Life After Biophysics: Stephen Floor, 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.

Floor in lab.

Stephen Floor, PhD, at work in lab.

What was your path to starting at UCSF?

I grew up and went to college in Lawrence, Kansas. I originally wanted to study computer science in college. I had taken physics as a required course, which I dreaded since I couldn’t stand physics in high school. But my physics professor was different—he really made it come to life. One day he mentioned that there were opportunities to get involved in research, so I asked about it after class. This was my first experience with research, and it was awesome. Using computers to do science seemed like a great way to combine things I enjoyed. So, I kept doing research and decided that I wanted to continue after graduation by going to graduate school.

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

I graduated with degrees in physics and computer science, but I became fascinated by molecular machines during college thanks to a friend of mine who was doing research in computational biology. After I graduated, I wanted to pivot to biology, so I sought out graduate programs in biophysics. I interviewed and accepted at a number of schools, including UCSF. UCSF doesn’t have a physics department or a computer science department. This means that the physicists and computer scientists at UCSF are embedded with the biologists, which felt more like what I was looking for. This decision paid off—I left UCSF knowing lots of biology and able to communicate biophysics to biologists.

Where are you working now?

I’m back at UCSF! I completed a five-year postdoc at UC Berkeley and applied to both biotech jobs and faculty positions. I had different opportunities but was excited to return to UCSF since the collaborative environment was so exciting. I’ve been running my research lab since 2017.

How are you using what you learned in biophysics?

My research has changed since I started at UCSF, but I still use quantitative foundations of biophysics in lots of my work. My lab studies molecular and cellular biology through a quantitative biology and biochemistry lens. We try to map molecular mechanisms, making connections between kinetics and macromolecular structure and properties to phenotypes. For example, the folding free energy of RNA structures that regulate protein synthesis, or how the biophysical properties of biomolecular condensates influence cellular survival.

What is a memorable story about your time at UCSF?

Floor dressed as zombie.

Stephen Floor, PhD, participating in a zombie flash mob.

Maybe more of a San Francisco story, but for a while there were these zombie flash mobs that would happen from time to time. One happened around an election, and I decided to go with some of my lab mates. So, we got some old clothes and tore them up, sprayed them with fake blood, and met the flash mob to put on face paint and rode BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) to downtown yelling “brainsssss” the entire time. We ended up outside the building where the mayoral debates were happening and there were about 50 zombies clawing at the glass and yelling “brainsssss” with Gavin Newsom and the other mayoral candidates on the other side. I picked this story because I had so much fun beyond just doing science during my PhD with the other folks at UCSF.

Go to the series: Life After Biophysics