BY GUANANÍ GÓMEZ
Behind every piece of replacement glassware, custom-machined electrode, neatly chilled reagent in a microfuge tube, and well-acclimated rat, there is a team of people who put in the hours to make experiential science learning possible at Reed. They lurk in rooms crowded with cabinets, in remote corners, in basements, and even in sub-basements, working hard to keep all kinds of lab classes and research projects well-equipped and running smoothly.
They are the stockroom staff.
From Biology, Physics, Psychology, and Chemistry, The Grail brings you the inside scoop on the lesser known corners of Reed’s science departments.
BIOLOGY STOCKROOM: GRETA GLOVER AND KRISTINE HAYES
When asked what a typical day working in the stockroom is like, biology stockroom co-manager Greta Glover exclaimed, “No such thing!”
Greta works on course development and lab preparation for the upper division biology classes in addition to managing the stockroom equipment budget. Fellow co-manager Kristine Hayes is responsible for the single largest lab class at Reed: Intro Bio, a behemoth that enrolls over 200 students each year and runs two lab sections five days a week.
“Between the two of us we handle all the crisis-type stuff,” Greta continued. “Some days everything seems to break, or we’re training students to use microscopes and there’s lots of troubleshooting.” Routine stockroom duties involve ordering supplies and making budgets, setting up for labs in the morning, preparing various kinds of solutions, setting out equipment, talking to faculty members, and more. “We also have to find things for our four student employees to do,” Kristine added.
The biology stockroom staff work closely with students and faculty, making sure their needs for equipment and solutions are met. “There’s always some new question, problem to solve, or piece of equipment to manage,” said Kristine. Greta nodded. When asked what was the most frustrating part of their job, the two had a difficult time thinking of things they didn’t like about working in the stockroom. After a long pause, Kristine said, “Some stuff is kind of tedious. But every job has its tedious component.”
Despite the overall lack of grievances, both managers had plenty of suggestions for improving the stockroom and the lab programs that depend on it. “People don’t exactly know what goes on down here. In intro [biology] everything magically appears every week. Freshmen don’t really know who we are,” said Kristine. For biology majors, familiarity with the stockroom increases as students take upper division classes and learn how to access the stockroom, talk to the managers, and figure out how to connect with other resources for independent lab projects. Greta and Kristine both believe lab work and research experience are an essential part of science education. “Research is the last great apprenticeship. There’s a lot you just have to learn hands-on,” said Greta.
According to Kristine, the lab components of science classes provide the opportunity to learn logic, specificity, and how to keep track of multiple procedures and details. They are also an effective way to teach the art of failure. “Doing actual research is good for so many things. It’s a great way to learn that not everything works the first time, to learn about troubleshooting,” said Kristine.
To increase student awareness of the opportunities and equipment available in the stockroom, Greta and Kristine have been introducing themselves early on in the year at biology seminars and in intro bio classes. “There’s a whole lot of seniors who don’t even know we have a greenhouse,” Kristine lamented. “Unless you work with Keith or David, there’s no reason to know it exists. We want to do a better job of introducing all these resources for the four years people are here.” Another goal is to integrate stockroom resources from all the science departments and collaborate on projects with the rest of the stockroom staff. “Talking to Jay [Ewing] for the first time opened up a whole world, and it can only get better from talking and working with Randy and the chemistry department,” said Kristine.
“Breaking news,” Greta said. “The stockrooms are awesome!”
THE WORKSHOP (PHYSICS): JAY EWING
Down in the depths of the physics sub-basement lies the physics workshop, home to a variety of power tools, metal and woodworking tools, and the laser cutter, all maintained by workshop manager Jay Ewing. Jay’s job extends far beyond supporting physics labs, providing access to tools and equipment for all kinds of endeavors throughout campus. In addition to science students, the shop supports theater and art students and any other venture involving the building of an apparatus. “I do work in intro physics lab, building and coming up with demos. I repair equipment stuff all over the college, and also work on a lot of stuff used in the bio labs, with Kristine and Greta,” Jay explained.
Since the workshop is a resource used by people from all walks of campus, Jay gets to see and help a particularly varied group of people with all kinds of projects. “A lot of what I do is determined by walk-ins,” he said. “I probably get 3-4 people a day who need assistance for class stuff, thesis work, research lab work, personal projects. I’m happy to facilitate student projects as long as it teaches them something about using the equipment.” Jay’s enthusiasm is contagious, and his willingness to help make things happen makes the workshop a very open and inviting space. “I love hearing that door down the hall open,” Jay said with a grin. “Usually it’s someone coming down to see me; people don’t usually just pass through the physics sub-basement.” Besides helping walk-ins, Jay spends considerable time maintaining the woodworking and metalworking tools, the laser cutter, and other large equipment in the shop.
Jay studied physics at Reed from 1993-1997, and was frequently on the other side of that sub-basement door on his way to visit his predecessor, Greg, who was shop manager for 38 years. Jay spent a lot of time in the shop, and even discussed taking over Greg’s position once he retired. “He called me his protegé,” Jay said with chuckle. After going to grad school for physics on the east coast, Jay returned to Portland and worked at Reed as a department associate coordinating intro physics labs. When Greg retired, Jay took over the workshop position and has worked there happily ever since. “Greg started working at Reed when I was born. He still comes to hang out once a month and gives me advice sometimes.”
Like Greta and Kristine in the biology stockroom, Jay is fond of the sheer variety of work that comes his way on a daily basis. "The range of things I get to do is amazing: machining, digital fabrication, working with Hans from facilities on door parts; I do a little of everything every day.” Another perk of the job is the opportunity to unite people who are unfamiliar with workshop technology with the tools and techniques they need to turn their projects into a reality. “Translating for people who need something but don’t know how to ask, figuring out how to explain technical stuff, I love that,” Jay explained. “It’s part of what justifies why I’m here, why I chose this career. The most satisfying aspect is helping so many people with so many different levels of expertise.”
Jay emphasized that the workshop is not just for physics students or science majors, but for anyone interesting in learning how to build things. “The most important thing about the shop is that all are welcome. The shop serves the college, and anyone can use it with my supervision, keeping in mind that the goal is education. You can do anything as long as we’re making sure that you’re learning some- thing in the process.”
ANIMAL COLONY (PSYCHOLOGY): GREG WILKINSON
Greg Wilkinson’s office is tucked in the furthest back corner of the psychology building. The secluded room features a window with a view of ferns and a large cage in the corner with a retired rat mother rustling around in her bedding. As director of Reed’s animal colony, Greg oversees all animal related projects in the psychology department. “I’m responsible for the ultimate well being of the animals,” he explained soberly. “We want them to be as healthy and happy here as possible.”
A third of the psychology classes at Reed include a lab component involving rats, as well as pigeons for Professor Tim Hackenburg’s learning and thought research. Greg coordinates complex breeding logistics and makes sure the animals have the proper food and bedding. Rat breeding is carefully timed: intro psych rats have to be a certain age at a particular time in the semester in order to be trained for lever pressing. “We’re always looking months ahead, anticipating what we’ll need for each class and the theses,” explained Greg. He is currently in the process of getting sixteen litters of rat pups mature and healthy enough for data collection in January. Since 2012, animal colony director has been expanded to a full staff position in order to keep up with a growing psychology program. The animal colony currently has a one hundred and eighty cage capacity, and can get full and overwhelming at the busiest times of year.
In addition to keeping the colony aligned with the needs of teaching labs, one of Greg’s primary jobs is helping thesis students doing animal research understand the guidelines for the humane treatment of the animals they plan to work with and making sure they’re aware of all the regulations and responsibilities involved. Greg emphasized the importance of this part of the job: “When I tell people I work in an animal colony, most of them immediately assume that we’re doing invasive procedures. They think our rats are on electrified floors, all the harsher sides of research. But people have to make a scientific justification for their methods. Here we only do behavioral and neurological studies.” Greg keeps a poster of all the benefits and advances that have been made possible by animal research on the wall of the colony as a reminder of the responsibility and power involved in animal research.
Referring to the animal colony as one of Reed’s best kept secrets, Greg explained the fine line between keeping people informed about the research opportunities available and not inviting extensive criticism. “Working in an animal facility is a double edged sword, morally. We always ask how much we want to share with the public.” To increase outreach, Greg has led field trips in the animal colony for local elementary school students. Greg also organizes and leads the Psychology Department’s blossoming rat handling program, which was implemented in 2014 as a way to reach out to students, many of them non-psychology majors, and get them involved in the department and the rats’ care. By touching and playing with the young rats, student handlers help them become comfortable with humans and lower their stress levels. “It’s a very therapeutic process, for the students working with the animals and for the rats to become more socialized and accustomed to people.” A majority of the rat-based research done at Reed focuses on social phenomena and how different kinds of socialization affect behavior, making it essential for the rats to be used to human contact and acclimated to living together well before any experiments begin.
Greg collaborates frequently with the other stockrooms, especially Jay Ewing, to build mazes and other apparatus. The other stockroom staff are never far away, and collaboration is common, especially while helping thesising seniors. “If we run out of basic things like eyedroppers or anything, I know I can go talk to Randy,” Greg said.
CHEMISTRY STOCKROOM: RANDY HICKS
Because the chemistry building is on a hill, its stockroom has a view despite being below ground level. The edge of the canyon casts green light onto tall shelves full of reagents and hundreds of pieces of glassware. Herein lies Randy Hicks’ office.
“My official title is Lab and Department Manager, but primarily I manage the stockroom,” he said. “It’s not just the chemicals, but getting faculty labs set up and getting quotes for big equipment, putting in orders, managing packages and deliveries.” Randy’s regular duties include surveying gas cylinders for the fire marshal once a year, verifying credit card charges, and filling the NMR machine with liquid nitrogen once a week, which keeps the machine’s liquid helium cold enough to keep its massive magnet running.
When asked what he wanted the Reed community at large to know about the chemistry stockroom, Randy said, “We’re here!” Chuckling, he went on to explain: “Stockrooms are tucked away, people might not know we’re even here if they haven’t taken a class.” Randy began his career as a teacher, and sometimes misses certain aspects of teaching, especially the constant interaction with students. Looking around his office, a separate room within the chemistry stockroom, Randy effusively commented, “I really like everyone I work with here. It was a no-brainer when I was offered this job. I always look forward to new people coming down.” If you’re in o-chem lab and your separatory funnel is missing, your reflux condenser doesn’t fit, or you accidentally break a beaker, Randy and his stockroom full of glassware have your back.
Besides the occasional roof leak or poorly labeled chemical waste, Randy had no frustrations or qualms about his experience operating the stockroom and looking after the chemistry building. “I love my job. I’ve had jobs where I don’t look forward to coming in, but I haven’t had a single day where I haven’t wanted to come to work here," he said. "There’s a good mix of white collar office stuff and more active blue collar type stuff, fixing broken equipment and all that.”
Every once in awhile, Randy receives a stranger request than just replacement glassware or ordering machine parts. “Once, there was a group of students who wanted a helium weather balloon for a moon party, and they came and asked me for help. This thing was big, we had to blow it up outside, but it really looked like the moon. That was satisfying, I was happy to help out. There may be some oddball requests, but it’s cool if people know we can help make little things like that happen.”
Job satisfaction is high in the chemistry stockroom. Even though Randy misses certain aspects of his teaching days, managing the chemistry building and stockroom has been a great fit for him. “In grad school and teaching, those jobs never end,” he explained. “Here I barely have to take work home. I have kids, and it’s great to not have that pressure or conflict with family life. It fits in really well with my life at home, I’m really happy.”
So remember, if you need a 0.5 millimolar solution of HCl, help figuring out how to build a trebuchet, a special kit to extract DNA out of dirt, or want to contribute to the field of psychology by playing with baby rats, the stockrooms and their managers are there for you. Not only can they help you with your experiment or project, they would be thrilled to have you visit.