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Career Profile

Corey Nislow (he/him)

Professor and Genomics Research Chair
University of British Columbia
Corey Nislow headshot
Corey Nislow headshot
Location Now
Education Pathway
School Subject

I study how drugs work and how an individual’s genetic makeup can affect their response to drug treatment.

About me

I was born/grew up in: New York City. People from NYC never add the state and country because we think it is the centre of the universe.

I now live in: Vancouver, British Columbia

I completed my training/education at:  BA at New College in Sarasota, FL; PhD in Molecular Biology at CU Boulder, CO, Professor at Rutgers, Stanford, University of Toronto and currently at UBC and the University of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

What I do at work

I work in a field known as Translational Genomics. Our work aims to improve human health by applying discoveries in genetics to treatments. I study how drugs work and how a person’s genetic makeup can affect their response to drug treatment. We then apply what we learn in the lab using model organisms and patients in the clinic.

I read research papers, help write papers and go to meetings. I also plan and troubleshoot experiments with my trainees. This last activity is the most rewarding. I love the excitement of trying something that never done before. It’s really great when, occasionally, what we plan results in a new observation.

We use quite a bit of robotics in our lab. We have refined our lab automation to increase the number of experiments we can do. Automation also makes experiments more reproducible. This is important do we can confirm observations.

In this work, we tend to ask very broad, open-ended questions in our lab. Our experiments use a genome-wide approach to understand how cells and organisms respond to drugs in different environments. This can include such things as the effects of microgravity and cosmic radiation.

Our work is highly collaborative. We collaborate within the lab, and across faculties at UBC. We also collaborate with scientists worldwide. Currently, we have on-going projects with labs in the US, Japan and Germany.

My career path is

I followed a traditional path leading up to my first job as an assistant professor at Rutgers University in NJ. This was right at the time that the human genome was being sequenced. At this time, I stepped into the biotech industry for several years. In 2003, I rejoined academia at Stanford. However, I kept one foot in the biotech/pharmaceutical space. This "dual" life has been great in the sense that industry compliments academia and vice versa. During this time I learned enough to start two small companies to share our work.

I am motivated by

By far the most exciting aspect of our work is the thrill of opening the incubator to see if the experiment you just performed has worked. Most of the time they do not! Trouble-shooting and figuring out what to do next is almost as rewarding. Sharing the observations in a way that makes sense is the next thrill. I cannot think of another career that continually forces you to push your knowledge, and satisfy your curiosity, the way that a career in science does.

How I affect peoples’ lives

I like to think we affect peoples’ lives in a number of ways. The first is by training students to be curious and productive scientists. The second is by communicating our enthusiasm to the next generation of scientists. Finally, by explaining how drugs affect cells and organisms. This includes both the desired effects as well as the adverse, unwanted side effects.

Outside of work I

I like to read and run, but not at the same time. I also love to walk my dog Koos along the water in Vancouver.

My advice to others

Be open and curious. Try not to approach your career as a destination. The zigs and zags you take along the way, whether intentional or not, are great learning opportunities!

When I was a student, I enjoyed:
  • Art
  • History
  • Literature & Language Arts
  • Science
When I was a student, I would have described myself as someone who:
  • Enjoyed doing things on my own
  • Always wanted to be outside
  • Liked being given free range to explore my ideas
  • Liked reading
  • Wasn't sure what I wanted to do
  • Liked to take things apart to see how they worked

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