By Stefanie Tokiyama

A Day in the Life of a Lab Manager: Stefanie Tokiyama

Wake Up

On a typical workday, I aim to wake up at 6:00am. Although my alarm goes off, it doesn’t necessarily mean I get up. Far too often the snooze button gets slapped ... more than once. My back-up alarm is my cat, who usually insists I get out of bed by 6:30 to give her some love and begin her feeding ritual. Before I emerge from bed, I try to spend time in prayer, thanking the Lord for the new day and asking him to prepare me for whatever is to come.  

Work-Day Prep

The getting-ready-for-work process is a haphazard whir of getting myself dressed, brushing my teeth, doing a few household chores like laundry, giving medication to my cat, making coffee and trying to figure out what to do about lunch. When I have breakfast, which is usually cereal or a nut bar and coffee (always coffee!), I try to sit at my dining table; this helps me to slow down so I’m in a better state of mind to do my devotion.  Lately, I’ve been enjoying The Songs of Jesus by Tim and Kathy Keller, which offers a year's daily devotions through the Psalms.

Parking Lot Moments

I’m fortunate to live only about a 10-minute drive to work. During those few minutes, I’m often catching up on the news since my radio is usually tuned to the public radio station. If you know about “driveway moments” (per urban dictionary: “The inability to leave one's car after arriving at the destination because of the riveting nature of a story you're listening to on the radio”) then you’ll understand what I mean by “parking lot” moments. I’ve often just sat in my car after arriving at work, listening to a story or report until its conclusion. From where I park, it’s not a long walk to my lab, and there are lots of trees along the way which I enjoy, especially as the seasons change.

Work Day

I work as the lab manager of a neurobiology research lab at Duke University. It sounds like a mouthful, but basically, I’m responsible for ensuring that my research lab runs more or less smoothly. So, one of the first things I usually do when I arrive at work is to check email, making sure there aren’t issues requiring an immediate response. Some mornings are full of administrative work: taking inventory of supply needs in the lab, placing orders for supplies, following up on orders, keeping up with tasks related to lab inspections and other regulatory requirements.

Apart from the administrative aspect of my job, the day-to-day work is quite different. In my lab, we’re trying to understand how the brain learns motor skills, specifically, how we use what we see to guide how we move. To do this, we study the control of eye movements in behaving non-human primates. As a result, a large part of my work revolves around making sure our animals are well-cared for and prepared to do their behavioral tasks in experiments.  

Most experimental projects are run by graduate students or postdoctoral fellows in the lab, but occasionally I’ll get the chance to run my own project, which is wonderfully rewarding. And then there is, of course, the weird and unexpected that occurs: vital lab equipment that breaks or suddenly stops working, the fire alarm that goes off in the middle of an experimental session, an animal that suddenly decides he doesn’t want to do his task that day. These little emergencies can be challenging but, for me, strangely satisfying when I can help to get them resolved.

Work Friends

Working in a basic research lab, one might think that it’s a pretty impersonal space, but oddly enough, one of the things I love best about my job is developing personal relationships with my lab mates. It’s not necessarily the easiest thing to do with people who, some more and some less, lean into the scientist stereotype — introverted, geeky, socially awkward (myself included). But the camaraderie that develops out of shared lab life has often led to a deeper sharing of life outside the lab. While I’ve not had a chance to pray with any of my lab mates, who by and large are not people of faith, I’ve often prayed for them, especially when they are experiencing professional and personal struggles.  

Evening Routines

When work is done, I usually head home, but there’s no set daily routine. Sometimes, I’ll run errands, or go for a walk. Occasionally I’ll meet up with a friend for dinner. Whenever I get home, however, I’m required to spend many minutes with my cat, petting and grooming her and otherwise trying to figure out what she’s demanding of me. With dinner, there’s also no set routine. If I were a more organized person, I would spend my weekends preparing meals for the work week, but alas, I’m not nearly so disciplined. So, what I eat and the times at which I eat can vary wildly. It could be stir fry at 7 or yogurt and fruit at 9!

On a regular basis I can be found at my church for various evening events and meetings. When I can just be at home for the whole evening, my time is spent either catching up on chores and other home/personal tasks, on phone calls with friends or family who mostly live in California, reading or watching a show of some kind. If I discover a great British murder mystery, that’s my go-to.

My evening shower is the start of my bedtime ritual. More often than I care to admit, I don’t get going on that ritual till 11pm or so, well after I should already be sleeping. When I slide into bed and turn off the lights, I listen to the sounds of the night (or cars still zooming by), and thank the Lord for his lovingkindness, his forgiveness, and his overwhelming grace.

Photos by Stefanie Tokiyama
About the Author

Stefanie Tokiyama is the lab manager for a research lab at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. She's a born and bred Californian who misses the Pacific Ocean but LOVES autumn in N.C.

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