Jeff Talka is the director of science and technology planning with SGA in Boston, MA and New York, NY. Lab Manager recently spoke with Jeff about his career, experience, and personal interests.
Q: How did you get started in your career? Did you major in your field in college, get an internship, switch careers mid-stream, etc.?
A: At a fairly early age I loved to draw, plus I was interested in the sciences. When I was in high school at Brooklyn Tech, I took the required major science courses, which I thoroughly enjoyed and did well at the subject. So when it came time to choose a major for my last two years there, I was on the fence between chemistry and architecture. Architecture won out, and I received a bachelor of architecture from Pratt Institute. Now, I lead science and technology planning at SGA, and collaborate with some of the most interesting people in the biomedical, pharmaceutical, academic, and corporate sectors. I have the best of both worlds.
Q: If you weren’t in this profession, what job do you think you’d be doing instead?
A: I’d probably be retired. Seriously though, early on I played hockey and was very good at it. I thought about pursuing a career as a professional hockey player. But I was also interested in becoming an architect. I had been accepted to McGill University in Montreal, where I thought I could pursue hockey. But I didn’t want to go through an additional year of school to obtain a Canadian high school equivalency, prior to five years of architecture school. I went to Pratt Institute instead, which was probably the better choice.
Q: What is your favorite building, lab-related or not?
A: Hands down, the Chrysler Building in New York City. As a kid growing up in Brooklyn, I would have great views of the Manhattan skyline and Chrysler stood out to me as an icon. As I researched the building, I continued to fall in love with it. The Art Deco period of design has been a favorite of mine, and the Chrysler Building is the flagship of that era. I also enjoyed the story of how the building became the tallest in the world for a short while; the spire was never anticipated and was raised in place overnight, to the surprise of the world. Interestingly enough, at The Ehrenkrantz Group in NYC, I worked on historic preservation of the building’s exterior.
Q: What are you working on at the moment?
A: My time is divided between project design work and building a science and technology practice. SGA is a leader in the life science market in the nation’s leading clusters. I’m presently involved with a multitude of laboratory facilities. At SGA, we have a synergistic combination of core and shell architecture, corporate workplace design, and life science planning. This allows us to provide the entire package to our clients. These are very exciting times in life science, and I’m happy to be part of a team that embraces a holistic design approach for our clients.
Q: What kinds of hobbies or interests do you have outside of work?
A: I love to do things that involve working with my hands, and at the same time being creative. I developed an interest in, and love of, cooking while in high school. I like to experiment with food preparation and developing new recipes. I’m also a drummer. I learned this skill as a teenager and I’ve enjoyed it ever since. And, of course, I still love to draw.
Q: What is the biggest work-related challenge you’ve faced? How did you overcome it?
A: I was project manager for the 310,000 sq. ft. Janssen Pharmaceutica US Headquarters at Washington’s Crossing in New Jersey. Janssen is the bio-pharma research arm of Johnson & Johnson. In the corporate world, financial accountability is paramount. At an owner’s meeting during construction, the construction manager presented several change orders. One was for $50,000 and was related to some mechanical/electrical coordination misses. The owner’s representative asked me how this happened. I basically said we screwed up. The owner’s response was, “OK, we’ll pay it.” I didn’t try to double talk my way out of the situation, but instead met it with honesty. This was a testament to the relationship that was built between the design team, the construction manager, and the owner. Janssen turned out to be one of the best projects I’ve ever worked on. My advice to the younger professionals is to conduct yourself with honesty, integrity, and grace. That will help you to become a trusted advisor, as I have become.