The role of an ASRU inspector
After qualifying, I worked in small animal practice briefly and then completed a residency in veterinary neurology and neurosurgery at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC), to become a European specialist. Following this, I completed a PhD on the study of status epilepticus at University College London, which involved in vivo studies in rodent epilepsy models. Shortly afterwards, I joined the RVC as a lecturer and remained there for around six years, becoming head of the neurology group. This involved running a clinical service, a residency programme and overseeing the neurology teaching module for undergraduates. I regularly delivered lectures to undergraduates and postgraduates and taught on CPD courses. I also had a strong interest in epilepsy and started a specialist canine epilepsy clinic.
I saw the advertisement for an inspector within the Animals in Science Regulation Unit (ASRU) when I was seeking a new challenge – one in which I could combine my interests in science and animal welfare. My lectureship had become predominantly a clinical and teaching role, which meant that I did not have the time to maintain an interest in basic science. I thought that the inspector role would combine my interests, as well as providing a new challenge and an opportunity to gain new skills.
The two key parts of an inspector's job are inspection of animal research facilities (which might include academic, commercial, charity and government facilities) to determine whether they are compliant with the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act, and assessment of licence applications that authorise animal research. As inspectors, we are an important source of advice on the application of the 3Rs (refinement, replacement and reduction) to both licensees and the ASRU, which gives us the opportunity to have a major impact on the welfare of animals used in science.
Inspectors give advice on licence applications that authorise animals to be used in research and help to ensure that this is done in the most refined way possible with regard to animal use. We advise on using the least number of animals and on alternatives to animal use where possible. We therefore play a pivotal role in UK science, and work to ensure that animal use in science is carried out in the most humane way possible, while ensuring scientific objectives can be achieved. We are in a unique position in that we see an overview of all UK science that uses animals, which means we can advise on best practice and facilitate collaborative working between researchers in some situations. We also work on EU working groups that share experience and best practice with other member states. This can help improve and harmonise standards across the EU.
I enjoy the challenge of working with researchers in varied fields and having a good overview of science within the UK. I also enjoy being able to make a difference with regard to animal welfare in science and encouraging good practice during my inspection duties. It is an extremely varied job and I never have a boring day. Assessing applications relating to contrasting areas of science, which may be at the cutting edge of the field and using new methodologies, for example, is intellectually fascinating. I have also had the opportunity to work on projects related to EU Directive transposition, which have been excellent learning experiences.
I have helped write submissions that provide direct advice to ministers, attended debates in Parliament, and have completed training courses in project and people management. I also have management responsibilities for fellow professionals and work on various projects for business improvements within our department at the Home Office. There are also many opportunities to work on projects and papers with external stakeholders on aspects of animal welfare and the 3Rs.
My job offers lots of flexibility and variation in how I work, which means that I can plan my working week to suit my own preferred working patterns. One week might involve travelling to distant establishments, working in the Home Office headquarters and also working from my computer and by telephone at home.
However, inspectors spend a significant amount of time working in the field, and this can feel lonely at times. I overcome this by regular telephone and e-mail contact with colleagues, but that gets difficult when it's very busy. Additionally, our department has undergone a lot of change over the past few years and that can be difficult to deal with because processes change and it can be tricky keeping up with everything. On the plus side though, I feel privileged in being able to influence the future shape of the organisation and although sometimes stressful, it is an excellent learning experience.
For anyone considering this type of career, it is essential to have gathered experience from different aspects of veterinary and laboratory animal science. I use my clinical and research experience every day. Familiarity with the law as regards animal welfare is also useful and being able to communicate with different stakeholders is key to the job. In one week you might need to meet the registrar of a large university, junior animal technicians, Home Office ministers and world-renowned researchers, or give a lecture to a large group of external stakeholders.
I recently attended a meeting where I had the opportunity to talk to inspectors in other EU member states about the UK inspectorate. I felt very privileged to explain how our system works, and it was a mutually beneficial experience to explore the pros and cons of different regulatory systems in order to encourage high and consistent standards of animal welfare in science within the EU.
When I'm not being an ASRU inspector I enjoy long-distance running, as well as creative and music pursuits, which include playing classical and jazz piano and writing music and singing.