Here we feature a few of the labs we have worked with and learned from, demonstrating their outstanding capacity to sustain and expand. These leaders spend as much time developing their own science as they do raising tomorrow’s champions of science.
Benjamin Ebert is the Nicola David-Pinedo Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, Chair of Medical Oncology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and an Institute Member of the Broad Institute.
The Zarrinpar Lab at UCSD is interested in the intersection of circadian biology, gut physiology, and the gut microbiome and how the three interact to cause obesity, diabetes, steatohepatitis, and other gut-mediated diseases
I’ve known and worked with Damien Wilpitz since 2007 when he was hired as the manager for the newly formed laboratory of Dr. Benjamin Ebert where I was beginning my post-doctoral fellowship. I was impressed with how quickly Damien demonstrated his experience as a skilled technician and his ability to manage and to organize what became a rapidly growing organization. Researchers outside of our group would come to Damien asking for advice on how to start up their own labs. I saw him help with every aspect of their transition including how to hire new members, how equip the lab, how to manage inventories and orders, and how to monitor expenditures and budgets – all aspects of running a lab that are critical for newly independent faculty but for which they are typically under-prepared to do well.
When Damien formed Experimental Designs, I saw him turn his anecdotal experience into a high-quality, professional consulting program. I knew that when I had the opportunity to create my own lab that I needed to have Damien working beside me to make the transition. This was the best decision I have made so far as junior faculty member. Damien toured my future lab space. He spoke with the facilities director and the senior administrative staff. He helped me select my lab manager and then provided hands on training for him. We got the lab equipped and I was up and running months sooner than I would have been without him. Budgets are important, but as a PI, time is most valuable asset. Getting things done efficiently the first time is critical to becoming a productive research lab and well worth the upfront investment in professional guidance. The only thing better than hiring Damien and EDC would have been to convince him to join my lab. But, I’m still working on that …
Assistant Professor of Medicine Division of Hematology-Oncology
UCSD, Moores Cancer Center
As I was getting ready to start my own laboratory, I knew right away that I wanted and needed Damien’s help. I first met him in 2007 as a post-doctoral research fellow at Children’s Hospital Boston. Over the years, I witnessed the rapid expansion of Ben Ebert’s lab at Harvard Medical School and Damien was able to manage that growth every step of the way. He anticipates needs and streamlines processes so that the primary focus of everyone else in the lab can be on the science. He also has a remarkable talent for managing personalities and identifying individual strengths. I knew his unique combination of talents would be essential for me to be successful at this next stage of my career. He was instrumental in the hiring of my first technician and in negotiating with my hiring institution and with vendors. We talk regularly to review budgets and goals for the lab which has been essential for the ongoing success of the lab. I can’t imagine going through this process without the help and support of Damien.
I have known Damien since he became the lab manager for the new lab next door to my postdoctoral lab at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. I witnessed firsthand his impressive skills at managing a rapidly growing and successful lab. When I learned of his professional consulting business, and was ready to start my own lab, I knew right away that I would need his help. Damien was instrumental with helping me to plan my lab’s budget for the first 5 years and to negotiate my startup package. He toured my new institution with me, spoke with the engineering department to help plan renovations for the space, and advised me on the optimal placement of lab equipment. He spoke with our procurement specialists and vendors to help me get the best deals on the lab equipment. Importantly, he also prescreened candidates, interviewed them over the phone, and helped me to hire my first lab manager, which was a great hiring decision. He then met with her regularly over Skype and later visited the lab to teach her critical lab management skills, including ordering, speaking with vendors, budgeting, and even troubleshooting some experimental protocols. He has also given me valuable advice to help with managing the people in my lab. With Damien’s help, my lab was operational much sooner than I expected. Since most new PI’s are well-trained to do science but have essentially no training in lab management, I really don’t know how anyone can effectively start a new lab without Damien’s guidance.
Setting up a new lab is one of the most exciting and daunting challenges I have faced. Friends and colleagues at a similar point in their careers are excellent resources, but they face the same time constraints and pressures in developing their own research programs. The broad experience that Damien and EDC provide proved invaluable for me as I first navigated the job search, then weighed the immensely complex options before me, and finally embarked on actually setting up my lab. It is tremendously exciting and a great privilege and responsibility to be given the freedom to explore new areas of science. Keeping this as the primary driver of one’s efforts is a challenge, and Damien’s insights on maintaining the focus on one’s scientific goals was hugely valuable. You need to pay the bills, but I think that becomes more manageable when the motivation remains advancing science and medicine. I would not hesitate to enlist Damien’s assistance again!
I am very happy to say that when I started my laboratory at Sloan-Kettering Institute, I was extremely lucky to have the support, guidance and experience that Damien provides. He was able to get my lab to the quickest start with us culturing cells and performing experiments within the first week of opening the lab. Every lab regardless of the size would benefit from the wisdom and expertise that he brings.I am not sure where we would be today without his help organizing and making sure everything was in its right place from the get go. From personal training to all of the logistics, Damien is an essential component to my group. I am lucky to have had his support and feel especially fortunate to have been his first client. You have to tap this amazing resource and start rethinking what it takes to setup, run and maintain a successful laboratory group.
I went to Damien with the scientific aims from my chalk talk. From this, he developed a detailed budget for the first five years of my lab. With this, I was able to negotiate back and forth with the hiring institution to get the best possible start-up package I could. I was also fortunate that Damien helped me hire my first technician. He filtered out tens of candidates through CV review and phone screening. He pre-selected three candidates for me to interview, with whom we each met with separately. We ultimately decided on one candidate who has worked out great. Having Damien’s expertise saved me a huge amount of time and also reduced my stress levels considerably as I felt confident that if the technician made it through Damien’s rigorous screening they were unlikely to be anything other than first rate. Damien’s mantra, “I care about management so you don’t have to” has really allowed me to hit the ground running and get on with the science.
I feel so lucky to have found Damien during the process of applying for, negotiating and accepting my first faculty position. The transition from postdoctoral fellowship to professorship is a challenging and exciting time. Having someone like Damien on my side made all the difference. Damien has worked with scores of young scientists and help them to establish independence. Perhaps most valuable to me, Damien provided me with guidance, wisdom and support in the early phases of setting up my laboratory. He was an invaluable resource in recruiting my first lab members, and helped me get both the wet and the dry aspects of my laboratory set up efficiently and effectively. He remains a trusted resource and a great encouragement. More than anything, I appreciated the fact that Damien’s support and guidance allowed me to focus on the science – he streamline many of the bureaucratic and administrative aspects of establishing an independent research endeavor and has helped me set up a laboratory that has a great culture, fantastic science, and reliable infrastructure. I would hire him again in a heartbeat, and recommend him to everyone I know who is embarking on their first job in academic science!
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