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A home away from home: For Tom Beer, a role at Wistar turned into a second family.

March 27, 2024

We talked with Tom Beer, research assistant in the Proteomics lab, on his path to Wistar, his daily work, and his love for sports.

When did you arrive at Wistar?

My first job out of college was as a Food Safety Consultant, and I traveled up and down the East Coast visiting supermarkets and drug stores. The firm went out of business, so I had to find a new job, and discovered a position at an electron microscopy services laboratory in New Jersey. I spent several years there before they decided to relocate the business. I started looking for another opportunity somewhere stable and unique. I have a science degree – Physiological Plan Ecology – and I liked the idea of working in the lab. I saw a position at Wistar working with mass spectrometry – before I even knew what mass spectrometry was –  and decided to give it a shot. I interviewed and it seemed like a good fit, and an interesting opportunity. That was in 2002, and I’ve been here ever since.

Walk me through a day at work – what does your day look like?

A researcher or a lab will approach our team with a request to determine what’s in a sample or a set of samples. For instance, they’ll need to know every single protein and maybe the levels of those proteins. I take those samples, and I can process and use mass spectrometry to break it down and provide a detailed report. A lot of my work is preparing samples for mass spectrometry. The samples need to be clean, and we don’t always get clean samples so I need to do some prep work. That involves breaking down the cells in a solution, getting them ready, ionizing them and putting them on the instruments. That’s where the magic happens! Then we produce a detailed report that shows the proteins, the levels, and any other details they may need. Some requests are more complicated than others. If there is data manipulation or analytics that must be done, usually that’s another member of the team. Those requests take more time. In fact, we just installed some new equipment that will help us streamline the data analysis process and make it a bit quicker.

What is your favorite part of your job?

Even though the work we do is the same, every project is unique. When I first started, after each analysis we would hand deliver reports to the researchers. They would get excited when I’d hand them the data, and that was really satisfying. I’m giving people data that they can use for a research project! Sometimes the workload can become intense, but I love it – this is my second home. I really enjoy the people and the interactions. I even met my wife here!

How has Wistar changed since you first arrived?

I think it’s more structured now, and that’s a good thing. I’ve seen the new Fox Tower go up; I’ve seen the labs grow. We’ve just gotten more sophisticated and we’re able to do more.  

What is it that makes Wistar special?

The people. This is my second family. I’m in a unique position: I may not be a researcher or have that background, but through my work I interface with PIs and research staff all the time. I can relate to anyone – scientists, admin staff – it doesn’t matter. This is where I spend the majority of my time, so it’s important that I enjoy coming to work.  

What do you do outside of work to recharge: cooking, reading, any hobbies?

I’m really into my kids’ sports, and sports in general. I have an 11-year-old son and a 13-year-old daughter. My son loves basketball and flag football, and my daughter likes soccer. She’s fast, so we’re trying to get her into running. I’ve done coaching over the years, but I enjoy the support roles more, like assistant coaching or just helping out at the bench. And every Friday we have a tradition with the kids: homemade pizza. Lastly, I spend a lot of time on yardwork. I have to keep up with my neighbors!

What does diversity, equity and inclusion mean to you?

I think it means everything. It’s something that was missing from science for a long time. More diversity has to be the future: you have to get different perspectives and new ideas. Anytime you can draw from different world experiences and different backgrounds, you’re only making things better.