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Leadership and Staffing

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A Day in the Life of a New Lab Manager

A lab leader new to the role discusses the challenges faced so far, where they have found solutions, and shares advice for fellow lab professionals

Lauren Everett

Stepping into the role of a lab manager can feel overwhelming, but having the right support and resources to perform the variety of tasks expected of you can set you on the path to success. Managing editor Lauren Everett talks with Enrique Hernandez, lab manager, R&D, at Endless West to get their first-hand experience of accepting a leadership role in the lab.

Portrait of Enrique Hernandez, lab manager
Enrique Hernandez

Enrique didn’t take the typical academic path toward lab work. They began in hospitality and bartending, having a passion for spirits. They earned an Introductory Sommelier in the Court of Master Sommelier certification, ready to take the next step in this career path when the COVID-19 pandemic upended their plans. Through biomanufacturing community college classes and work as a pilot plant technician, Enrique then found a job as a lab technician at Endless West. They eventually applied for the role of lab manager and was offered the position.

Q: What does your typical day look like as the lab manager at Endless West? What are you responsible for in your lab?

A: My workdays are always very different. Some days I am crawling around inspecting our air-ducts and fans, and other days I am running experiments and troubleshooting issues in our R&D lab. The main scope of my work is related to lab safety, regulation, and upkeep/maintenance.

Q: What are some of the biggest challenges you face as a lab manager?

A: We are still in the startup stages, which requires me to wear many hats (sometimes at the same time). Figuring out air flow, participating in blind tastings, and leading lab safety walkthroughs all in one day can be quite the challenge. There’s a lot of context-switching in the role, but the more you learn, the easier things get and the greater value you bring to your team.

Q: Have you found solutions to any of these challenges?

A: Timing, planning, and asking for help! I found delegating some tasks to my extremely competent lab tech has freed up more time for the more difficult tasks. I also find that investing in my team through training, establishing processes, and helping them acquire expertise gets everybody on the same page and makes us work better together.

Q: What do you enjoy most about your job?

A: I enjoy the variety of tasks and challenges that I encounter. As someone who loves to learn, any chance I get to expand my knowledge and skill base is an exciting opportunity for me. It’s also a rare opportunity to find a job that brings several of your passions together; in my case, spirits and lab skills!

Q: What resources or mentors do you go to for help or input?

A: I have asked lab and safety managers from previous roles as well as reaching out to my manager as well. Ultimately, there’s a lot of opportunity to find different mentors from across the company. I’ve also had great experiences networking; for example, at a recent biomanufacturing conference I attended. This is where networking comes in handy! 

Q: How would you define a good laboratory leader?

A: A good laboratory leader is someone who knows how to listen to and understand disparate viewpoints, engages with people at any level, who takes ownership over the success of their team, and knows when to delegate. You also need to know when to ask for help and be unafraid to solicit for different perspectives. They also know how to hold their boundaries and make hard choices on behalf of their team.

Q: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned so far in your new role as lab manager?

A: Sometimes you have to be flexible and sometimes you have to hold the line. Always seek out divergent perspectives, including from team members who may seem “quiet.” Build camaraderie through fun experiences (my team loves boba tea runs for one-on-ones!) 

Q: Do you have any advice for peers that may be in a similar situation?

A: Imposter syndrome is real! Be patient with yourself as you grow your skills and learn how to best support your team. Keep learning and remember that any failures are temporary. 

Do not be afraid to say what you feel: your fresh perspective can bring valuable insight. If you're a person from a non-traditional background, be it returning to school, changing careers, or a promotion, you can do it! Find your support network and let them help you. 

Q: What do you hope to achieve in the next few years?

A: Finish my degree, get my OSHA 30 Hour certification and teaching certification, continue to learn and grow, and to help mentor new lab workers. I also want to start a LGBTQI+ STEM support group. As a queer person, it is important for us to band together and help each other especially in an industry where there are so many of us.