BERKELEY — Erol Kepkep began working at the campus’s Department of Instruction in Biology in 1987, when he was an undergraduate completing a double major in molecular biology and genetics. In 1989, he moved into the Molecular and Cell Biology Department, where he and his staff are responsible for two Biology 1A lab classrooms. Among the challenges of the job: tracking the lab’s snakes and crocodiles when they go missing, juggling enrollment for 600-plus students each semester, and helping protozoans and cyanobacteria flourish.
Q. What does an instructional lab manager do?
A. I manage the laboratory facilities and support staff for the general biology laboratory for Bio 1A/1AL, and I act as the enrollment coordinator for the classes.
Q. What does supporting the lab involve?
A. Every week, we set up for a different lab exercise and try to make the students’ experience consistent from section to section through the week. Once we set up an exercise, we reset the lab between sections to ensure it’s set up the same way, which can involve replacing solutions, replenishing supplies, and checking live material.
Q. What kind of live materials do you work with?
A. Basic cells — plant cells, cyanobacteria, protozoans, bacteria and yeast for genetics experiments — and a large variety of invertebrate animals including hydra, planaria, earthworms, starfish, sea urchins, cockroaches, tarantulas, scorpions, millipedes, plus vertebrates such as frogs, salamanders, snakes, lizards, fish, birds, and mammals. We’ve even had hawks, owls, a fox, and raccoon in the lab.
Q. Has anything ever gone really wrong?
A. There was one really unusual incident. One evening my staff called me when a crocodile we use in our chordate diversity lab escaped from its pen during class and crawled underneath a student’s bench. Fortunately, I was able to lure it back into confinement. Since then, I had a new pen constructed so he can’t get out anymore.
Q. What other difficulties have you encountered?
A. There are always problems with equipment breaking down or power outages that can result in large losses of frozen or refrigerated materials. Usually we’re able to recover sufficiently to make part of the exercise work, and then show the students what should have happened and discuss what went wrong and why.
Q. What’s challenging about your work?
A. Coordinating the class enrollment. In the past few years we have been experiencing significantly impacted enrollment demand while we are already using our lab classroom space as much as possible with current resources.
Q. What do you like best about your job?
A. The variety. Unlike research labs where you specialize and focus on the same problem for months on end, here we change topics every week. I like that I support faculty who are teaching people about biology and getting them excited about it.