Kris Davidson has a penchant for learning and problem solving that makes him the ideal person to work on UNLV's research infrastructure issues. Davidson enrolled at UNLV right out of high school, leaving a small town in New England for the desert of Las Vegas.
He earned his undergraduate degree in management information systems, and his decision to attend graduate school at UNLV earned him more than a master’s degree — it’s also where he met his wife.
“I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work on campus as both an undergraduate student worker and as a graduate assistant. After we both graduated, we tried out the corporate game for about 10 years, split between Chicago and Phoenix. We eventually returned to Las Vegas to be closer to family, and I was able to return to the world of academia.”
Working at UNLV
When I returned to UNLV in 2004, I began professionally as the IT manager for the Harry Reid Center (HRC). I took care of just about everything in an office or lab that used data or electricity in the building.
HRC went through a reorganization several years ago, which resulted in the need for building management that would provide coordination and continuity. I had already developed strong relationships with our building occupants and others in the campus community that allowed me to help provide that link between the building and occupant needs and the different groups that could help. In 2013, I was asked to fill the research infrastructure manager role for HRC.
What is Research Infrastructure?
Our office is responsible for the management and operations of a handful of research buildings on campus, including Harry Reid Center (HRC), Science and Engineering Building (SEB), Campus Lab Building 3 (CLB-3), and Accelerator Lab Building (ALB). We are also frequently called upon for advice or assistance with other facilities or projects on campus in which we may have had similar experience. We work with deans across campus to help identify and provide research space for various programs and researchers where possible. Once research space is assigned, we work with the principal investigators (PIs) and researchers, as well as many other groups to support each of those programs.
What inspired you to get into this field?
It has been more of an evolution than a choice. I started at UNLV in a professional capacity nearly 19 years ago in computing and information systems. However, when I started as a student worker, I didn’t really have any experience in the field, and I stumbled around trying to get my job done! As assignments came in, I would venture further into computing and technology; much of it seemed to just make sense to me. The more I learned, the more I enjoyed it, and I eventually became one of those people you call when the computer stops working, or you can’t get to your data. This led me to my career path.
My current position has expanded to finding solutions – technically, mechanically, or otherwise. There are fundamental aspects of planning, problem solving, and troubleshooting that translate well to areas beyond computing, including building programming and systems management. I suppose it was curiosity and needing to learn how things work, and a lot of help from others, that has brought me to where I am.
Explain the reach of your office across campus
Our work is very much a team effort, not only within [research infrastructure] but outside, as well. I am fortunate to have developed a large number of great relationships over the years, without the support of whom the amount of work that I would have to do would be monumental.
We work almost daily with many other groups, some more obvious than others – to name a few, all the shops within Facilities Management and Risk Management & Safety for maintenance and support; Planning & Construction to achieve large and small renovations; and Telecom, Network Engineering, and OIT to technically support our researchers’ needs. We are also very privileged to have leadership in the Division of Research that provide great support and mentorship, which is a key to effectively addressing research infrastructure needs at UNLV.
Though there are some basic similarities, like power or data needs, each program has many unique requirements. Much of our work is with the principal investigators and other researchers to prepare, maintain, and support their lab environment. This includes everything from daily operations assistance, to detailed installations, support, and repairs of instrumentation, to full lab remodels.
Our researchers’ expertise allows them to do great, creative work to advance our knowledge and understanding in many fields. We all begin each day with the same number of hours, and facility administration and infrastructure management require a good deal of time and effort. Rather than researchers doing this, our group works to help provide the infrastructure and support necessary to allow those researchers to spend their time and effort doing what they do best: research.
What is your favorite part of the job?
This is hard to narrow down to a single thing, so I’ll pick three: One, variety. I am fortunate to work with a wide variety of projects and people. Every day seems to bring a new and unique challenge or puzzle to solve. Two, learning. I am always learning something new about mechanical systems, instrumentation, or the research we are supporting. Three, helping people. I receive a lot of satisfaction from assisting researchers and others to solve problems or find solutions to issues. If I can’t figure out a solution, I can usually find someone who can put us on the right path.
Since your student days there have been many changes at UNLV. What stands out the most to you?
The growth of the university. Since I first arrived on campus in 1988, UNLV student enrollment has increased tremendously. I remember coming to campus on winter nights to walk around because it was so quiet. Now, the sidewalks are full with students between class periods. The number of programs available to students is also much greater now, and so, too, is the university’s footprint with all the new supporting facilities.
Finally, the technology difference is night and day. The ability to take classes 100% virtually from anywhere in the world at this level existed only in our imaginations. And students today will never know the joys of standing in a line that wraps around what used to be Frazier Hall to register for classes, make schedule changes, or pay tuition. They can now simply click a button.
How do you stay inspired at UNLV?
I enjoy solving problems, and we get plenty of different and unique issues that require some creative thinking to find solutions. Looking forward to that next puzzle to solve is fun. It’s especially satisfying when we can surpass the expectations of our researchers with the quality of our work, and sometimes save quite a bit of time and budget, too. With the greater focus on research at UNLV, it is good to know that we are able to have a direct role in advancing our collective capabilities. I also get to work with some pretty great people. We do have to deal with our share of frustrations as well. Sometimes when a breather is necessary, I’ll make a coffee and think about my next family vacation or fishing trip.
Speaking of fishing… what are your passions outside of work?
I love to camp and fish in the summer and hunt in the fall. If I’m not at home on a long weekend and the water isn’t solid on top (though I keep threatening to drag my friends ice fishing), you can probably find me in a boat or on a shoreline fishing. Even if we come home empty handed, some of the scenery we’ve been able to witness is breathtaking, and the companionship is second to none. I left country life for city life just so I can return to country life every chance I get – the irony is not lost on me!
I also enjoy cooking and baking. Weeknights are a little routine just because of time constraints, but I like larger projects or exploring new ideas on the weekends. Planning larger elaborate meals especially around holidays is fun for me, albeit a little stressful sometimes. But when it turns out well it’s worth it. I like seeing family and friends really enjoying time together, and I like to think that a nice meal or good food has a small but significant supporting role.
My family and I try also take a vacation every summer, and I enjoy finding places to go and planning those vacations. My wife and daughter love the beach, so it usually involves something with sand, even if it’s just a few days of a larger plan.
What is the most “Vegas” thing that you do?
Try to find a route between home and work that isn’t under construction! I honestly don’t care to go to the strip much. However, I do appreciate some of what gaming and the strip brings to Las Vegas that we otherwise may not have available to us, like some outstanding restaurants. So, I guess in locals’ terms, the most “Vegas” thing I do is get out of town, and the heat of the summer, when I can.
I would not have a fraction of what success I have managed without the help of many people over the years — altruistic help I might add. From when I moved here right out of high school to this day, people and groups across campus continue to make my life easier than it has a right to be. I am grateful and humbled by every one of those people. I try to always keep in mind where I came from and all the generosity I have received, and try to do the best I can for people in return and help others as others have helped me.