Tell us about yourself?
I am the Johnson & Johnson Centennial Professor in the College of Pharmacy at the University of Texas at Austin. I also hold a courtesy appointment in the Department of Oncology at the University of Texas Dell Medical School. I have a B.Sc. degree from the University of Leeds, where I studied chemistry and a Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge, where I worked in the field of physical organic chemistry. At UT Austin, I teach students participating in the professional Pharm.D. program and direct an active research program that focuses on developing tools to eradicate cancers. I am also the director of The Targeted Therapeutic Drug Discovery & Development Program (TTP). TTP is a facility at UT Austin, whose goal is to assist cancer scientists and clinicians in the early phases of cancer drug discovery.
What makes you different than other professionals in your field?
One of the exciting aspects of science is working with folk from all backgrounds and locations around the world. In many ways, everyone in any area of science is unique. Moreover, many of the significant scientific challenges of our day, such as diagnosing and curing human diseases, require scientists with different training and expertise to work together towards the same overall goals.
It can be challenging to work in collaborative teams, but I believe I have become better at it with experience. I might consider a strength is my knowledge and ability to lead multidisciplinary scientific programs in the area of drug discovery.
What are your professional goals or aspirations in the next 3-5 years?
To continue to train the next generation of scientists to go out there and do great things. Additionally, to make contributions that will bring us closer to finding cures for some of the more challenging cancers that society faces. Despite increasing knowledge of cancer biology, the rate at which anti-cancer drugs are reaching the clinic is declining. Many of the older anti-cancer drugs currently in clinical use function through non-specific mechanisms and are incredibly toxic.
With the growing appreciation of the underlying pathways driving different cancers, researchers are now targeting specific pathways. Ultimately, through primary research endeavors, scientists hope to arm clinicians with specialized tool kits of agents from which to create tailored combinations explicitly formulated for particular types of cancers. Ideally, this approach would mean attacking the disease via multiple targets within a tumor.
What was the essential part of your professional journey?
When I was an undergraduate student at the University of Leeds, I asked a career officer for advice as I didn’t know where to apply for graduate school. Hearing somebody make an objective assessment of me and encourage me to apply to the best places possible made a significant impression on me.
It helped me realize how often we hold ourselves back from trying challenging things through fear of failure. It is a lesson I will never forget, and now I endeavor to encourage students never to be the ones to hold them back from trying something new.
What are the best and worst purchases you’ve ever made?
Probably the best investment I made was the airline ticket that brought me to the USA to work. It brought me to Austin, Texas, which has to be one of the very best places to live in the world. Perhaps the worst purchase was the car I bought when I first got here, which felt like it was going to disintegrate once it reached a speed above 60 mph.
What takes up too much of your time?
If I had a choice over reducing the time I spend on something, it would probably be driving to and from work. However, as it is an essential task, I try to make it as productive as possible. I have learned to listen to audiobooks or NPR. I tend to avoid the worst of the traffic, and so the driving itself is generally not too taxing.
What three pieces of advice would you give to college students/new startup business owners who want to become entrepreneurs or leaders in their field?
I would suggest it worth immediately thinking about how to deal with failure because most successful people are so because they are resilient and have learned how to overcome adversity. I would tell them to believe in themselves because if you don’t believe in yourself, nobody else will. Finally, I would say to them to work hard because nothing of value presents itself on a plate.
Who has impressed you most with what they’ve accomplished?
Right now, that would be a tie between George Elliot for Middlemarch and Fyodor Dostoyevsky for The Brothers Karamazov. These are two novels whose vision reminds me of the hard work that must go into creating anything of value.
What drives you to keep going when it’s tough?
Maybe its Viking blood? I honestly don’t remember giving up.
How should people connect with you?