For some people, a job is just a job, a place to sit and pass the day while they wait to go home. This is not the case for Dr. Jamie McKnight, Associate Professor of Physiology and Biophysics, who has been at Boston University since 1995. In fact, you could say BU has long been a part of Dr. McKnight’s family. His association with Boston University goes back twenty years, to when his wife first joined BU at the Charles River campus and is still there, currently as Chair of Humanities. Dr. McKnight’s daughter spent the first three years of her life in a BU dormitory as a toddler and now currently attends BU. It is obvious how Dr. McKnight feels at home and comfortable at BUSM.
Dr. McKnight warmly welcomed me into his office for an interview without much notice, even offering refreshments and happily answering the following questions:
Q: Can you tell us a little about your personal and educational background?
A: Well I’ve been at BU for 15 years, although my wife has been on the Charles River campus for twenty. Before that I worked on my Postdoctoral Fellow at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I received my PHD at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas in Biochemistry. I earned my Bachelors in chemistry at Washington College, Chestertown, Maryland.
Q: What lead you to pursue a career in academic biomedical research?
A: I’ve always been interested in science. I began studying organic chemistry, but became interested in physiology and cell biology courses. I did consider an industry career, but academic research just provided more benefits. One, I’ve always liked students. Two, I figured it would be easier to switch from an academic to research track than the other way around. Probably most significant was the prospect of studying whatever I want. Academic research allows me to choose what I want to study.
Q: What are your current research interests?
A: Currently, I am focusing on the structure and function of proteins. The main focus is the structure, assembly and secretion of very low density lipoprotein, the precursor of low density lipoprotein (“bad cholesterol”) and its interactions with microsomal triglyceride transfer protein (MTP) a required cofactor for lipoprotein secretion.
Q: You have been actively involved in graduate education here in GMS. Please, tell us about these activities:
A: I have been an Associate Professor of Physiology and Biophysics for the last five year, was the Assistant Professor of Physiology and Biophysics before that. I direct the Boston University School of Medicine Core Facility for Structural NMR, I am part of the integrated curriculum committee for PHD students and part of the Responsible Conduct of Research committee. I’ve been on the Physiology & Biophysics Student Affairs and Admission Committee for over a decade and was its chair for five years.
Q: What were your reasons for establishing your career at a strong research oriented medical school?
A: Well, there is access to a lot more resources at a research oriented medical school. Really though, I love doing stuff that is new, I love designing new experiments. I love pushing the limits of scientific knowledge. One of the great advantages of this particular medical school is the research environment is outstanding here, due in no small part to my colleagues. There is a significant amount of collaboration here. You can just go to another colleague for advice outside of your specialty, you don’t need to make appointments months in advances.
Q: Do you have any words of wisdom for graduate students here at BUSM?
A: If you don’t know then just ask
- Learn as much as you can.
- Immerse yourself in what you are doing.
- Attend some seminars in which you know nothing about topic but are vaguely interested in.
Q: What tips do you have for students on how to build a successful career in academic research and graduate education?
A: Pay attention to people’s names and network. Network! Network! Network! Go to meetings and meet people there. Just introduce yourself. Try not to say “No” if you can. Don’t be afraid to let your path drift. It is great to have an idea of what you want and are interested in, but stay open to exploring new subjects. Find a postdoctoral advisor that is well connected.
Q: Any other words of guidance or inspiration?
A: Always be a good citizen. And be extremely honest.
Hopefully these words will not go unheard by the students of GMS. Dr. McKnight certainly has an abundance of insightful and worthwhile wisdom still to impart to the developing minds of BUSM. Motivated, dedicated, respectful, warm and friendly, Dr. McKnight is an example of why BUSM is an excellent place to study for developing scientists.
By GMS student,
Margaret Bailey Wentworth.