James U. Bowie

Born: June 26, 1959 | Rochester, MN, US

James U. Bowie was born in Rochester, Minnesota. He discovered biology and proteins while working at the Mayo Clinic, where his father worked. . Bowie received his BA from Carleton College, then spent a year as a lab technician, which convinced him against attending medical school. He attended Michigan Institute of Technology for his PhD instead. Next, he accepted a postdoc in chemistry and biochemistry at University of California, Los Angeles, where he focused on analyzing the sequence and structure of proteins through computational biology and on the use of computer programming to predict protein structure. He also developed an interest in characterizing the structure, function, and regulation of human cell membrane proteins. Bowie is now a faculty member at UCLA. 

Access This Interview

The information listed below is current as of the date the transcript was finalized.

			

Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0447
No. of pages: 57
Minutes: 250

Interview Sessions

Helene L. Cohen
5, 14 and 19 May 1999
University of California, Los Angeles Los Angeles, California

Abstract of Interview

James U. Bowie was born in Rochester, Minnesota, in 1959; the youngest of four siblings. Bowie's father, E. J. Walter Bowie, was a doctor originally from England who met Bowie's Swiss mother, Gertrud Ülrich, while she was on summer vacation in England. The family eventually moved to Canada, where they lived for a while until Bowie's father began working at the Mayo Clinic, and then they moved to Minnesota. Bowie went through school with relative ease and regularly got into trouble until he traveled to Switzerland with his mother and decided to change his approach to life. He first discovered biology and proteins while working for one of his father's colleagues in a laboratory at the Mayo Clinic. From that point on he knew that he wanted to pursue Biology. Bowie received his BA from Carleton College in 1981 and credits one professor in particular with making molecular biology interesting. He was an avid skier in college and met his wife during his sophomore year. Bowie was accepted into medical school for the following year, but instead elected to defer for one year. During this period he worked as a lab technician; an experience that pushed him to decide against medical school. After a subsequent year of applications to graduate school programs, he matriculated into the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he earned his PhD in 1989. In 1989 Bowie accepted a postdoctoral fellowship in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of California at Los Angeles, where he began learning crystallography in David S. Eisenberg's Lab. He and Eisenberg focused on analyzing the sequence and structure of proteins through computational biology and on the use of novel computer programming to predict protein structure. During this period Bowie also developed a specific interest in characterizing the structure, function, and regulation of cell membrane proteins, a field with widespread medical and pharmaceutical applications. Bowie was appointed assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of California at Los Angeles in 1993. His major area of research there still centers on identifying the structure and function of key cell membrane proteins. Throughout his oral history Bowie explains how fortunate he has been to have had such an easy childhood and so many opportunities to succeed. He has received several grants, including a fellowship, a National Science Foundation Young Investigator award, a McCoy Award in Chemistry, and most notably a Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences grant, which he discusses in the oral history interview. 

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1981 Carleton College BA
1989 Massachusetts Institute of Technology PhD

Professional Experience

University of California, Los Angeles

1989 to 1993
Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
1993 to 2000
Assistant Professor, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry

Honors

Year(s) Award
1994 to 1998

Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences

1994

National Science Foundation Young Investigator

1998

McCoy Award in Chemistry

Table of Contents

Growing Up
1

Ancestors. Siblings. Father's influence, travels to Switzerland. High School. theater. Early lab experience. Parental expectations. Applying to college.

Undergraduate Education
8

Carleton College. Influential professor. Skiing. Meets wife. Working as lab technician. Deciding against medical school. Applying to graduate schools. Choosing the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Graduate School Education
12

Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Paul Schimmel's lab. Switch to Bob Sauer's lab. Research on DNA-binding proteins. Predicting protein structure. Computer programming. Crystallography. Choosing a postdoctoral lab.

Postdoctoral Research
19

University of California, Los Angeles. David S. Eisenberg's lab. Computational biology. Initial challenges. Chemotaxis receptor protein research. Protein folding. Decoding genomes. Cell membrane proteins. Different lab environment. Employment. Help from David S. Eisenberg.

Principal Investigator Research
25

Lab management style. Receives the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences grant. Luck. Tenure. Competition in science. Signal transduction. Grant writing. Teaching

Personal Life
32

Wife's career. Challenges of having children. Impact of scientific career. Future goals. Alternative career paths.

Biomedical Science
36

Politics. Discrimination in science. Funding. Typical day. Publications. Administrative duties. Teaching. Current lab setup. Creativity in science. Choosing academia over industry. Side projects. Technology. Less time in the lab. Politics. Tenure. Religion and science. Discrimination revisited.

Index
54

About the Interviewer

Helene L. Cohen