Spotlight On: The Beckman Lab Management Team
By Sarah Williams | The Beckman Center News / Spring 2022
At its core, the Beckman Center is a physical space—a space that brings scientists together for collaborative, innovative research. After months of remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is clearer than ever that having safe, smoothly running spaces in which to carry out science is crucial to the Beckman Center’s mission of discovery.
Behind the scenes, our untiring lab managers have ensured that our facility has remained operating. If you’re a student or scientist, you might call on them only when you have a problem—they are masters at troubleshooting issues of every sort—but their jobs likely enable nearly every aspect of your work.
“I like to compare being a lab manager to being a movie producer,” says Todd Galitz, manager of the Developmental Biology facilities lab, which is on the third floor. “We’re pulling the strings, doing everything except the actual science.”
“The main goal of a lab manager is to make sure research is never interrupted,” agrees Jessica Corkern, manager of the Biochemistry facilities lab, on the fourth floor. “And that goal was definitely made harder by COVID-19.”
When COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns were instituted across the Stanford campus in early 2020, the lab managers at Beckman headed up efforts to ensure that safety protocols were being met, animals were being fed, the Beckman building was maintained, and people who needed building access had it. Despite many Beckman researchers shifting nearly entirely to at-home work, the duties of the lab managers necessitated that they were present.
“I was used to working in a crowded room, with around a hundred people on the floor,” says Galitz. “It went down to five or six people on the floor. Some people said it got a little bit spooky.”
Galitz and other lab managers became health and safety experts—posting signs about spatial distancing, enforcing mask and COVID-19 testing requirements, and coordinating schedules so that there were never too many people in a lab. They also handled supply shortages caused by pandemic-related delays in shipping and production.
“There was a point at which it was very hard to get basic supplies, especially plastics, which are very important for our research—we were running out of things like pipettes,” recalls Corkern.
Coordination Across Stanford
When a power outage killed a computer on the ground floor, where the Beckman Service Centers are located, Kitty Lee—who was the acting lab manager the last two years—couldn’t just order a new computer. The job of the lab manager requires close collaboration with departments across Stanford. Lee needed to call service engineers to inspect the broken hardware, let them into the locked building when they arrived, work with managers to file an insurance claim, and then coordinate the setup of new machines.
“Because this is a core facility, we need to answer not only to our users, but to institutional policies,” says Lee. For instance, despite the fact that no patients are seen in the Beckman Center, data integrity and privacy protocols instituted for the hospital must still be followed.
Communication between Stanford departments, as well as across the Beckman Center, is also key. When the building has planned maintenance like floor waxing or an unforeseen problem like a power outage—or the small basement fire in 2020—lab managers must let researchers and staff know, so they can work around it.
“We need to make sure we notify everyone in a timely manner, so experiments aren’t impacted,” says Lee.
More Than Facilities
While it isn’t in their job description, the Beckman lab managers say their jobs end up involving much more than managing facilities.
“What surprises people about this job is how much moral support you end up giving,” says Galitz. “When someone’s equipment stops working, or their lab animal dies, or their experiment doesn’t work, you’re there for troubleshooting, but also to help people work through it.”
During the pandemic, that role became even more critical. “Because of the lab manager’s responsibility to communicate guidelines, it means that you’re really educating people about what’s happening,” Corkern says. “During COVID-19, that turned into a lot of counseling and mentoring to students.”
Looking to the Future
For all of the current lab managers at Beckman, the lessons from the last two years are helping them to run the center more smoothly than ever now. Newcomer Saida Perez, who now manages the Molecular and Cellular Physiology lab on the first floor, is focused on creating standard operating procedures for the daily operations of her own job and that of the lab assistant.
“After the last two years, it has become more important to have documentation of what our roles are, so others can cover the needs of the department if needed,” she says.
Eva Bajorek, who joined the Beckman second floor lab team last summer, has been working to renovate and update labs and public spaces. Two revamped conferences rooms opened this winter, and she’s now replacing the undercounter lights in all the labs. “I really want to beautify these spaces and make them more pleasant,” she says.
Corkern and Galitz add that the pandemic taught them the need to be more flexible and figure out new ways of doing things—and just how important onsite stock rooms can be to handle supply chain issues.
And now, all the lab managers are continuing their behind-the-scenes work to make the Beckman Center run smoothly. When your next facilities issue arises, they’ll be there for you.
Contact Our Facilities Managers
First floor: Molecular and Cellular Physiology
Second floor: Howard Hughes Medical Institute and other Beckman Housed Labs
Third floor: Developmental Biology
Fourth floor: Biochemistry
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