Oral history of British science

Constant, Jenny (Part 2 of 7)

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  • Subjects

    Materials Science

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  • Recording locations

    Interviewee's home, Powick

  • Interviewees

    Constant, Jenny, 1946- (speaker, female)

  • Interviewers

    Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 2 [1:06:31] Comments on JC decision to start work at RRE: chaotic period; interview for a nursing position; Auntie Phyllis arranging interview at RRE; description of police inspector Aunty Phyllis; RRE's technical training officer Howard Sylvester, who interviewed prospective Scientific Assistants; typical civil service interview style, with a three person panel; description of entering RRE through security; red visitors passes; subsequent letter offering a job; interviews to form a pool of people that scientists could draw on; lengthy security clearance process; start of job in 1964. [06:56] Description of RRE site and buildings in 1964. [08:08] Comments on early experiences at RRE: description of first scientist she worked for; anecdote about jokes played on newcomers sent to the stores to order their lab coats and equipment; smoky tea rooms; [13:10] girl calenders on walls of workshop; JC early impressions of the RRE from the inside, importance of discussions over tea breaks; JC realising people at RRE were different from those she had met previously; helpful working atmosphere, people generous with time and assistance; generous further training via day release; support from first boss in her work; value of being known in interview process. [18:10] Remarks on Auntie Phyllis: JC father's sister-in-law, married to Uncle Bill; work in police force; description of personality and appearance; helpful after JC's father's death; senior police officer. [20:50] Comments on RRE scientist C. Robert 'Johnny' Johnson, who JC worked for in latter 1960s: formerly of RAF; mentored younger colleagues; suffered from migraines; development of cooperative, informal working relationship with JC; JC rarely thinking of Johnny as a boss; [26:00] consistency of working with Johnny compared to earlier boss; anecdote about learning experience of accidental flooding vacuum system with oil; Johnny's research on materials to be used in lasers. [29:00] Further remarks on JC early time at RRE: RJ appreciating little of wider significance and purpose of work in early career; learning experience, such as setting up vacuum equipment, modifying equipment, glass-blowing; daily activities making electrical devices; fixing windows with black wax to dewars used in cooling of materials to be tested; collecting liquid nitrogen from for experiments; anecdote about senior manager's pipe setting fire to ether in the laboratory; [34:40] limited attention to health and safety concerns; JC limited memories of exactly what she did. [35:20] Description of experimental use of dewars filled with liquid nitrogen to cool samples to be tested in spectrometer. [36:30] Remarks on spectrometry and instruments: assistance of glass-blower in modifying equipment; JC not being very good at glass-blowing; assistance of workshops in making more complex equipment; JC role taking measurements in spectrometry experiments; some spectrometers sold by companies, others modified or designed by RRE staff, such as Jonny; description of the trial and error needed to get best results from a spectrometer; writing up experiments; [40:30] spectrometer output on chart plotter; anecdote about difficulties keeping plotters supplied with ink; JC duties collecting equipment from local stores. [42:40] Remarks on: salary and conditions; historic low levels of MoD salaries compared to industry; industrial staff having to clock in; JC signing in rather than clocking in; flexible nature of working hours when needed; feeling of freedom at work; position of a scientific assistant in Malvern, lowest grade in scientific hierarchy [46:50] workshop community and hierarchy of industrial workers; drawing office hierarchies; hierarchical and bureaucratic nature of Malvern; anecdote about difficulties ordering stores not in the system; hierarchy not seeming restrictive to work in. [49:40] Remarks on teatime, tea rooms and the tea club: smoking; interaction with other groups; later disapproval of people taking tea breaks; people spending much time in tea rooms. [52:40] Remarks on social life at RRE: establishment social club and sports facility; RRE personnel involvement with theatre in Malvern; intermarrying between personnel, JC meeting husband at Malvern; JC not much of a social animal. [54:30] Remarks on living arrangements: living at mother's home until marriage in 1969; travelling to work by bus or bicycle. [55:45] Remarks on daily work: working hours; canteen; shared desk; lab coat; lengthy experiment set-ups waiting for samples to cool; drawing graphs by hand; preparing samples by flattening surfaces; lack of typical day; set-up of laboratory and offices; scientists laying out daily work; [1:00:00] JC struck in hindsight by how little she knew of bigger picture. [1:01:00] Remarks on training: day release to study National Certificates in physics at Worcester Technical College, paid for by RRE; little link between learning and work; home work; generosity of MoD training, compared to later practices; JC later role managing training budget. [1:03:58] Remarks on: workplace security, Official Secrets Act, limited discussion of work outside work early in career; JC enjoyment of early career.

  • Description

    Interview with scientific manager, Jenny Constant

  • Related transcripts

    Jenny Constant interviewed by Thomas Lean: full transcript of the interview

  • Related links

    Visit this interviewee's page on the 'Voices of Science' web resource

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