Lab Technician in the
Jan Buckles' nutrition science storeroom is more than just a pantry — it's also a place where students can come meet one of their biggest supporters.
A lab technician for the past 14 years, Buckles cares academically and personally about each of the Department of Nutrition Science's about 400 students as if they were her own. This commitment extends even beyond their graduation, as she keeps in contact with a couple of hundred alumni and stays abreast of their careers and personal lives.
Why did this job first interest you?
I actually started at Purdue 16 years ago, when I worked in the business office. Two years later, this job was open and something about it really appealed to me. In particular, the fact that this job involved interactions with undergraduate and graduate students was really exciting, because I love young people and I wasn't working with students before. I was also interested in healthy nutrition and in fitness and wellness in general, and so I applied.
How has your job changed since you began 14 years ago?
This job has really evolved from just preparing the department's laboratories and experiments to involving a lot more interaction with students. I was a big proponent of that change, and so when the department head approved it, I was ecstatic.
We have 360 undergraduate students and about 40 graduate students now, and I know many of them on a personal basis. To me, it's really a blessing and an inspiration to hear about their hopes and their goals for the future. I want to help them in any way I can.
What else does your job involve?
I brainstorm with faculty, graduate students and undergraduate students about ideas for their classes, projects and recipe ideas for their research studies. Also, hearing professors talking about their research is exciting, so anytime I can put a lab together to help, it's great.
On any given day, I buy groceries for our department's studies. I set up each lab and tear it down. Labs might involve any kind of food, so there's always variety involved. I keep my pantry stocked with almost anything you can think of.
When the department holds special events, I also put together menus. I try to have a lot of fun with that and to include an "around the world" theme whenever possible, so our international students and faculty always feel welcomed. To me, a great joy is to see people laughing and engaging during an event I planned.
What's your favorite part of the job?
I really enjoy working with students. To me, working at Purdue is a great opportunity to form relationships, and the ones I form with our students are just the best. The couple of hundred alumni with whom I keep in contact send me the greatest photos and postcards from their weddings and of their babies. It's so rewarding to know that I've had an impact on their time at Purdue and beyond.
How do you act as a mentor to current students?
I always try to make myself available to our students, even if it's just to listen about struggles they might be having with classes or with life in general. I want them to know that their struggles are normal. Sometimes, they just need a little bit of reassurance or to know they're not alone.
I always tell students that they have a special place in my heart, and I mean it. If they ever need reminded of their potential or how special they are, I tell them to come to me, because I'm happy to tell them. I consider that as vital a part of my job as making sure our food labs run smoothly.