Trevor Williams

Born: January 16, 1959 | Wolverhampton, GB
Photograph of Trevor Williams

Trevor Williams was born in Wolverhampton, England. A class with Tony Minson at Cambridge piqued his interest in virology. After his second year he won a research fellowship to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, where he worked on herpes virus in James McDougall's lab. The next year his interest in the molecular genetics of cancer as related to viruses led him to spend a summer fellowship in Joe Sambrook's lab at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Subsequently, Trevor moved to the Imperial Cancer Research Fund in London, where he began his PhD studies with Michael Hayman, but later switched to Michael Fried's lab to study cell enhancers. Shifting from virology to molecular biochemistry, he accepted a postdoc in Robert Tjian's lab at University of California, Berkeley. Realizing that science in the United States provided a more comprehensive market for all kinds of research, Williams decided not to return to Britain. He accepted an assistant professorship at Yale, where he is now an associate professor.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0512
No. of pages: 98
Minutes: 400

Interview Sessions

Andrea R. Maestrejuan
12-14 August 1998
Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut

Abstract of Interview

Trevor Williams, the youngest of three children, was born and grew up in Wolverhampton, England. His father worked for the railroads; he was drafted into the Royal Engineers, where he met Trevor's mother, who became a school cook. The elder of Trevor's two older sisters was not interested in school, but the next sister fought their parents to be able to attend college; this helped prepare the way for Trevor. Their neighborhood was working-class. The comprehensive school that Trevor was assigned to after elementary school was tough, and at the time did not graduate many college-bound pupils. However, he did well enough on a school exam to be accepted into the local grammar school instead. He had always liked school, especially science. As a perk of his job, Trevor's father received a number of train tickets each year, tickets that Trevor and his mother would use to visit her family in Kent; this meant transferring in London , and on those trips they would visit the natural history or science museums, further fueling Trevor's interest in science. Trevor's grammar school encouraged him to strive for Oxbridge; he applied to Cambridge because he had been told Oxford was more snooty and because of the importance of science at Cambridge . A class with Tony Minson convinced him that virology would be his specialty. After his second year he won a research fellowship to study at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, where he worked on herpes virus in James McDougall's lab. The next year his interest in the molecular genetics of cancer as related to viruses led him to spend a summer fellowship in Joe Sambrook's lab at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Subsequently, Trevor moved to the Imperial Cancer Research Fund in London, where he began his PhD studies with Michael Hayman, but later switched to Michael Fried's lab to study cell enhancers. Shifting from virology to molecular biochemistry, Trevor accepted a postdoc in Robert Tjian's lab at University of California at Berkeley . There he jumped into research on AP transcription. Realizing that science in the United States provided a more comprehensive market for all kinds of research, Trevor decided not to return to Britain. He accepted an assistant professorship at Yale, where he has since become an associate professor. Still preferring basic science to applied, he continues his research into AP-2. He has been a Howard Hughes Fellow and has won a Pew Scholars in the Biomedical Sciences award; he continues to write and publish his work; he teaches undergraduate classes as well the students in his lab; he writes grant proposals; and he attempts to balance all this with having a personal life.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
Trinity College, University of Cambridge BA
Imperial Cancer Research Fund PhD

Professional Experience

University of California, Berkeley

1986 to 1991
Postdoctoral Fellow

Yale University

1991 to 1997
Assistant Professor
1997
Associate Professor

Honors

Year(s) Award
1981

Cold Spring Harbor Olney Fellow

1986 to 1988

Howard Hughes Medical Institute Postdoctoral Fellowship

1993 to 1997

Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences

1993

Member of the Yale Comprehensive Cancer Center

Table of Contents

Early Years
1

Family background. Educational system in England. Grammar-school experiences. Growing up in Wolverhampton, England; in the sixties. Reasons for wanting to be a scientist. Wolverhampton's local scientific and engineering heritage. Williams's childhood relationship with his father. His father's work with the railroads.

College Years
16

Enters University of Cambridge. Class system at Cambridge. His continuing relationship with his pre-Cambridge friends in Wolverhampton. Cambridge virology department. Wins a research fellowship to study in the US. Works on the herpes virus in the James K. McDougall lab at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Absence of MD/PhD programs in Britain. Williams's coursework at Cambridge. His interest in pathology. His enjoyment of bench work. His experiences at the Hutchinson. College study habits.

Graduate Years
33

Differences between the US and the British health care systems. Summer fellowship at Joseph Sambrook lab at Cold Spring Harbor. Differences between the US and British doctoral programs. Enters the Michael J. Hayman lab at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund (ICRF) Disagreement with Hayman over being assigned a collaborator's project. Enters the Michael Fried lab at the ICRF. Fried's mentoring style. Studying cell enhancers in the Fried lab. Surprising results of Williams's research on sur.; Publishing the surf project results. Williams's attempt to create a scientific niche for himself.

Postgraduate Years
49

Joining the Robert Tjian lab at University of California,Berkeley. Shifting from virology to biochemistry. Williams's work on SV40 late transcription. Begins and abandons work on E1a. Williams's research on AP-2. Tjian's willingness to allow his students to take their research with them upon leaving his lab. Entering the job market.

Later Years
62

Williams's decision to remain in the US; Accepts position at Yale University. Continuing his research on AP-2. Grants Attracting and keeping graduate students. Williams's mentoring style. Differences between US  and British scientific systems. Future research goals. Funding. Tenure. Preference for basic rather than applied science. Teaching at Yale. Balancing science with one's personal life.

Index
94

About the Interviewer

Andrea R. Maestrejuan