20 June 2017
John Fifield is one of three recipients of this year’s Distinguished Service Awards (DSA). The DSAs are presented to members of the Society who have contributed significant and sustained service to at least one element (normally a Group) in the SCI structure for ten years or more.
John has been an SCI member for approaching 50 years in total and is a member of the Construction Materials, Science & Enterprise and London Groups. Here he talks about his involvement with SCI and how it has impacted on his professional career.
When and why did you become a member of SCI?
I joined Tunnel Cement in 1961 as a research chemist and the company sponsored my SCI membership encouraging me to give my first paper to the Roads and Building Materials Group. The company continued to pay my subscriptions and I became more involved in BSI work representing SCI. When I left the cement company in 1978 my new employer, Anchor Roof Tiles, agreed to continue paying my SCI subscriptions to underpin my work with BSI.
Sometime in the 1980s when I was giving a talk to the Roads and Building Materials Group on my SCI involvement with BSI, one of the committee members pointed out to my embarrassment that my subscriptions had lapsed as my company had failed to keep up the subscription. I decided to become a member again, this time in my own right, to continue enjoying the benefits of membership. The ability to have dialogue with a wide range of skilled people that helped me so much in my own development.
Why did you decide to get involved in committee work?
In 1990 I joined CRH when they bought Anchor Roof Tiles and my work kept me out of the UK for long periods of time. I still remained a committed SCI member albeit my attendance at the Construction Products Group meetings was seriously curtailed. I remember attending a particular Construction Products AGM when the reported activity of the cement based side of the group appeared to be struggling. This saddened me, as I remembered back to my early career and how SCI had given me my first opportunity to publish, meet like minded people, and get involved in the wider society. So, the following year I offered to join the committee and have not looked back since.
What has driven your continued involvement with SCI?
Initially, it was the benefits I gained through membership, but more recently it has been to try to widen SCI's appeal by promoting cooperation with like societies and groups through joint ventures. And on a personal note, to simply stay in touch with a broad range of topics, people, and opportunity.
How has being involved in SCI activities had an impact on your professional career?
When I first joined back in the 1960s it was the society with which to be involved. Members were very active in updating and drafting new standards, evolving new test methods, and looking to improve materials. At that time, all of my colleagues and competitors were members of SCI and their assistance at a technical level was both invaluable and rewarding. Then, when I joined CRH, I could not have found the help I gathered from members on a diverse range of subject areas, products, and technologies in any other organisation. So the effect of my membership on my career has been profound.
How do your SCI activities reflect your personal/professional interests?
Professionally, it is a perfect fit as the skills and knowledge involved within the broad activities of SCI’s Product Groups pretty much mirrors those that I needed in fulfilling my role as a technical advisor to CRH. On a personal level, I am a very keen gardener so the activities of the horticultural group have taken my attention, albeit until recently I have not had the time to get involved. However, now that I am finally retired, that may change.
What motivates you to participate in SCI activities?
I know full well that the help I had from my peers in SCI when I was a youth starting out was invaluable in shaping my career. Membership gave me my first opportunity to present a lecture and to get a paper published. It also created a route to BSI representation and beyond. These opportunities can still exist for today's youth so long as we in SCI continue to provide them and that is what motivates me to continue to participate.
How do you think that your contribution has helped shape SCI?
I find that is a difficult question to answer. To date my contribution has been primarily to the Construction Products Group and perhaps I am trying too hard to turn the clock back to how I remember the opportunities offered by SCI when I first joined. Linking our events with other groups and societies has been worthwhile and I am trying to take a more active role in promoting SCI to small and medium corporations. Like many others I am happy to see that CPD certificates are now available for our events as that has helped greatly in promoting events.
What are your thoughts about receiving the Distinguished Service Award?
I am simply taken aback.