Michael McKeown grew up in a small town near San Francisco, California. McKeown attended Stanford University, where he began in math but switched to biology. He liked the small classes and the opportunity for close interaction with the faculty. He worked in a lab during summers, studying bacteria and publishing one paper on thymidine.McKeown decided to use his Helen Hay Whitney Foundation Fellowship at University of California, San Diego. He began working in Dictyostelium in Richard Firtel’s lab, but switched to Drosophila. For his postdoc, McKeown stayed at UCSD and worked in Bruce Baker’s lab. McKeown accepted an offer at The Salk Institute for Biological Studies, continuing his work on Drosophila.