involved in organising
many such events. Also, for the last 30
years I've been actively involved in BSI/
CEN and ISO standardisation work as
well as Standing Committee of Analysts
What are the most important
things you've learned in your
career so far?
Firstly, one never stops learning. In fact
the older one gets, the more one realises
how much there is that you do not know.
It is important to keep updating and
expanding one's CPD. Secondly, gain the
respect of your staff and do all you can to
aid their development.
Thirdly, build up a wide network of
useful contacts. If a client asks me a
question that I am unable to answer,
somebody in my network of contacts
will almost always be able to help. This
also means that one must also promptly
respond to queries from network
colleagues whenever possible.
What would you have done
I would have started studying biological
and microbiological sciences whilst still
at school, not in evening classes with a
What would you say have been
the key milestones in your
The development of a number of atomic
spectroscopic techniques, associated
instrumentation and some patents;
helping to organise a large number of
successful international conferences
covering a wide range of topics; and
developing an ecotoxicology laboratory.
I've also gained Fellowship status in
RSC, CIWEM and RSPH and was recipient
of the 2003 SCI Environmental Medal for
distinguished and sustained achievement
in the areas of preservation, improvement
of understanding the environment.
I was awarded the Distinguished
Service Certificate from British Standards
in appreciation of long and valued
contributions to the development of
British, European and International
Standards, as well as assisting in the
development of the Open University
Foundation Degree in Analytical Sciences.
This apprenticeship type qualification
effectively brings back HNC/HNDs in
analytical chemistry and microbiology. If
you want a job done well in a laboratory,
'ask an HNC/HND'.
What key things would a young
person need to do if they
wanted to get to the position
you've achieved thus far?
Have a thirst for knowledge and never
rest on their laurels; show respect for all
colleagues, persuade their employer of
the various benefits of serving on relevant
committees; and finally: work hard.