How to Become an Outstanding Laboratory Manager: Expert Interview with Jerry Poirier

Do you know how to become an outstanding lab manager? Whether you are already managing a lab or you are thinking about becoming a lab manager, talking to an expert is a good way to learn how to do it well.

I sat down with Jerry Poirier, the director of the Advanced Materials Characterization Lab at the University of Delaware, to learn his secret. Jerry is outstanding and perfect for this interview. Our conversation went beyond lab management and touched on science education and leadership. He is truly an expert at what he does, and I think you can learn a lot from him even if lab management is not your thing.

I recommend you enjoy the interview by listening to the recording. However, if you prefer, you can read the transcript. Here we go…

Note: This transcript has been edited for clarity.

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AT: Hi, everyone. This is Aya Takase, from Rigaku and you're listening to an expert interview on the “Let's Talk X-ray imaging” blog. Today, we're going to talk about how to manage large shared-instrument facilities with Jerry Poirier. Jerry is the director of the Advanced Materials Characterization Lab at the University of Delaware. He built his lab from nothing to one of the most comprehensive materials characterization labs in the country, in just seven years.

He's one of those people who seem to have more than 24 hours a day. He's a loving father and a husband, an engineer, an explorer, a sailor, a chef, a baker, a musician, an educator, and a leader. Like everything else he does, he runs his lab exceptionally well, so I wanted to ask him how he does it and give us some advice on managing shared facilities.

AT: So, the first question I wanted to ask you is: How does one go about getting a mountain named after him?

JP: Well, it's a rather long story and long process.

AT: I'm pretty sure it's a long process.

JP: I was part of a research team that would go to the South Pole annually, and I was lucky enough to be recognized by my advisor at the time, Tom Gaiser, Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Delaware, Bartell Research Institute. He was a good man, and he recognized the efforts that went into traveling there every year, not only professionally, but personally.

It does wear and tear on you, and, as a reward for my hard work and dedication, he did submit to Congress and petitioned Congress to have a mountain named after me in Antarctica. In addition, he petitioned Congress to award me with the Antarctic Service Medal, which is generally reserved for military members.

So, that's the story about the man in the mountain.

AT: So, supposedly not easy.

JP: No, I can't tell you how many people have mountains named after them, but I think they've done more significant things than I have.

AT: How many times did you go there, or how many years did you do this?

JP: I went there eight years straight.

AT: Okay.

JP: At the same time, we were going to the north pole. The South Pole trips generally start in October and end in late January. That's the season, and it's pretty much the inverse for the North Pole. Although the North Pole, you can get in and out of just about any time of year. It's summertime up there in our summers and the summer months. So that's the best time...

AT: Is summertime any better than the wintertime?

JP: It does get above freezing at some times.

AT: Okay, that's significant.

JP: That is true. Very rare. The average temperature at the South Pole, even at the summertime, is probably -80. One of the most physically challenging things about the South Pole is it's actually above 10,000 feet. It's just so much ice, it’s flat. It's not a mountain, but it's still above 10,000 feet, meaning the oxygen in the atmosphere is significantly reduced. So it's a physical hardship to work there.

AT: So I guess you have to get used to it every time you go there, every year.

JP: Because you make the transition so quick; from the coast of Antarctica, you fly into it and you get off the plane and you're just immediately exposed to that lack of oxygen.

AT: How long or how many days does it take for you to kind of get to the level you're okay with it?

JP: I guess everyone is a little bit different, but it would be about a week before you could actually start to feel normal again.

AT: Did it get better across the eight years you did it repeatedly or you had to do the same thing every time?

JP: It's kind of funny. It's really exciting the first time, and it's even exciting the second time. And the third time, maybe not quite so exciting. But every year you go, it becomes a really fantastic, exciting trip to something you just feel like you have to endure. It gets pretty old and there are personal challenges associated with it.

AT: Yeah.

JP: Being away from the family, and it's right at Christmas time. You spend Christmas at the South Pole, and my children used to call me the anti-Santa.

AT: Oh, no.

JP: Because I'm at the South Pole and not the North Pole.

AT: And you're not at home.

JP: Generally not at home. Well, one year I snuck home and arrived about 2:00 in the morning on Christmas Day without them knowing it. Surprised everybody.

AT: So you did that for eight years?

JP: Yes.

AT: Right. And I have so many questions I want to ask about that part, but I'm supposed to ask you questions about managing the lab.

JP: Okay.

AT: So you've been here at the University of Delaware for seven years?

JP: I was here for 20 years prior and managed the facility in Princeton, and I have returned to the University of Delaware and have been here for seven years. That's correct.

AT: Okay. And that is when Advanced Materials Research Lab opened seven years ago.

JP: That is correct.

AT: Okay. So how many systems did you have when it opened?

JP: There were no systems in the lab when I walked into the lab.

AT: When you got here. Okay.

JP: In early 2014, the building opened late 2013 and I had virtually nothing in the lab at the time. There were some benches and chairs, but we currently have 27 analytical instruments available.

AMCL Aya and Jerry

AT: Twenty-seven! That's a lot of systems. Roughly how many techniques, the types of techniques do you think you have?

JP: Well, we like to classify them in broad categories and those categories are porosity and surface area.

AT: Okay.

JP: Vibrational spectroscopy, which is wide-ranging, UV-vis, infrared, Raman.

AT: All of them included.

JP: And then we have chemical analysis which includes ICP, mass spec, ion chromatographs, CNHs absorption techniques. Certainly, we have X-rays, various different X-ray techniques. So that's how we categorize them in our five different.

AT: Four or five different categories. And each category has probably about five different techniques.

JP: That is about right, yes.

AT: So I guess 27 means that you have kind of one of each technique, one system per technique, the one diffraction, one fluorescent analysis.

JP: That's not necessarily true. I have multiple diffraction systems.

AT: You do. That's true.

JP: Some are set up specifically for certain types of materials. That's a luxury. They don't have to be reconfigured for different types. For example, I have one XRD, a Rigkau high-resolution system, set up to look at specifically thin films.

And then I have another system, that's set up specifically to look at powders in bulk material.

I have infrared spectrometers that are set up to look at materials in a transmission mode. And I have some that are set up to look at materials in an absorption mode.

AT: I see.

JP: So there are some repeating techniques, but set up for different types of samples.

AT: How did you get started, meaning that, how did you pick the first or second, the third systems to purchase for the facility?

JP: Well, it is kind of a historical thing at universities. Over the years, the idea of having a central facility or a core facility has been flourishing on smaller scales within each department. The idea here in this building, aptly named the Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Building, was to take many techniques from various departments that were considered mainstream and put them into one large facility so that facility can be available to the entire university. So having said that, previously a professor would write a proposal, may be awarded a lot of money for a piece of equipment for a specific work that he proposed.

When that proposal and the grant expires, oftentimes the custodian of that instrument may have been a graduate student or a postdoc and would move on. Having a facility like that enables us as a university to pool all of those resources together and have somebody look after them and maintain them and make them available to the university and campus as a whole.

So initially that's how I obtained some of my first pieces of equipment by bringing some of these pieces of equipment that were in the back of a lab of a researcher and bringing it into my facility.

AT: Taking the existing systems into the lab. Okay.

JP: Right. That's a good way to start. MRI proposal certainly is a classic way to get major research instrumentation and I am the recipient of, probably, I would count four of them for major MRI proposals over the years here.

AT: Do you write the proposals to add machines to the lab or you have like a PI running the…?

JP: There's usually a requirement from a college or a department, and they would work together to write the proposal. Within the campus itself, we have our own little mini MRI process, and three get sent out from the university annually at the national level to see if it's awarded.

AT: Is it unique to UD or many other universities do it this way?

JP: Oh, that's a classic example of how it's done at university.

AT: Okay.

JP: But in addition to that, NSF, over the years, has been criticized because a lot of the MRI awards were naturally given out to much larger institutes; higher demand, larger faculty, better proposals sometimes. So they developed a program called EPSCoR, which is a means of redistributing some of the NSF funds to smaller universities in smaller states.

Again, I've received instrumentation through that mechanism as well.

AT: I see and it makes sense that that's the way a lot of universities do it because it's hard to justify purchasing, let’s say, a $1,000,000 system just for one research group. Right? You got to share it.

JP: And you have to think about the awarding–they would like to see–the people giving out the money, the government, NSF or whoever it might be, D.O.E.–would like to see that instrument used in a facility like mine where they know it's going to be taken care of.

AT: That's a big part.

JP: So that's a very attractive mechanism when requesting funds.

AT: Because they all need to be kind of taken care of for a long time. And it's good to have a continuity of the staff. That makes a lot of sense.

So that's how the funding to purchase the new systems come from; how do you get the funding for the maintenance of those systems?

JP: Well, I think we're unique here at the University of Delaware. In my lab currently, I have some great staff. And, you know, our success can be directly attributed to the people working in my facility. Oftentimes equipment can last a long, long time if it's well taken care of. And that means not only making sure that your users are trained, but they're using it in the right way and they're reporting problems and they feel comfortable about reporting problems. Often a manager in a facility like mine might see a user inadvertently damage a piece of equipment, get really hot and bothered by it, yell at them, go to their supervisor, and request money to have it fixed.

We try not to do that. That's kind of a knee-jerk reaction. Because we are an educational institute. It is our responsibility, really, to see that the users themselves know what they're doing. We have to bear some of that responsibility. So our equipment uptime is pretty high, and I have a lot of an engineering background myself. Therefore, we can maintain our equipment pretty much by ourselves.

AT: I think it's an interesting and also very important point that you try not to–or you just don't–yell at the students who might have done something wrong and to damage the systems, because if you do that, they might start hiding the problems, right? And that's the last thing you want.

JP: Absolutely, Aya. They, the diverse type of students that we see in our facility, some of them are really good. Some of them are also really good but never worked in a lab like ours before. They're coming from different backgrounds, from different parts of the world, and they don't really know how to behave in some of these facilities or how to act.

And, you know, they learn. You just have to be patient.

AT: Yeah. And there is always a first time for everybody, right?

JP: That's right. And they're always nervous, you know, when you're in there and you're working on a piece of equipment that cost millions of dollars and,  the more nervous you are, often the more likely you are to make a mistake or forget something, right? So you have to become comfortable.

AT: I guess. Yeah,

JP: You really have to be comfortable with it.

AT: That's a really important point. So I'm pretty sure this is the case for any job, I guess, but you probably have good days and bad days with this job. What does your good day look like?

JP: Well, I really like seeing all of my instrumentation used and running. Like I said, we have a pretty good uptime of 90-95%. All of our equipment is running all the time, and I'd like to see it used. There's nothing better than keeping a piece of equipment in top shape as having somebody use it all the time.

AT: Right, right.

JP: So I like to see many people coming in and out of the lab all day.

AT: So that's your happy day.

JP: That's my good day.

AT: What does a bad day look like?

JP: Well, when I approach the laboratory door and alarms and whistles or bells are going off and equipment's telling me it has problems.

AT: Like error messages everywhere.

JP: Or maybe we lost power last night and I didn't know about it.

AT: Then that can be a problem.

JP: Yeah, that, those can be some issues.

AT: That's understandable. I've been there.

JP: Yeah.

AT: So you're involved in the purchasing process of all those instruments and what makes you happy about the purchase after you have the machine installed and you start using it?

JP: It performs, the instrument performs up to my expectations.

AT: Okay. That's reasonable.

JP: Yes. Sometimes specifications are written down but are very difficult to achieve sometimes. You know, you can talk about image quality, resolution or, yeah, sometimes the sales brochure are not exactly what you get. And if I can meet my expectations I'm happy.

AT: Yeah, that is a very reasonable ask, I think. And I'm on the vendor's side, and I can kind of understand why we sometimes try to make our systems look better and decorate or exaggerate our capabilities and the specs, but it can be misleading sometimes, right?

JP: If it meets my expectations, I'm usually pretty happy, but there are other things that make me happy when I have a new piece of equipment–that's how smooth maybe the install goes.

Right, that's another one, because I just can't wait to get my hands on it. And if there's some hiccup or something, a delay. Yeah, that doesn't make me too happy.

AT: Yeah. Other than the delay or hiccups during the installation, what makes you, I guess, disappointed about the purchase. Frustrated, disappointed?

JP: Well, that's a good question. I'm generally pretty happy because I'm very meticulous when I select a piece of equipment. I have to look at it from all different points and...

AT: So you don't make the wrong choice, probably.

JP: I try not to. I can't think of any recent purchases that I made that, after I got the equipment, I was really too disappointed. I do want to say that, the selection process, you have to be very, very, very thorough, and look at it from all different angles.

Most of the analytical tools are governed by some physics. It's just things like the user interface or how glitzy something might be. You have to be careful what you're actually paying for. And, if there are certain ways one company does something that's different than another company, which way is best going to suit your needs.

For me, in a multi-user facility, I don't really want a high learning curve. I want something that people can understand and use with minimal effort. That kind of makes sense when you have a facility like that. I want the software to be stable.

AT: Okay.

JP: Now, there are some smaller companies that tend to have really great engineers and great instrumentation, but the software tends to take a backseat, and it's not maybe fully developed but, uh…

AT: Not fully tested.

JP: Yeah, you have to be careful. And you really don't know because the demo went great.

AT: Of course.

JP: But when you sit down in front of the instrument, and you start using it and things start crashing, things like that happen. So, yeah.

AT: Is there a way to test it better, though, when it comes to the software? I guess it's harder, right.

JP: That’s a difficult aspect because most of the time you don't get your hands really on it. It's usually some, you know, representative from the company who knows it very, very well.

AT: Right. Even if you get a, let's say, demonstration copy or something, you still have to learn how to use it to really test it. And that's a lot of investment.

JP: Yeah. And sometimes you can just press the wrong sequence of keys but, "Oh, that’s a no-no. We shouldn't be doing that."

AT: Like, how am I supposed to know that, right?

JP: Yeah.

AT: Right. I can see that. But it sounds like you are very careful and thorough about the purchasing and the selection process. So you're rarely disappointed probably.

JP: Yeah. It's not without being disappointed in the past, earlier on in my career, it takes time.

AT: But if you learned how to do it right.

JP: Yes, yes.

AT: Okay. That makes sense. What do you find the most challenging about managing a lab like this with 27 systems?

JP: Although I have some great employees, finding and having great employees to help manage that facility is the most challenging aspect. We are nothing without the people who work for us in these labs.

AT: Of course, yeah I can see that.

JP: You have to have the right people. And it's a combination of being a really good educator, being a really good person, good-natured, and also being a good scientist. So those skill sets combined really make for a good employee in my facility.

AT: And it sounds like not too difficult of a combination to find, but I know from my experience it is not easy. So I can say that that's a challenging point.

JP: Simply because of the diverse group of people who walk through the door. You have to be able to deal with them.

AT: Right.

JP: Yeah.

AT: And as you said, and if you're not patient with them, then they might not tell you when they have problems, right?

JP: Eventually causes problems for you.

AT: Right. Right. So you need to have people skills.

JP: Right.UD ISE class room

AT: Yeah. And not a lot of people like teaching. That might not be the right way to put it. But as you were saying before, you have to be able to teach the same thing again and again. Right? You have new users coming in all the time. And you would teach them the same thing repeatedly.

JP: That may be true, Aya, but as an educator, people who want to be educators, I don't think it's–you might think it might be monotonous or something, but every time I teach another class, all the students are always different, which makes the class kind of different also.

AT: And you enjoy that.

JP: And the more you teach something, the more you actually learn about it yourself.

AT: That is very true.

JP: You become an expert in different ways, and maybe you see things a little differently. A student asks a completely different question and makes you think about something else. So it's not so bad. Not at least for me and the people I have working for me.

AT: I guess if you get bored about teaching the same thing repeatedly, maybe you don't love teaching.

JP: Maybe it's time to think about something else.

AT: Yeah, and maybe that's not your strong suit.

JP: Well, if you teach the same thing all the time, you don't have to prepare lesson plans all the time. So you have it right on top of your head.

AT: Right, right. It seems like you teach class almost every day.

JP: Yes, we do.

AT: Looked at your calendar, right?

JP: Yes.

AT: How many, I'm sorry. Go ahead.

JP: Every morning at 10, between ten and 12, we have a different analytical technique we teach.

AT: And people sign up for those classes?

JP: Yes.

AT: Okay.

JP: That's one of the things that really kind of sets us apart is that we understand it's an educational institute. That's our primary objective. Is to educate. So we offer free short courses on all of our instruments. We try to get through all 25, 26, 27 instruments in a month. So generally speaking, there's only about 20 days in a month. So oftentimes we'll have one in the morning, one in the afternoon.

AT: And how many staff members do you have?

JP: I have two full-time scientists and a part-time student helper.

AT: Okay. Not too big of a group, I guess.

JP: No.

AT: And how many users do you have?

JP: Currently we have, according to our database of users, about 500 internal.

AT: That's a lot.

JP: And more than 50 external entities.

AT: Those are industry partners?

JP: Industry partners and other government and nonprofit organizations.UD ISE building

AT: Is there anything in particular challenging about working with industrial partners?

JP: Oh, they have a whole set of different requirements.

AT: Okay.

JP: You have to kind of feel what they're up to, whether they're doing R&D or whether they're doing quality control, or how they're coming about the problem, why they need to have a medical facility, because those demands differ so, so much. If it's a quality control issue they just want the answers. They don't really care how you get it, the answers. They are not interested in the science. If they're working on R&D, then perhaps they would like a little bit more of the science behind it.

But it's all understandable. Industrial and corporate clients, they're all worried about the bottom line, you know, they're there to make money.

AT: At the end of the day.

JP: And they want to solve their problem and move on to the next one, as, say, a researcher in academia might be looking at it from a different angle. He might be looking at, say, a material and he thinks it has this particular property and he's trying to measure that, but he discovers something completely different. Well, he can go ahead and pursue that tangent of what he was working on, whereas corporate and industry, they're narrowly focused on one problem or one thing and they want to solve it.

AT: That's a different approach or strategy.

JP: Definitely.

AT: How does a relationship with, let’s say, that there is a new industrial partner that wants to work with your lab, how does that happen?

JP: Well, they generally approach me via an email message or a phone call. And, we initiate a conversation either through email or phone call. And the first step in the process is to talk a little bit more about how they can interact with us.

And there's primarily three ways outside entities interact with the lab. One is if you're in the area and you want to come down, take the short course. Once you've completed the short course, we'll give you scheduling access. You can use the instruments yourself. Just conduct your business on your own. And just do your job.

AT: That sounds like pretty low maintenance users.

JP: I love them. They're great. But then the other way is if you're far away–and we have a lot of clients who live all over the world who send samples to us. Generally speaking, those clients, we have to initiate some kind of NDA or service agreement.

AT: Is that because your staff will run their samples?

JP: That is exactly right. And oftentimes we have to have a lot of background information about what they want and what they're doing.

AT: Right.

JP: So that requires the NDA or non-disclosure agreement of some type.

And finally, the third way to interact would be to partner with a research group on campus doing similar work and simply hiring a graduate student for some period of time.

AT: Oh, I see.

JP: And have that graduate student continue your research here on campus. Now, having said that, that's the three mechanisms of interacting. But when they first contact us, I'd like to have a meeting, either in person or a Zoom meeting, and we can talk about these things and see what their problems are. And let's see if we have a technique that they can actually use, that they actually need.

Oftentimes they think they need something. Once we get a little bit more background information, we can suggest maybe better techniques or other ways to get to the answer.

AT: Are there cases, although you have the technique or the instrument they are looking for, but you still turn it down.

JP: No, I'll generally refer them to someone else.

AT: Oh, refer them to somebody else. And they will find somebody who eventually.

JP: I try to get them somebody here on campus. And here on campus, we have other core facilities and shared facilities that are similar to mine, for example.

AT: You have the nano center and imaging center.

JP: Yeah, we have a microscopy facility. We have a nanofabrication facility and we also have a very nice NMR facility. Some things that I just can't have it all in my lab.

AT: So if you don't have it, you can refer them to different labs on campus.

JP: Oftentimes I do. And they refer people to me also.

AT: So one of the other questions, it's not directly related to the lab, but I wanted to ask you was: So you've been seeing a lot of students over the years, not just seven years here. You were at Princeton before. What kind of changes in their aptitudes and attitudes have you seen over the years?

JP: Aya, honestly, they're pretty much the same as they were back when I first started. I interact with mostly graduate students, and they're very serious about their education. And I'm happy to say that the graduate students still are very serious about their education. Anybody who's going to want to become a Ph.D. and work six or seven years at something has to be extremely serious about their education.

AT: I thought about this question because I kind of guessed that there must have been some changes. But if you just look at the graduate students, I see what you're saying.

JP: In the sciences.

AT: In the sciences at least yeah. They, they're really serious about it.

JP: Certainly society has changed. I mean in the last 30 years. But science is really–science has not changed. How people look at science may have changed. But conducting science and engineering, they're all rock solid foundations that it really hasn't changed much at all.

AT: Yeah, I agree with you. I think you can say that the way people look at science has changed, but I don't think the way scientists look at science has changed that much.

JP: Or how we conduct science.

AT: Or how we conduct science. And I don't know if it's a good thing or not. I think it is. Is it?

JP: I like to think it's sacred to me. Almost religious.

And that's one of the things that…our responsibilities in the lab training these younger users is to convey that message to keep science pure. Right? We don't want to see anybody messing around with something that we have worked so hard to preserve. Doing what some people may refer to as junk science these days, right?

AT: Is that what they call it?

JP: Twisting statistics or stretching the truth or…you know, it breaks my heart to hear people say that half the papers that are written out there, experiments can't be reproduced in the lab.

AT: Yeah.

JP: Right?

AT: We've seen those stories in news, right? In recent years.

JP: Yeah, it kind of breaks my heart a bit.

AT: I don't know how those scientists got into that. I guess when they started, they might not think much about it. And it's a…I don't know.

JP: Maybe they misinterpreted their results. Who knows why? But people are quick to publish. And, you know, you want to get out there before somebody else publishes the same thing.

AT: That I can understand, yeah.

JP: But maybe they rush a little bit, and it also depends on the science. You'll find this as a symptom of certain types of sciences. Having a physics background, the fundamental laws of nature don't change, they’re easily proven or disproven. Right? Rarely is there any kind of financial or monetary or political aspect to it. It's just science, you know, that's just pure science.

AT: It is.

JP: And that's what I like to see throughout all of the sciences.

AT: And as you said, and I think it's really important to teach the students what the pure science means or how you should conduct it, because I can understand why some people kind of rush it because you want to be the first to publish the results or your findings. But once you publish it, it's there forever.

JP: Mm-hmm. And your name.

AT: And your name. And if you realize that that was not quite true or accurate or you exaggerated something, there is no way to take it back.

JP: Right. But honestly, Aya, I was working with…I won't tell you who it was. It was at another university and the student was months away from getting their Ph.D. They're just finishing up their thesis and they need a little bit more data. And we carefully went over some prior experiments and we saw some things that were counter to her thesis and she didn't want to tell her advisor because she wanted to graduate.

It was time for her to graduate. So she disregards some observations that, because of the stress and hard work. And she actually had another job already planned. She knew that if she was to report this aspect, that she would have to basically rewrite half of her thesis.

AT: Uh, that's... 

JP: So what do you do? Difficult situation.

AT: All I can say is that I'm so glad that didn't happen to me. It's so wrong to ignore the data, especially when it means something.

JP: Right.

Eventually, she worked with her advisor, so she was able to complete on time, but her conclusions had to be modified for her final thesis.

AT: Did anybody look into it?

JP: Oh, yeah. They continue to work on it.

AT: Okay, okay.

JP: There's always other graduate students coming up behind you to complete that work.

AT: True. Right. Yeah, but as you said, your name is all on it and it's been published.

JP: Right. You just be honest and report what you saw.

And let the chips fall or, you know, wherever they fall.

AT: You have to explain what you observed. But if you get additional data that means something, in this case, that means that your conclusion might not be correct. That's something you can report in and write another paper about because this is research, right? Nobody's asking you to be absolutely accurate. There's no such thing in science.

JP: That's right. A lot of people walk into their research project with a predetermined result, and they'll tailor their works the best way they can and their statistics to achieve that result, which is not the way you do science.

AT: And if that's what you're going to do, why would you even bother to measure things? Right?

JP: No, that's because the funding, kind of in your grant proposal, kind of dictated that.

AT: I guess you're supposed to. Right? Yeah. That's a little bit sad story that happened to the student.

JP: I'm sure it happens all the time.

AT: I guess. But that's a tough situation.

JP: Students are under a lot of pressure.

AT: Of course, yeah.

JP: At that age. A lot of things going on in their lives. You know, they're, they're just starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel after all of these years in grad school.

AT: And it's so painful and you just want to be done with it, right?

JP: That's true.

AT: Yeah, I can definitely relate to that.

So there are so many more questions I want to ask you because you have done a lot of things. You're one of those people who never waste your time. Right? And it's not just managing the lab, but I understand that you don't have hours to spend with me to do this, so I'm going to ask you a couple of last questions.

JP: Okay.

AT: What would be the number one advice you would give to other lab managers, other people who are managing their kind of large shared facilities?

JP: I guess there's a couple of things that I could…pieces of advice I would give: primarily is to have patience and seek out and find employees that want to be in that situation. They're not using that position to move on to another position, who's happy and satisfied with their work. And it's gratifying for them.

And that's the key to my facility, I think. I just couldn't ask for better employees. I think I got quite lucky, and I don't know where I'd be or what I would do without them.

AT: And you probably have been doing what you just said that everybody should do. You've been looking for those people.

JP: Right.

AT: That's probably how you found them.

JP: I was looking for those qualities. That's true. And I have actually observed them. My employees are actually materials science PhDs who went through the PhD program here at the University of Delaware, who happened to use my facility as students. And once they've graduated, I asked them to come on board one at a time, each one. And it just worked out to be great.

AT: That doesn't happen often.

JP: No, I'm very lucky. But I think patience is a big thing. The other thing is, for me, my success is measured by a couple of factors. How many people use my facility? Like I said, the happiest day I have is when everyone's using my equipment, and I really like that.

But also, there's a monetary or financial side to running a facility like this. I don't think you'll find very many facilities on any university anywhere who can say that they're kind of financially secure. We generate enough revenue to pay for everything that we do.

AT: It is rare.

JP: And I would rather charge $20 an hour and have somebody use the equipment all day long, than charge $100 an hour and have somebody use it for an hour. You know, I want a lot of people in and out of there. I want everyone touching my equipment, everyone, you know, getting good science off of my equipment. That's why we're here.

So I'm more about low prices and high volume.

AT: Accessible.

JP: Yeah, it's good for everybody, really.

AT: It is. It is.

JP: And when you're less and less of a burden financially on campus, and your hourly rates are low, more discipline and more people will come in, and it kind of all feeds on itself. Kind of balloons into this thing that’s just kind of self-sustaining. So that's my advice.

AT: I think that's very good advice. And you said that you are lucky to have all those staff members you have in your lab, but you are always looking for them. That's why you found them. But I also wonder if it was you. You like this job, right?

JP: Oh, gosh, yes.

AT: And you do it so well. And if somebody is unhappy and doing, a halfway job at the lab, I don't think a lot of good scientists would have come here to work for you.

JP: As a manager and a director of any facility, it's important that you have good leadership skills. Okay?

AT: And you got it.

JP: If you have people working for you who don't want to be there, it's up to you to make them feel like they're part of a bigger picture. Like singing in a choir or part of a band. You know, everybody has their role to play. It's easy to say, as a boss, you're supposed to find one thing about that employee that they like to do, but as a leader, it's your job to make them want to do something that they may not necessarily want to do, and they're happy doing it, you know?

So those are some of the skills you have to have.

AT: Easy to say. Probably hard to do.

JP: Yeah. You can learn. You can learn to be a good leader.

AT: Maybe you should teach that too. The last thing I wanted to make sure to ask is: is there anything I should have asked and didn't ask?

JP: You're pretty thorough. I really didn't know what to expect. I thought you asked questions that were very applicable to the lab and the facility. No, I think you covered pretty much everything.

AT: Okay, well, thank you very much for spending the time with me and answering those questions. I'm pretty sure your answers will help a lot of lab managers.

JP: Oh, well, thank you. It was a pleasure.

AT: Thank you.

AT: Jerry reminded me that understanding your true responsibility or role is the key to success, regardless of what you do. He's not there just to maintain instruments. He's there to educate students and to keep science pure while doing it. That is something one can be passionate about. He had many pieces of great advice today, and they all seem to come from this core sense of responsibility and his passion for his job. I hope you learned something from Jerry today, and if you see him in person or online, please thank him for generously sharing his wisdom.

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Aya Takase
Director of X-ray Imaging at Rigaku Americas Corporation. Aya holds a PhD in engineering from Osaka University and an MA in physics from Tokyo University of Science and has been with Rigaku for 22 years. She started in the X-ray Diffraction Application Lab and transitioned to X-ray Imaging in 2017. Her goal: Help non-expert X-ray users achieve expert results with less time and effort. She has worked on many projects designing automated and user-friendly X-ray instruments and analysis software. She is very passionate about helping people learn more about X-rays and working with X-ray users to solve their specific problems.