by Lucia Fuentes and Roman Senkov
In our “Interviews” section in this issue, we are excited to share some unique insight into the work and career paths of Sherouk Alzeory, Cristina Rogers and Trevor Taylor, three members of the Natural Science Department. While working as laboratory technicians, Cristina and Sherouk obtained their MSc degree, and Trevor is presently also working in that direction. Read what inspires them, what they’re passionate about and what advice they have for students at LaGuardia.
|Q#1: What was your motivation to follow a career in science?|
Sherouk: For me, since high school, I knew I was interested in STEM. I was very aware of which major I wanted to undertake...
Click to see the complete answer Sherouk: For me, since high school, I knew I was interested in STEM. I was very aware of which major I wanted to undertake as an undergrad. I ended up pursuing that same major I decided on in high school – and that was medical laboratory science.
I always had a love for biology and was interested in the medical field. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to become a physician or not, so I picked a major that introduced the clinical world to me. Majoring in medical laboratory science has shifted and grounded my interest in laboratory work rather than being a physician.
Roman: Is any member in your family in STEM?
Sherouk: Actually not, but, my mom was an agriculture major back home, and she had a love for chemistry. My father on the other hand was an accountant, but no one majored in STEM.
Cristina: Growing up I would watch a lot of documentaries with my dad – always science/STEM. I knew I always liked it. I took an AP bio class in high school and I think that solidified my interest. I had a great teacher, and a lot of the times good teachers inspire you. Once I took that class I knew that’s where I was going.
I wanted to go to Stony Brook and do marine biology, but my parents wouldn’t let me go away, so I ended up staying here and just doing biology. When I decided to do my masters I did environmental science and started getting into oceanography – so I somehow steered my way there a little bit.
Actually, I’m grateful that I didn’t end up going to Stony Brook, because doing BIO as an undergrad, you get to do chemistry, a little bit of physics… it was nice to have that exposure.
Trevor: For me it was different. Going into college, I knew nothing about what I wanted to do. I have a lot of different interests, so going in I didn’t know whether I was going to go into psychology or political science or STEM or anything.
During my first visit to the college, before classes started, I ended up meeting the chair of the physics department, and he was this bombastic, crazy guy and he enrolled me in a basic physics class that day. It turned out he was teaching that class, and that basically started my love for physics at that time. No real forethought or planning, just ended up being kind of a coincidence in the end.
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|Q#2: In just a couple of sentences, could you describe the work you do in the department?|
Cristina: I think the most essential part of our work is setting up the labs for students. In order to do that we have to make sure everything is stocked, that we comply with all of the hazardous waste management...
Click to see the complete answer Cristina: I think the most essential part of our work is setting up the labs for students. In order to do that we have to make sure everything is stocked, that we comply with all of the hazardous waste management… there are a lot of protocols, PPE, SDS etc, and we must follow all of them. We also are required to train and be certified by the Fire Department of New York, and have a C14, which is a certification needed to work with chemicals in labs.
Aside from that in BIO we do a lot with live organisms, plants that we have to keep going, stalks and cultures.
We also have to maintain all of the equipment, and make sure that everything is up to date with its inspections. All of the craziness that goes on with our leaky roof - so making sure that the labs are usable by the students and all the things that go with that, including special measures in place now with COVID-19.
I’m sure Trevor knows about maintaining chemicals, because although he’s physics, he also helps with chemistry.
Trevor: It’s definitely a big part of what we do over there. For physics we obviously don’t have to restock on chemicals, and we don’t have to deal with live organisms . That’s generally not what I end up doing, thankfully, because I’m scared of all of that.
For me it’s working with the professors and making sure that everyone knows the basics of what they should be doing. Depending on the professor, sometimes you have to help with some of the technology aspects that we have going on in the lab.
Sherouk: I think Cristina and Trevor did sum up what we do, but we also are involved in adjusting protocols to align with the lab goals, safety procedures and budget. Our motto is, “what could be done to enhance the laboratory experience?”.
We also do extensive inventories for all chemical and biological labs. We deal with an array of live and preserved specimens as Cristina mentioned as well as bacterial cultures. We also order, maintain, and inoculate bacteria, while providing strains suitable for the experiments. When it comes to microbiological media we always seek to prepare and provide what is necessary. We ensure we’re providing students with the best lab experience, by working closely with instructors and building on their feedback.
Cristina: I think Sherouk brought up a good point too. Aside from the setup and inventory and everything, we work with committees, we work closely with EHS just to make sure that there is a safe environment for the students. We even look into scheduling labs. We help where we can.
Lucia: I’m glad you bring this up, because for me this work has been essential, particularly bringing in new labs. If it hadn’t been for both Cristina and Sherouk’s help, I would never have been able to do the research and the curriculum in the general biology class. It’s not just the routine, but all of the quirks and things that you all have to deal with.
Roman: I can assure you that Trevor does a great job in the physics labs. I usually cannot find something which is in front of me, and I give it a try for 20 minutes, and then I give up and go to Trevor.
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|Q#3: What was the motivation for you to accept the LaGuardia lab technician position after your graduation?|
Trevor: My motivation is probably pretty standard. Going through college, one of the main people I saw with a physics degree was my lab technician who was helping us out, setting up our classes and everything. We interacted with him a lot...
Click to see the complete answer Trevor: My motivation is probably pretty standard. Going through college, one of the main people I saw with a physics degree was my lab technician who was helping us out, setting up our classes and everything. We interacted with him a lot during our time there and we got to know a decent amount about what his job is. That was the job I was aiming for during my immediate job search after graduation.
I’m from Seattle and I was basically applying to lab technician jobs all over the country. When I got this one, I said: “sure, sign me up, I’ll take it!”. It was the thing I was going for and it was exactly what I got so I was pretty happy, and it ended up being a great job.
Roman: So Trevor, did you come here from Seattle?
Trevor: Yeah, I was living in Washington at the time. I was told that they didn’t really expect me to accept the job because I was so far away, but what didI care? I was young, only 23 and I could go anywhere.
Sherouk: To be honest in the beginning I wasn’t particularly looking for a lab technician position. However, there was a laboratory technician that left an impression on me, her name was Ms. McIntyre, She used to be a lab technician at Hunter college where I got my bachelor's degree. She was super involved and without her I wouldn’t have had such a phenomenal learning experience.
Ms. McIntyre was a great role model to look up to, and I learned so much from her. The support and help that she provided to students, really enhanced my laboratory experience, and made a lasting impression on me.
My career started as a biology teacher in a private middle-high school. From there, I was looking for something different, I wasn’t fond of the environment. Thankfully, my colleague and friend Zenia Afroz introduced me to an opportunity as an adjunct laboratory technician here at LaGuardia, where I worked for a year and half, and then I applied for the full-time position where I was successfully hired.
Cristina: After college, my first STEM job was as an associate researcher at Mt. Sinai. We were mutating mice using CRISPR, and if you know how that goes... a lot of mice were sacrificed. I also had to maintain our other mutated lines, and just maintaining them, you end up mating, then having to kill a lot of the pups. You end up killing a lot of mice in the process. I know it comes with the territory, but after a while it was just a lot for me personally, so I didn’t want to continue having to do that. It was just sad for me.
The research was great, I enjoyed it so much, but just that aspect after a while: “oh, what am I doing?”.
That’s not the only option that you have in the STEM field obviously, you can branch out, you can look into other areas. I knew I wanted to go back to school. I knew it was not going to be in medicine, but a masters degree in another science.
I started applying for jobs and saying: “ok, if I want to get back into academia, where do I go?” and so I went to LaGuardia.
There are other ways to do the research. When I was working with Sarah I had a great time. We took care of the mussels and then we released them back into the wild. I could do this.
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|Q#4: What would you say is the most rewarding aspect of being a laboratory technician in the department?|
Sherouk: For me personally, the most rewarding aspect of my job is when I check in on the professors during lab and I hear students say: “oh this experiment is working!” or “oh I got this!”...
Click to see the complete answer Sherouk: For me personally, the most rewarding aspect of my job is when I check in on the professors during lab and I hear students say: “oh this experiment is working!” or “oh I got this!”. It makes me so happy that they’re learning.
Cristina: I think that working in a community college and working with the student body that we have and being able to provide for those students. We try as hard as we can to justify why we’re asking for money and then being able to provide those students with the models and all of the supplies that they need to enrich the learning experience. I think that’s rewarding for me. Then the professors do the rest of the job.
Trevor: I’m going to say the most rewarding aspect for me is getting to interact with all of my wonderful colleagues every day. They’ve made the job as great as it’s been. I don’t think in a different environment with different people I would have even stuck around as long as I have. Because it’s such a great job with such great people I’m still here 6 years later.
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|Q#5: If you could change one thing in your job or the department to make your work more rewarding, what would you change?|
Cristina: I can do an obvious answer: our salary! ...
Click to see the complete answer Cristina: I can do an obvious answer: our salary!
Sherouk: I second that! Also, I think the opportunity for growth is super limited in our job.
Roman: Is there something we can do in our department?
Sherouk: I am not sure, but I know a lot of the things that we cannot do as technicians is due to union binding rules. These rules are quite confusing and have been proven hard to change.
Trevor: Those are some great answers and I agree 100% with everything they said. But again, I’ll take it in a little bit of a different direction.
There is one thing that I think might make it more rewarding for me personally. During my time at LaGuardia I had the opportunity to teach classes. I generally enjoyed that a lot, although it’s a lot of preparation and I don’t know how professors do it all of the time, because I couldn’t even teach one class, one time a week, competently.
Having more of that interaction with the students as a lab technician would be more of a rewarding experience I think. I don’t know necessarily how everyone else would feel about it.
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|Q#6: In your view and according to your experience, what qualities should an excellent lab technician have to perform the work?|
Trevor: Well, all of the qualities that I don’t have. Good time management, being able to know what’s coming next, having your schedule straight all of the time – that’s very important...
Click to see the complete answer Trevor: Well, all of the qualities that I don’t have. Good time management, being able to know what’s coming next, having your schedule straight all of the time – that’s very important, having a good work ethic and being able to do the things you need to do on time, all the time. These are all great things that you need to have to be able to get your work done. I’m glad I got to go first so no one else stole my stuff!
Sherouk: I think for me, what would make a great lab technician, besides the characteristics and attributes that Trevor has mentioned, is having technicians that are enthusiastic. I think with that enthusiasm and care come all attributes needed for a successful technician.
Cristina: I love what everyone said. I agree. I think I can just add maybe one more thing. I think you need to be level headed/coolheaded, because we have a lot of labs going on at once and you don’t want to get overwhelmed. You’re in there setting something up, taking it down, cleaning and these things happen in a short amount of time, so I think it’s good to be level headed.
Also sometimes professors come in and they have a lot of responsibilities and a lot of weight on their shoulders, and of course they’re prepared, and some details are maybe last-minute and you’re trying to help them. It helps having kind of a calm “energy” for them.
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|Q#7: While holding your position you were taking classes and conducting research and some of you graduated with a master's degree. You have to have a lot of motivation to do this. I assume it’s not easy. What is your motivation? And maybe a follow up: how do you see yourself in 3-5 years?|
Cristina: In 3-5 years - I used to be someone that would plan ahead a lot, and I just realized that in life it never happens exactly how you plan it...
Click to see the complete answer Cristina: In 3-5 years - I used to be someone that would plan ahead a lot, and I just realized that in life it never happens exactly how you plan it. It’s good to have goals, but I don’t think you should have such strong expectations. As long as you’re working you’ll end up where you need to be.
My motivation is: I don’t like to be stagnant. I love science, and science is always changing and we’re always learning and there’s always something new to learn. So why not just keep learning? If you keep learning, you’ll make progress.
Roman: Don’t you have any specific job you’d like to have in 5 years?
Cristina: No. I just want to see where I go now, and continue research. I wouldn’t want to teach full time, I enjoy teaching maybe one class per semester, but it wouldn’t be something I would want to do full time. So I guess maybe a combination of both.
I did my masters in environmental science, so even if I entered into doing some type of field work I would enjoy that as well.
I feel like if you’re keeping your mind busy you can be happy.
Trevor: I very much relate to Cristina. I don’t have these big expectations or goals for the future. Maybe it’s a terrible thing to say, but I never really have. I don’t want to set myself up for a big disappointment when in 5 years I haven’t met the goals I set for myself. I prefer to compare myself now to what I’ve done in the past as opposed to setting up “here’s what I have to do in the future”.
For me, where I am in 3-5 years isn’t that important. I just want to keep growing and moving forward in both my career and for myself.
Sherouk: When it came to my master’s program, I knew I wanted to pursue more knowledge in biology. I was working full-time, and I needed to enroll in a program that would accommodate my work schedule. I applied to the biotechnology program at CUNY-City College since they welcomed part-time students.
Where do I see myself in the next 3-5 years? I’m not quite sure myself. I second what Cristina and Trevor said.
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|Q#8: What advice would you give LaGuardia students on how to approach their studies and their careers?|
Cristina: You can do it! Whatever you want to do you can do it! I know it sounds cheesy, but I’ve heard students say: “I can’t do it” or “I’m not smart enough”... no you can do it!...
Click to see the complete answer Cristina: You can do it! Whatever you want to do you can do it! I know it sounds cheesy, but I’ve heard students say: “I can’t do it” or “I’m not smart enough”... no you can do it! Just because you didn’t get it the first time or the first way that it was presented to you, doesn’t mean that you won’t get it if you keep trying. Keep trying, keep studying, because whatever you want to do you can do it.
You can do anything, you really can. I really believe that, I don’t think anybody is stupid. If you apply yourself and put in the effort, you’ll be successful.
Also, don’t be too hard on yourself.
Sherouk: I would say live in the moment, and search for opportunities that will push your limits and help you grow.
Trevor: In terms of motivating yourself, the way that I go about it: I take a look at where I was in the past and how I’ve progressed since then. I guess too many people, when they’re looking at their own accomplishments, they’re looking at other people’s accomplishments and comparing themselves against that. That can be very discouraging to say the least. It’s not a good way to live your life. You can only compare yourself to yourself and how you used to be.
My advice is just: gain confidence in where you are and how far you’ve come.
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|Q#9: Several blitz questions inspired by Marcel Proust.|
1. What do you like about yourself the most and what do you not like?Sherouk: The thing that I like most about myself is that...
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1. What do you like about yourself the most and what do you not like?Sherouk: The thing that I like most about myself is that I’m resilient and optimistic.
Something that I don’t like is I can be very self-critical, this trait prevents me from enjoying my accomplishments.
Trevor: Something I like about myself: I am very flexible and adaptable to almost any situation. I don’t get too stressed out about things. Something that I don’t like about myself: I procrastinate on everything I do, and then I do end up stressing myself out.
Cristina: Something that I do like about myself is that I’m not really judgmental. I love people and I try to understand. Even if something is perceived as negative I try to understand where the person is coming from or even just what they’ve been through. Sometimes you’re not at your brightest moment in life and that’s okay. I try to comfort myself in that situation rather than judge or get angry.
What I don’t like is that I think I’m tired. Like Sherouk said, she's very resilient. I think I’m resilient out of necessity, and not out of wanting to be.
2. What’s easy for you to forgive in others and what is hard for you to forgive?Sherouk: I can pretty much forgive anything except emotional and physical abuse, especially if the other person is aware of their toxic actions.
Trevor: I think I can forgive most things. Most “hurts” whether intentional or unintentional as long as someone changes behavior. Things that I have a hard time forgiving are lies. If you lie, I can’t trust you.
Cristina: This question is hard for me because I feel like it always depends on the situation, the person. If I had to answer, I guess my answer would be more extreme. Maybe mass murder or something like that or some kind of serial abuser.
Even if you lie a few times or you do something and you learn from it, okay. If you continue the same behavior knowing that you’re hurting someone it’s different, and becomes harder to forgive with time. If you can learn from your mistakes/change, you can be forgiven.
3. Is there one thing that you really regret that you did in your life?Trevor: Most social interactions in my life.
Cristina: Wish that I was less fearful for certain things. Sometimes you spend your energy on trivial stuff when it would have been better spent elsewhere.
Sherouk: Looking back I regret staying silent when I had to speak up.
4. What does absolute happiness mean for you?Cristina: I think absolute happiness is more of a state of mind. Everything that’s external – most of it isn’t in your control. I think happiness is more of appreciating what you have and accepting the things you can’t change.
Sherouk: For me absolute happiness is recognizing that everything is ephemeral and living and enjoying the moment.
Trevor: I’m going to go with some more “worldy pleasures”. Happiness is about a good book, rainy day and a snuggly blanket.
5. Regardless of a belief in God, if one day you met God, what would you say to him?Sherouk: I would say thank you for everything, even the bad ones because, they made me realize who I am as a person.
Cristina: That’s between me and God.
Trevor: I would say: sorry dude.
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