Dr. David Speicher didn’t leave the world of academia after graduating from Redeemer in 2003. Speicher, a chemistry and biology graduate, has ten research projects in four countries on the go. While his work has taken him around the world, including Canada, Australia, Cambodia, Kenya and India, he’s stayed in touch with his undergrad professors.
“At Redeemer, with such a small community, friendships are tighter,” he says. “The relationships between students and professors are stronger.” Speicher remembers a third year immunology course he took at McMaster University while at Redeemer. “It was a 400-person class. There was next to no interaction with the professor after the lecture.”
Speicher sat down to chat after visiting the home of Dr. Henry Brouwer, emeritus professor of chemistry and environmental science. This is not to mention that his initial introduction to me was through an email from Dr. Gary Chiang, professor of biology. Speicher also helps Dr. Joel Klinck in his genetics course, helping to teach labs with molecular biology techniques.
“I was able to see God’s hand at work through all kinds of different disciplines.”
Professors invested heavily in him while he was a student, engaging in one-on-one mentorships. Now, even a decade after graduation, he still returns to the community when he has the chance.
“Most professors began class with a bible passage and a prayer,” recalls Speicher. “That focus has helped me in a very full and busy academic career—God first, and the work second.”
Speicher was initially skeptical about the liberal arts and sciences aspect of his undergraduate studies. “I took geography, history and art courses,” he says, with a grin that shows he may not have relished every minute of Redeemer’s now-revitalized Core curriculum. “Though it wasn’t until after graduation that I realized how important those core courses really were.”
“I was equipped to see the world from a broad angle,” he continues. “I was able to see God’s hand at work through all kinds of different disciplines.”
“Science explains how things happen; religion explains why things happen.”
“When I was in India, the culture and worldview was Hindu and I could adapt and respond to it as a Christian,” he says, recalling a course taken with Dr. Goheen highlighting the concept of worldview. “Understanding culture and worldview enables you to relate and reach out to others.” This has been a potent reminder. David’s wife, Rebeca, is from Cambodia; all but her immediate family are Buddhist. While this has presented its own set of trials, the trials have been maneuverable with God’s grace.
Speicher completed his postgraduate degrees at Australia’s Griffith University: an honours MSc in clinical microbiology, and a PhD in virology, focusing on the molecular diagnostics and epidemiology of Human Herpesvirus 8 (HHV-8) in Australia and Kenya. The focus of his research has since expanded to include viruses causing head and neck cancer, as well as the use of saliva as a diagnostic fluid (a means of testing for diseases).
In a field often dominated by atheism, agnosticism and the race for funding, Speicher has faced his share of challenges. “Several of my colleagues in Australia are atheists and we have talked at length about our views,” reflects Speicher.
But, Speicher’s position since day one has been that science and faith are not in conflict. “Science explains how things happen; religion explains why things happen. As long as my science is good, others shouldn’t put me down for my faith, but be amazed by God’s handiwork.”
Now, Speicher and his family have moved back to Canada on a new leg of their journey. Originally hailing from Huntsville, Ontario, Speicher now calls Hamilton home. In June of 2016, he was awarded a postdoctoral fellowship at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton.
“Understanding culture and worldview enables you to relate and reach out to others.”
While his research has shifted in focus, the common theme of oral diagnostics of viruses and malaria remains. This time around, he is investigating viruses that infect bacteria—bacteriophages—in a subset of patients with Clostridium difficile, a common infection of the colon. An emphasis of the research is on patients who undergo faecal microbiota transplantation—a transplant of healthy flora—to the colon to combat the infection. The success rate for this transplantation is currently around 80%. Speicher is working to close the 20% failure rate.
Regardless of where his research takes him, Speicher will always return to his roots at Redeemer. And the university will be the better for it.