Life After Biophysics: Jeremy Wilbur, PhD

The following interview is part of our Life After Biophysics series, which helps applicants to our PhD degree program in biophysics understand the kinds of career paths that exist following graduation.

What was your path to starting at UCSF?

I had planned on being a biologist since at least middle school. I guess I didn’t really know what that meant at the time, but I did know I loved understanding life in all ways. Throughout my undergraduate studies I gravitated toward cell biology and biochemistry. During a particularly intense course of study in immunology I happened upon the relatively newly determined structure of the T cell receptor/MHC complex. Seeing that crystal structure allowed me to imagine in such detail exactly what I was studying in my course. It was at that point I realized I wanted to delve much deeper into biophysics and structural biology. After a short detour doing research in molecular neuroscience, I started looking for graduate schools strong in biophysics and structural biology. That naturally led me to applying to UCSF.

What made you excited to go to UCSF for graduate school?

While many of the graduate schools I looked into had great research and a strong cohort of professors and students, when I visited UCSF it felt like I had arrived home. People were warm and inviting even as they challenged you on your science. They did serious work but didn’t take themselves too seriously. There are many institutions where great science happens, but to pair that with the culture and personality of UCSF is rare.

Where are you working now?

Currently I’m working at Relay Therapeutics, a precision medicine company developing small molecule therapeutics for oncology and genetic diseases. I’m a director in the Early Research Group and head of structural biology.

How are you using what you learned in biophysics?

Relay was founded on the principle that understanding protein motion (conformational dynamics) will enable the discovery of transformational medicines. Understanding protein conformational dynamics is exactly what I studied in my graduate work, and there are many skills that are directly transferable. At the conceptual level, everything from thermodynamics to developmental biology come into my daily discussions. I spend lots of time deep in discussions about X-ray crystallography data, cryoEM results, binding studies, biological assay, and everything you can think of associated with biophysics.

What is a memorable story about your time at UCSF?

There are so many stories that shaped the person I am today, many of which are better left untold! I think some of the most memorable are fairly mundane. For example, myself and another biophysics student at the time used to spend much of our free time skiing, climbing, and generally partaking in the abundance of the natural landscapes found in Northern California. While those times led to many great memories, it was the actual journey to those places that I’d like to highlight. We’d leave the Bay Area anticipating whatever adventure we had planned, but an hour into the drive the conversation would inevitably turn to science. There, trapped in the car, we could go on for hours, hashing out details of each other’s research, questioning the logic, and coming up with new ideas. There are many experiments and new findings that came from those conversations. I think this says something about the set of people that the program has attracted. People with an earnest passion for the science, a natural curiosity, and the relentlessness to go on for hours at a time!

Go to the series: Life After Biophysics