Career Perspectives: Bret L. Judson, Imaging Facility Manager at Boston College

Bret Judson

Please describe your current position.

At Boston College, I manage all aspects of the light microscopy imaging facility housed within the Department of Biology. The facility serves the entire Boston College campus community. In addition to managing the imaging facility, I also teach the Advanced Lab in Cell Imaging course (BI545) in both the Fall and Spring semesters. This course is for advanced undergraduates and graduate students. The course is a mixture of traditional lectures and hands-on laboratory exercises.

Bret Judson

How far in advance of your planned starting date did you begin looking for jobs?

Six months, although it is good to always keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities.

How did you learn about your current position? Were any resources (inside or outside your university) particularly helpful in your job search?

I found out about my current position through a specialized microscopy listserv: the Confocal Listserv hosted by the University of Minnesota. Besides networking, the best source of information about positions is just hard work and searching thoroughly all avenues—university HR departments and company websites.

What was your work or educational background before you were hired and how did it help you develop the skills required for your current position?

Prior to coming to Boston College, I managed three different imaging facilities, two at Cornell University (light and electron microscopy) and one at Arizona State University (light microscopy). In addition, I taught a graduate-level microscopy course while at Arizona State University. Prior to managing imaging facilities, I obtained my bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Binghamton University.

How would you describe the interview process and how did you prepare for it? Were there any skills or experiences in your CV that seemed to stand out?

For my current position, the interview consisted of a day-long campus visit with one-on-one meetings with several biology department faculty, including the chair of the department along with lunch with graduate students. Preceding the day of the interview I had a campus tour and dinner with the chair of the search committee. In preparation for the interview, I visited the profile pages of the people I would be interviewing with so as to be prepared to discuss their research as well as how I might be involved/integrated. I also visited the department’s instrumentation webpage to access their current resources/needs. Lastly, I had a Powerpoint presentation on my laptop and was prepared to discuss my background and research projects I had been involved with. It is hard to say with certainty if any skills or experiences stood out, but I already had familiarity with the instrumentation they had in the department, had successfully managed other imaging core facilities, and I had experience teaching at the college level— all of which I am sure helped.

What factors led to your ultimate job choice?

Proximity to a vibrant city, the pleasure of working at a world-class institution, the ability to teach my own stand-alone course, and lastly the support of the staff, faculty, and administration without whom we would not have such a well-equipped facility.

Are there any particular skills or experiences you wish you had before you started?

For my current position, no, but for someone just starting I would pay particular attention to your people skills and to have as broad a background as possible.

How do you spend an average workday?

The first thing I do is open the facility and do a visual check on all the microscopes in my lab. I then check/reply to emails. I typically set up any new trainings mid-morning or afternoon as that is a good time for new users. At least once a week I spend some time on every microscope to ensure that everything is working properly. On certain days I attend departmental or university events (seminars, data club, etc.). On class days I spend time preparing/refining lectures/labs that are scheduled for that day. I also regularly visit vendor web pages and keep up to date with several journals weekly.

What do you like the most about your work?

Without a doubt teaching—both individually with users in my core facility but also in my advanced lab course where I reach a larger audience. Being able to interact with and teach undergraduates, graduate students, postdocs, and faculty every semester is by far the one thing I enjoy most and that I also find the most challenging (in a good way). Following closely behind teaching is working with researchers from all departments such that I am never sure who/what kind of samples may come through the door. Unlike some more narrowly focused core facilities, I see users daily from the departments of Biology, Chemistry, Psychology, Physics, Geology, and any other department that has a need for imaging.

What do you find the most challenging about your work?

Related to #9, never knowing for sure what kinds of samples I might have to image/help with. This ensures that I stay current and adaptable to a broad range of conditions.

What skills do you think are absolutely essential for your position?

1) Familiarity with a range of research instrumentation and how to best use that instrumentation properly. 2) The ability to communicate clearly and effectively with a diverse audience orally as well as in writing. 3) Flexibility as needs and priorities change. 4) A willingness to change personally as well as academically and to be open to new ideas and opportunities.

What advice would you give to someone looking for a position like yours?

Get as much training and experience as possible on the widest range of equipment available. Take background courses on optics, imaging, as well as have a broad understanding/interest in biology, chemistry, mathematics, and physics. Talk to the core facility managers at your home institution as well as other managers and get their advice. Become familiar with the scientific vendors in your area—lots of times they may be aware of positions that are available and also they frequently come from a background similar to yours and can be a valuable source of advice.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are the views of the author(s) and do not represent the official policy or position of ASCB.

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