Deborah Springer’s love of science was apparent from the moment she arrived at Saint Rose to pursue her bachelor’s in biology. Now with a Ph.D. in biomedical sciences, immunology, and infectious diseases from the University at Albany, she works as a lead science in assay development, translational genomics, for Q2 Solutions in North Carolina. Her hours in the lab these days ultimately help advance COVID-19 research.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I am a lead scientist in assay development, translational genomics, at Q2 Solutions. We develop assays (an analytical procedure to evaluate a substance for a specific component) to support our clinical research trials run by our clients. Currently I’m developing and validating assays to support research on COVID-19/SARs CoV-2.
I typically wake up early and start work between 7 and 8 a.m. We usually attend some team meetings to update each other on where we are on our projects and where we are heading and to make sure we have clarity on what needs to be the goals for the day.
I spend the first part of my day preparing for any experiments that I have planned for that day, which involves prepping data sheets and materials. Then I’m usually in the laboratory most of the day. Toward the end of the work day, I may be writing up and finalizing any laboratory documentation and data analysis associated with the experiment. I’m usually home by 7 p.m., but not always.
Thursdays and Fridays, I work from home. Those days are really focused on inventory, ordering supplies, data management, analysis, and preparations for the next cycle of lab experiments.
Science doesn’t always fit in a neat and orderly 9-to-5 day.
No matter what, I usually finish up my day with a run and/or walk. I find this is a good way to reflect on the day and to relax after a long day in the lab.
How did you find your career path?
My career path has been a work in progress throughout my academic and post-academic life. It has been a long road through the years, but always focused on science.
I started my undergrad experience as an education major and quickly changed my major to biology. When I transferred into Saint Rose in 1995, I was pretty focused on becoming a scientist. My (track and field) coaches and teachers really helped support that goal.
Following Saint Rose, I volunteered/worked for the U.S. Forest Service for a year before going back to school at The College of Environmental Sciences and Forestry (SUNY-ESF), where I obtained my master’s in environmental forest biology, majoring in forest pathology and mycology, and electron microscopy).
I then worked several years as an academic research technician at Upstate Medical University on the rotary motor of Salmonella typhimurium and at Syracuse University on the developmental biology of C. elegans and grassland ecology.
From there, I decided to go back to school at University at Albany for my Ph.D. in biomedical sciences, immunology, and infectious diseases. I focused on human and animal pathogenic fungal diseases. I did a lot of research and electron microscopy at the Wadsworth Center in downtown Albany. I even made the first scanning electron microscope image of white nose syndrome, which emerged locally in our bat population. I was familiar with the caves in our area and, being a mycologist, I realized quickly that the disease had something to do with a fungus.
I obtained a postdoctoral position at Duke University to study the evolution of sex and virulence in fungi, and moved to North Carolina in 2009. I thought I would have a hard time adapting, but the area feels a lot like Albany in some ways, perhaps because the Raleigh-Chapel Hill-Durham tri-city area is like Albany-Troy-Schenectady, and there is a strong hospital system and many universities in the area.
My first industry Job was at Novozymes North America, where I was hired as a fungal biologist as part of the BioAg Alliance to develop microbial products that can enhance the health, growth, and yield of corn and soy crops.
Following a large corporate layoff in 2019, I took a position as a lead scientist at Q2 Solutions, a leading global clinical trial laboratory services organization that helps customers achieve better clinical trial outcomes.
What do you do for fun?
You can find me gardening, mushroom hunting, running, walking, biking, or volunteering with Godiva Track Club or parkrunDurham. Running is my process for thinking through things. If I can’t solve something in the lab, or if something is frustrating me, or I want to figure out how to lay something out, or think about what I could have done better, it helps bring some clarity. (Springer is a 2013 Golden Knights Athletics Hall of Fame inductee for her track career at Saint Rose, which included an All-American honor in 1995 in the 10,000-meter outdoors and a sixth-place finish at the NCAA Championships, where she also finished 12th in the 3,000-meter run).
What did, or do, you like the most about Saint Rose?
They first and foremost supported me in finding a balanced approach between my academics and athletics and gave me space to find and develop my scientific interest. I transferred in because I was looking for a better balance between athletics and academics. My professors really went above and beyond helping me manage my time so I could be with the team for conferences, and have time to practice or qualify.
My interest in science was really nurtured by my professors (Sister Tess Wysolmerski, Dr. Alexander, and J.R. Gaige) and my coach at Saint Rose, and they helped me find opportunities to grow. Dr. Alexander and Sister Tess, my advisor, always pushed me to think about how to use my interest in mycology in my career.
Dr. Alexander gave me an opportunity to be his lab assistant and really was instrumental in fostering my interest in an independent-study project as well as an internship at the Five Rivers Environmental Education Center.
One of the differences at Saint Rose was that they wanted you to be as successful as you could be at multiple things, like athletics and academics, without jeopardizing that balance. I think learning that foundational skill set and having that perspective gave me the tools to manage multiple projects as a scientist – for instance, I was able to teach as an adjunct faculty at Saint Rose while completing my doctorate at UAlbany.
I made lifelong relationships and still regularly connect with Sister Tess and Dr. Alexander and visit with them when I am in the area. To me, they are part of my family.
Why should alums continue to engage with their alma mater?
Saint Rose to me will always be a special place that allowed and fostered me and my interests. I don’t believe I would be where I am today without the Saint Rose experience.
I continue to support Saint Rose because I want someone-else to have the same opportunity that I was given.
Saint Rose fostered my ability to find what was special about me and enabled me to build the confidence and scientific foundation I needed to develop as a person and a scientist.
By Irene Kim