Ashlyn Spring, Ph.D.



    University of Iowa - Molecular Neurobiology & Genetics


    Greg Matera, Ph.D.


I have been interested in and passionate about teaching and science for as long as I can remember. I suppose this is not surprising given that many of my relatives are teachers and that my grandpa is a retired science teacher. Some of my earliest memories with him are of learning the names of seashells and looking at his collection of rocks and minerals. These experiences planted a seed that grew throughout elementary and high school and led me to pursue education and scientific opportunities in my adult life.

In 2006, I began a B.S in Biochemistry and Genetics at Texas A&M University. My time as a student at A&M was incredibly influential to my future career choices, as I had the opportunity to engage with several different research labs. My first experience was in an undergraduate lab maintenance position in a lab performing structural analysis of various HIV coat proteins. Later, I had the to opportunity to engage in my own research projects, first in a lab working on the molecular underpinning of drug resistance in diffuse large-B-cell lymphoma and second in a research-based course focused on identifying and annotating the genomes of novel bacteriophage. Collectively, these experiences taught me many things, first and foremost, that I want a career that involves scientific research. In addition to engaging in research, I also had the opportunity to be involved in college level teaching while at A&M. During my junior and senior year, I was a TA for one or two sections of introductory chemistry lab each semester. Helping students understand difficult concepts and succeed in one of the “weed out classes” of their first year of college was extremely fulfilling and has driven me to pursue teaching opportunities ever since. Together, my undergraduate experiences solidified my desire to pursue a career in scientific research and in college level education.

After Texas A&M, I entered into the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Genetics at the University of Iowa in pursuit of a PhD. I joined the lab of Dr. C. Andrew Frank and began my thesis work examining the genetic components that underlie homeostatic regulation of neurotransmission using the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster as a model organism. I have identified new roles for seven factors as regulators of synaptic homeostasis, and linked the majority of these factors into a single signaling pathway. In addition to research, I gained more experience as a TA, this time in upper level undergraduate and graduate level courses. I also had the opportunity to serve as a mentor for four undergraduate students in the research lab, one of whom earned authorship of a publication from the lab. Participating in workshops offered by the Center for Teaching at the University of Iowa allowed me to explore a variety of pedagogical approaches and best practices for college classrooms. As I approached my 2016 graduation date, it became clear to me that I wanted to pursue my postdoctoral work with the aim of becoming a tenured faculty member at a primarily undergraduate institution.

Now as a SPIRE scholar, I am continuing to work with Drosophila melanogaster as a postdoc in the lab of Dr. Greg Matera. I will be using fruit fly models of an early-onset neurodegenerative disease, Spinal Muscular Atrophy, and hope to engage undergraduate students in my research projects. In the classroom, I am interested in developing curriculum and practices aimed at supporting students from disadvantaged backgrounds early in their college careers and would also like to explore methods for incorporating authentic research experiences into standard lab courses.