CSB Alumni Profile: Eric Warren, PhD
Eric Warren, PhD., completed his doctoral work at Vanderbilt in the lab of Brandt Eichman. He might just be Tennessee’s version of Batman.
What is your current job and what are your responsibilities? I am currently a Senior Researcher at St Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and I am also co-owner of SEP Forensic Consultants. By day, I use various structural biology techniques to help us better understand catastrophic childhood diseases. By night, I fight crime in Tennessee and the surrounding states.
What was your path to your current job? I knew I wanted to make a positive contribution to the world, and it seemed like it was going to be through cancer research. Then I was given an opportunity to switch fields and get into forensic science. While the crime laboratory job was more exciting than in the academic laboratory at times, there really are no challenging problems in a crime laboratory. Everyone follows an established protocol and no one really wants to strive to make the science any better. So I thought I could combine both my passion for critical thinking and research design with forensic science. I therefore started my own company to perform forensic research, but I also needed a stable income. St. Jude is a wonderful place to work and they were an obvious choice.
Do you use structural biology in your present job? How has knowledge of structural biology helped you in your career? In the structural biology department at St. Jude, I am able to apply my knowledge of cloning, protein production and characterization as well as NMR and X-ray crystallography in our current projects. It was great returning to “my first love,” so-to-speak. Things fell right back into place, even after being away from it for ~9 years.
What is something you learned at Vanderbilt that has helped you in your career? On the forensic side of things, I don’t get to apply any structural biology techniques; however, my time at Vanderbilt has given me a much more scientific approach to forensic disciplines than is present in many crime laboratories. I feel I am better equipped to recognize, identify and question methods that are being used and attempt to find better, more efficient ways of doing things. I also have found myself being able to look at results from a more neutral or objective standpoint to try to determine what the results really mean without putting a slant on it for one side or the other.
What advice would you give to young trainees? I would tell new and current students to take a chance and explore something new if they feel drawn to something. Absorb everything you can from the many talented and skilled individuals at Vanderbilt while you are there because they will serve you well. The skills you learn in graduate school can be applied in numerous fields. The longer you wait after graduate school, the tougher it becomes to change courses.