Benjamin Haley, PhD
At the most basic level, my project was to define and characterize the many ATP-dependent steps of RNAi. I had never worked in a research lab, and I was Phil's first grad student; there was a steep learning curve for both of us. Fortunately, the field was ripe for discovery and the lab was quickly populated by an energetic and hyper-collaborative group of students, postdocs, and techs, so we were able to develop and publish a number of stories that proved central to the field. It was a genuine "right place, right time" circumstance, and it's hard to imagine a better environment for pursuing a PhD.
Being exposed to the full breadth of RNAi biology across species sparked my interest in comparative development (aka Evo-Devo), which brought me to Mike Levine's lab at UC Berkeley for my postdoc. I was fortunate to receive funding from the American Cancer Society, since this gave me the flexibility to try some things that were outside the scope of Mike's normal research activities. As such, I had the chance to dive into some interesting RNA biology (long, nervous system-specific 3’UTRs in flies and small RNAs in sea squirts), and I also applied what I learned in Phil’s lab to develop more effective RNAi-based tech for use in model organisms. Applied tech development really captured my interest, and this inspired my move to industry in 2010.
At Genentech, I’ve become the point person for molecular genetics and genome engineering of cell-based systems. This allows my group to work across virtually every department of a 10,000-person biotech company, ranging from basic research, clinical development, and bioproduction. I’ve also had the chance to work on highly exploratory therapeutic programs, where we use custom engineered nucleic acids or cells to induce tumor-killing immune responses.