Guest Speakers


Professor Tim Softly Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Knowledge Transfer

We need to make sure the conditions are right for technicians, that there’s a career structure and opportunities for developing their careers.”

Tim Softley is the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Knowledge Transfer.  As such his responsibilities are to lead the University’s research performance with the aim of positioning the University firmly amongst the leading research universities in the UK. He takes the lead role on preparing and the delivery of actions to enhance Birmingham’s position in the next REF, and on working to improve the University’s grant capture, including research funding from business and industry. As a member of the University Executive Board and the Strategic Planning and Resources Committee, he contributes to the broader leadership and direction of the University, and supports the Provost in academic planning matters including the annual planning and target-setting cycle.  In the area of Knowledge Transfer, he is a Nominated Officer on the Alta Innovations Board, and represents the University on the Birmingham Science City Board and the Midlands Innovation PVC Board. He works with the Graduate School and the Director of Graduate Studies to enhance the graduate research student experience and to facilitate recruitment of high quality graduate students.  He is Chair of the Research Committee, the Knowledge Transfer Committee, the Research Ethics Integrity and Governance Committee, and the Academic IT Resources Group.

Tim Softly

Helen Sharman OBE

Helen Sharman is a British scientist and astronaut, who became the first Briton in space in 1991 when she launched on a Soyuz spacecraft to spend 8 days orbiting the Earth. 

After responding to a radio advertisement asking for applicants, Helen was one of two Britons selected for astronaut training ahead of nearly 13,000 other applicants. The programme was a cooperative arrangement between the Soviet Union and a British company that was set up to manage the Mission.

Helen was subjected to a rigorous selection process that focussed on psychological and medical assessments, technical understanding and practical skills as well as the ability to learn a foreign language. Then came 18 months intensive flight training in Star City near Moscow, where learning to speak Russian and getting to know the cosmonauts’ families were parts of a new way of life.

During the launch, she carried out certain spacecraft operations and once in space, her tasks included medical, agricultural and chemical experiments, materials’ testing, Earth observation work and an amateur radio link with British school students, fitting in media interviews and a phone conversation with President Gorbachev. Coping with risk was a daily activity and team work was a vital element in the success of the Mission.

Helen was 27 years and 11 months old when she became an astronaut. She has not returned to space, although she says that, like every other astronaut, she would love to be up there again, experiencing the weightlessness, the camaraderie and the views.

Following her space flight, Helen became a science communicator and corporate speaker, winning prizes for radio and television programmes and giving inspirational talks around the world on teamwork and motivation.  Some of the science teachers she meets now were inspired to study science after hearing her talk about her spaceflight; some people have changed their whole lives after listening to Helen talk.

Helen believes, “We should push forward not only our own individual boundaries but also the boundaries of what humans believe is possible. People are the biggest limitations in our own lives. There's a huge amount we can do and we should make the best use of our lives for the benefit of the world.”

Helen Sharman OBE, MA, CChem (Hon) FRSC, MSCI, FRAeS, FBIS, FRGS, FIScT



Helen Sharman


Kelly Vere 

Kelly Vere is the Technical Skills Development Manager at the University of Nottingham where she began her career as a trainee research technician in 1999. She leads an award-winning programme to enable the strategic and professional development of the University’s 700+ technical staff across the UK and Asia. Kelly has written for the Guardian and Times Higher Education on the role of university technicians. She has given a number of invited talks in this area, both nationally and internationally, and recently featured in the Department of Work and Pensions’ #NotJustForBoys campaign, encouraging girls to explore technical careers in STEM. She is researching the roles of university technicians for her professional doctorate in education. 


Kelly is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and a Registered Scientist (RSci). Kelly is currently on secondment with the Science Council where she leads on engagement with the higher education sector to increase visibility and recognition of technicians. Key areas of progress to date include the expansion of the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers to include technical researchers, the inclusion of technical teaching in the Teaching Excellence Framework and her work with the Research Councils to ensure career development opportunities for technicians (recently featured in Nature). She leads on the Technician Commitment – a sector wide initiative to ensure visibility, recognition, career development and sustainability for the technical community across higher education and research.

In 2015, Kelly founded the biennial Higher Education Technicians Summit and Papin Prizes that recognise technical excellence in academia. In 2014 she was awarded “STEM Technician of the Year” by the Higher Education Academy for her “outstanding contribution to the work of all technicians in higher education”. 



You can follow her on Twitter @kellyvere

Kelly Vere