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Solving issues and saving tissues — all part of the job for this SFU equipment technician

April 01, 2021

Deidre de Jong-Wong calls herself a “lab rat,” but her colleagues prefer “superhero” for her work maintaining more than 40 labs and research facilities in the departments of Molecular Biology & Biochemistry and Biomedical Physiology & Kinesiology.

De Jong-Wong, an SFU staff member since 2002, was awarded a 2020 Staff Achievement Award in the Work Performance category.

Her work is critical to science education and research and includes everything from emergency management (what do you do when a power failure threatens the viability of valuable tissues and irreplaceable bacterial strains?) to equipment procurement and maintenance to decommissioning and renovating lab spaces and, this past year, ensuring COVID protocols are implemented and met.

According to her nominators, de Jong-Wong seamlessly handles all of these duties with timeliness and professionalism. But as professor Mark Paetzel points out, it’s also her personality that makes her a beloved member of the team. "Deidre takes the time to listen to so many people’s troubles and worries, she is not only a scientist and technician / engineer, she is also a caring, wise and empathetic person.” He adds, “Despite her amazing talents, she is one of most modest and humble human beings I have ever met."

De Jong-Wong says, “the favourite aspect of my job is the wide, and often completely unexpected, range of issues and problems I have to deal with.” That attitude certainly came in handy when someone stored animal carcasses in the South Sciences Building autoclave room where they should have been frozen, but instead decayed. MBB professor Tim Audas recalls, "The smell was so bad, no one would go near the room except Deidre." It turns out that she grew up on a farm and is unafraid of any mess.

De Jong-Wong’s nominators also cite her resourcefulness, her deep knowledge of departmental equipment and facilities and her wide network of contacts as critical to her success. “She is equally adept at using a wrench as she is using a pipette," writes Paetzel. "She can fix anything! It is unbelievable to see."

Throughout the pandemic de Jong-Wong has remained on campus, ensuring empty labs are undisturbed, vital equipment continues to work and COVID protocols are followed. With most MBB department researchers now back at their benches, she says her job has returned to “normal with a dash of COVID issues.” That is, if normal includes saving the temperature-sensitive contents of a failing −80°C freezer in the middle of the night, reacting to a catastrophic flood and equipment damage caused by a burst steam pipe, calming a student in distress or meeting a hazmat team for disposal of a dangerously explosive chemical.

Not surprisingly, de Jong-Wong says, “Every day my job presents a new challenge and opportunity to learn.” She adds, “But I enjoy the work, the people and the university setting. Winning this award is wonderful and I am very appreciative but also very aware that my ability to do my work successfully is predicated on the support of many others at SFU who are just as dedicated to their work.”

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