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Oral history interview with Trevor Williams

  • 1998-Aug-12 – 1998-Aug-14
Photograph of Trevor Williams

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.

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