Employee of the Month - Heather Ishak

January 2016Division of Infectious Diseases

As rewarding as working in a lab can be, it can also be difficult – complicated by a number of factors related to technology, schedules, supplies and paperwork. But the Bollyky Lab counts itself lucky: it has Heather Ishak to keep things running smoothly.

As the lab’s life science research assistant, Heather’s official duties include ordering supplies, updating protocols, managing the vivarium and assisting with research projects. She sums it up like this: “My job is to create the best environment for good science to happen.”

Her colleagues say it’s an environment they count on to do their research, and they look to Heather for more than logistics. Professor Paul Bollyky writes, “Heather is an excellent scientist, a helpful collaborator, an efficient manager and a supportive friend. She does everything she can to make sure that the lab runs well and that scientific projects stay on track. That often means juggling far more assignments and details than most people could handle, but fortunately Heather is so well organized she manages to handle it all and still offer an encouraging word and a smile.”

Koshika Yadava, post-doctoral fellow, agrees, “She is a really fun person to be around. Her warmth and sense of humor contribute greatly to the lab atmosphere and team spirit.”

Specifically, says grad student Carlos Medina, “Heather maintains and organizes the entire lab. She helped design and furnish the new tissue culture rom. She organizes lab meetings and even research-in-progress meetings for the entire grant building. She spends multiple hours each week helping others with experiments, and even when she’s busy she always takes it all in stride with a cheery, joking attitude that brings a positive energy to the lab.”

When things go wrong (as they sometimes do)

Heather’s poise and warmth extend beyond the routine work she does for the lab and into all the trouble-shooting she does. Heather says, “I handle most problems or issues that arise in the course of research, which makes my role very spontaneous and challenging.” When there’s a problem, she keeps her cool and tackles it. The confidence to do so likely comes from experience. Before coming to Stanford, Heather earned her Master’s degree and then worked for six years as a lab manager and researcher in Texas.

Yadava says, “I really admire her calm composure during [any] lab crisis, such as last-minute protocol submissions, experimental set-ups, machine failures or even moderating differences between members within the lab.”

Maria Birukova, an MSTP student, has experienced Heather’s can-do spirit, as well. She says, “Heather is endlessly patient, calm and positive towards everyone in the lab while dealing with all the mishaps that inevitably come up day to day. I don’t know how she does it, but I do know that without Heather, we wouldn’t be able to do anything. She makes the lab go ‘round.”