Tom W. Muir

Born: June 21, 1967 | Stranraer, GB

Thomas W. Muir grew up in Stranraer, Scotland. His grandfather fueled Muir's interest in mathematics, but large school classes offered little opportunity for teachers to foster his interests. He studied chemistry at University of Edinburgh, staying to pursue his PhD with Robert Ramage. He then undertook a postdoc with Stephen B. H. Kent at the Scripps Research Institute. Influenced by Mark J. Ginsberg's work on cellular interactions, Muir switched his research from FTV protease to chemical ligation and the integrin system, eventually becoming a senior research associate. He then accepted a position at Rockefeller University. His research focuses on chemical biology and the use of chimeras of synthetic peptides and recombinant proteins for in vitro biochemical pathway studies. Muir discusses teaching, administrative duties, publishing, patents, funding, and collaborations. 

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0597
No. of pages: 81
Minutes: 300

Interview Sessions

William Van Benschoten
15-16 August 2002
Rockefeller University, New York, New York

Abstract of Interview

Thomas W. Muir grew up in Stranraer, Scotland—a major port city about two-hundred miles south of Glasgow—the oldest of three brothers. His father was a telephone engineer technician and his mother a housewife, both of whom had an interest and aptitude for music; and though they both had the intelligence for a college education, neither had enough money to attend when younger. Muir was raised in a working-class home, attending public school like all of his friends, with an intense interest in soccer and golf. His paternal grandfather fueled Muir's innate interest in mathematics; and although teachers were aware of his affinity for mathematics, and, later, chemistry, large, public-school classes offered little opportunity for his teachers to foster his interests. Muir excelled at his college entrance exams and received an unconditional acceptance to all the schools to which he applied (he chose to remain in high school one additional year instead of starting college early). He decided to study chemistry at the University of Edinburgh, developing friendships with classmates Steven Thom and James H. Naismith. Muir stayed at the University of Edinburgh to pursue PhD research with Robert Ramage on the physical properties of synthesized peptides and then undertook a postdoctoral position with Stephen B. H. Kent at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California. After being influenced by Mark J. Ginsberg's work on cellular interactions, Muir switched his research focus from FTV protease to chemical ligation and the integrin system, collaborating with Michael J. Williams, and eventually becoming a senior research associate. He then accepted a faculty position at Rockefeller University where his research focused on chemical biology and the use of chimeras of synthetic peptides and recombinant proteins for in vitro biochemical pathway studies. Throughout his oral history interview, Muir discusses his teaching and administrative duties, the ways in which he manages his science, publishing, patents, funding, and collaborations. He also reflects on his creative process for pursing scientific questions and the role that the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences played in his early career development. 

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1989 University of Edinburgh BSc Chemistry
1993 University of Edinburgh PhD Organic Chemistry

Professional Experience

The Scripps Research Center

1993
Postdoctorate, Bio-Organic Chemistry
1995
Senior Research Associate, Bio-Organic Chemistry

The Rockefeller University

1996
Assistant Professor, Head of Laboratory, Bio-Organic Chemistry
2000
Associate Professor, Head of Laboratory, Bio-Organic Chemistry
2002
Professor, Head of Laboratory, Bio-Organic Chemistry

Honors

Year(s) Award
1997 to 2001

Faculty of Science undergraduate scholarship (University of Edinburgh)

1997 to 2001

Mackay-Smith undergraduate prize (University of Edinburgh)

1997 to 2001

Stephenson undergraduate prize (University of Edinburgh)

1997 to 2001

Faculty of Science postgraduate scholarship (University of Edinburgh)

1997 to 2001

Williamson postgraduate prize (University of Edinburgh)

1997 to 2001

Gordon postgraduate fellowship (University of Edinburgh)

1997 to 2001

Amgen postdoctoral fellowship (Scripps Research Institute)

1997 to 2001

Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences Grant

1997 to 2001

Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow (Rockefeller University)

1997 to 2001

Burroughs-Wellcome Fund New Investigator Award (RockefellerUniversity)

1997 to 2001

Irma T. Hirsch1/Monique Weill-Caulier Trust Research Fellow
(Rockefeller University)

2002

Leonidas Zervas Award from The European Peptide Society (Rockefeller University)

Table of Contents

Childhood and Early Years
1

Family background. Childhood experiences. Early schooling. Affinity for Mathematics. Interest in golf. Influential high school chemistry teacher. Parental expectations. Religion. Extracurricular activities. College entrance examination process in the United Kingdom.

College, Graduate School, and Postdoctoral Work
14

Attends the University of Edinburgh. Majors in chemistry. Develops friendships with classmates Steven Thom and James H. Naismith. Social life in Edinburgh. Enters PhD program at Edinburgh. Works on the physical properties of synthesized peptides in Robert Ramage's laboratory. Becomes a postdoctoral student at Scripps Research Institute in Stephen B. H. Kent's laboratory. Movefrom Scotland to the United States. Influence of Mark J. Ginsberg's work with cellular interactions. Switches research focus from FIV protease to the integrin system and collaborates with Michael J. Williams.

Finishing Postdoctoral Research and Becoming Faculty
29

More on research on chemical ligation and the integrin system. Becomes senior research associate at Scripps Research Institute. Accepts a position at Rockefeller University. Meets and marries wife. Social life in San Diego. Setting up laboratory. Current research in chemical biology using chimeras of synthetic peptides and recombinant proteins for in vitro biochemical pathway studies. Practical applications of research. Future research plans for studying chemical biology in vivo. Duties as a principal investigator. Teaching. Travel commitments. Administrative responsibilities. Approach to grant writing. Writing journal articles. Laboratory management and mentoring style. Leisure Activities. Material science and nanotechnology. Patents.

Reflections on the Scientific Life and Science in Contemporary America
54

Balancing work and family. Advantages and disadvantages of competition and collaboration. Criterion for pursuing projects. Educating the public about science. Ethics. Rockefeller University. Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences.

Index
83

About the Interviewer

William Van Benschoten