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Professional Profile: Erik Terry, LEED AP

Lab Manager talks with Erik Terry of SmithGroup

MaryBeth DiDonna

Erik Terry, LEED AP, is a senior laboratory planner with SmithGroup, with over 20 years of experience. He has focused on the leadership of laboratory and vivarium planning and design projects, serving as a subject matter expert on project teams to program, plan, and design complex laboratory facilities that improve research operations and catalyze scientific discovery.

Lab Manager recently spoke with Erik about his career, experience, and personal interests.

Lab Manager (LM): How did you get started in your career? Did you major in your field in college, get an internship, switch careers mid-stream, etc.?
Erik Terry (ET): It was completely by accident. I was in the process of wrapping up some outstanding coursework, senior project, and professional internship requirements to earn a historic preservation degree, when I came across a want ad for a “Planner.” I sent my resume in as a candidate. A couple weeks later I received a call to schedule an interview. Not realizing it was a “Lab Planner” role, I went on the interview and the manager of the group was looking for non-traditional candidates for the group and liked the idea of the planning focus of my degree. A couple weeks later I had an offer—and after 23 years the rest is, well, history.

LM: What is a typical day at work like for you?
ET: When I am not on the road visiting a client or at an office that I am working with, I am lucky to be able to work from home. While working from home sounds like a luxury, I’ve learned that you can log far more time working. While you must be disciplined to get your work done, you also have to be disciplined to turn work off. Its nots uncommon to start at 6:30 am and go till 6:30 pm on the days that I am working from home. It is nice to have the freedom to work remotely and be home when the kids get home from school, but it can also be isolating, so you have to make a conscious effort to reach out and touch base with people.

LM: If you weren’t in this profession, what job do you think you’d be doing instead?
ET: I would still be doing something within the building profession. I grew up on episodes of This Old House. I went to college for Historic Preservation and Planning and, if I was not doing this, I would be photographing and restoring old homes or involved with historic preservation district planning.

LM: What is the biggest work-related challenge you’ve faced? How did you overcome it? 
ET: Lab planners always have to challenge themselves to be open to new ideas. Because of the technical aspect and health and safety concerns with our facilities, you have to be very mindful not to become set in only designing in one way. I have found that it is important to be open and to look to balance conventional industry practices and rules of thumb, while being open to testing the industry norms and stepping out of the mind set of “there is one way to do things.” It is important because that is the only way to gain a fresh perspective on planning, designing, and innovation in laboratory environments.

LM: What are you working on at the moment?
ET: I am working on a variety of strategic and tactical planning efforts for a variety of governmental, academic, and corporate clients along with marketing and business development efforts.

LM: What kinds of hobbies or interests do you have outside of work?
ET: I try to give as much of my free time [to] volunteering to train and coach soccer. I always try to impress upon the kids the importance of teamwork and working together toward a common goal. Being on the field with the kids always reminds me of how success is based on the team and not an individual.