Stars of Stanford Medicine

Deepa Waghray

Lab Manager   

Molecular & Cellular Physiology

Deepa Waghray conducts research and manages the people, equipment and day-to-day operations of a lab deciphering the secret language of cells.  

Deepa Waghray is the lab manager in the lab of Christopher Garcia, PhD, a professor of molecular and cellular physiology and of structural biology. The Garcia Lab is focused on solving one of the great mysteries in science — what happens at a cellular level when a parasite enters a host organism. Garcia’s lab is renowned for its research on how cell-surface receptors sense invaders and trigger the host’s immune system, important knowledge in the search for treatments that may prevent or cure diseases.

What most people don’t realize is that keeping a lab of 20-plus students, postdoctoral scholars and technicians operating at peak efficiency doesn’t just happen — behind every great lab, there’s a great lab manager.

“Deepa’s scientific contributions are also highly valued,” said Garcia. “In addition to managing the lab, her work with lab members has resulted in several very important publications.”

Behind every great lab, there’s a great lab manager.

When Waghray enters the lab each morning, she takes charge and does whatever it takes to keep things running smoothly. She checks to make sure that all lab equipment is operational, and that the general lab supplies are adequately stocked. She makes sure the cultures of various cells are growing, healthy and free of contaminates.

In an environment where everyone is pushing to get their own work done, Deepa serves as mediator, enforcer, teacher, technician, friend and confidante. She keeps the team and its experiments running smoothly through a delicate balance of mentoring, encouragement and discipline. 

When Waghray shows new researchers around the lab, she carefully assesses their strengths and weaknesses and assigns each to a specific piece of equipment; they are trained by the outgoing lab members and they oversee its use during their time in the lab. She also coordinates monthly lab clean ups, where everyone is expected to participate.

“My primary role is to ensure that there are no obstructions in the progress of the lab research, whether it is equipment, people, supplies, reagents or anything else,” says Waghray. “What makes this easy is that I have a boss who fully supports my decisions, and I work with a great group of researchers and staff.”

She also has helped with just about every technique in the lab and is trusted to do some of the most sensitive experiments.

“It’s an exciting and an intense lab, but that’s what it takes to do exceptional research,” says Waghray, as she proudly mentions that the lab has had four publications in the first half of 2017.

Despite the discipline, she works hard to infuse a sense of fun into the work environment. She organizes bagel and pizza days, brings treats for birthdays, celebrations and publications.  

Waghray arrived at Stanford 15 years ago with her husband, a software engineer, and three children, after setting up two labs at the University of Pittsburgh. One thing she and her husband like about living in the Bay Area are the scenic hikes. Her favorites hiking trails are Lexington Reservoir, Chalk Mountain and the Marin Headlands.

The thing she values most about working at Stanford is the fast pace and the constant challenges associated with conducting cutting-edge research. She also loves the constant infusion of new lab members and students. “I feed off their energy. It keeps me young,” says Waghray.

Story and photo by Kris Newby.