June Hanley is principal planner with HDR in Charlotte, NC. Lab Manager recently spoke with June about her 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: My career path has been pretty unconventional, but very rewarding. I started out as a high school English teacher in North Carolina. In the mid-80s, I relocated to New York and wanted to try something different. I answered an ad for a publishing assistant, thinking it would be interesting with my English background. But I was told I was overeducated and underqualified. However, I got a call back from the employment agency about a research/consultant assistant position at a small lab planning firm. I didn’t fully understand the position, but knew I could do research, so I said “okay.” When I started out, I knew nothing about architecture and very little about science, but I was good at facilitating dialogue that helped extract the insights and knowledge that were essential to our work. I wrote the firm’s marketing material, helped my boss prep for meetings, then eventually took meetings on my own. That’s how I got started as a lab planner. It was totally out of my field. For the first few years, I didn’t think my education background was at all relevant to this work. But over time, I realized I had developed some important skills through teaching, like understanding that your voice needs to be loud enough so the person in the back of the room can hear it.
Q: What is a typical day at work like for you?
A: The last couple of years have been different, but I usually spend a lot of time on airplanes. At HDR, lab planners are global resources. If I’m the right planner for a project, I’m on that team. Between travel and meeting with clients, I also actually do the planning for projects I’m on. I don’t do the drawings anymore, but I know what to draw and am training people as we grow. I’m teaching them things like how to figure out if something will be a good fit for a building 10 years from now.
Q: If you weren’t in this profession, what job would you like to have instead?
A: Teaching a college course in creativity and innovation. Or I would have a soup and bread restaurant that’s open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Q: What’s a common misconception about your job?
A: That classrooms are easy to design. They can be if you know some rules—my job is to make sure architects know those rules.
Q: What is your favorite building, lab-related or not?
A: The Pompidou Centre in Paris. There’s a staircase you can see all the way up the exterior of the building.
Q: What lab projects are you working on at the moment?
A: Programming the renovation of a building for the College of Pharmacy at the University of New Mexico. Planning a 200,000 gsf facility at Virginia Commonwealth University for biology, chemistry, physics and media arts education. A research facilities master plan for Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. A master plan update at the University of Michigan.
Q: What’s been your happiest memory in your career?
A: Presenting at a lab design conference early on in my career (probably around 2008). I had not presented too much at national conferences before, and I had never presented at that one. I was afraid that what I had to say was kind of simplistic. I was one of the earliest speakers, but when I finished, three different speakers throughout that conference referred back to something I said. That experience assured me that I belonged in this industry, and certainly helped me overcome any sense of imposter syndrome.
Q: If you won a multi-million-dollar lottery tomorrow, what would you do with your winnings?
A: Pay off my house, then I would give some grants to some places that I’ve worked for, specifically for infrastructure. All deferred maintenance, all the things that never get paid for that so need to happen. And then I might get a house on the beach, too.
Q: What kinds of hobbies or interests do you have outside of work?
A: I play the bagpipes and am in a Grade 2 pipe band called the Ulster Scottish Pipe Band. I was a professional player and am a piping judge on weekends. I have played since I was a teenager and have served the pipe band association in many capacities, and this is a whole group of friends and social life across the country and the world. I also crochet and do some needlework projects.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish in the next few years in this new position?
A: I want to help build HDR’s practice in the Carolinas.