New Department Head for Molecular Biology and Biotechnology

At the beginning of June 2017 the Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (MBB) was delighted to be able to announce the appointment of its new Head of Department, Professor Mike Williamson. Mike

Mike has been a familiar face to many at the University of Sheffield since he joined in 1990 as a senior lecturer before being appointed a Professor in 2001.

Mike began his scientific career at the University of Cambridge, where he completed a Natural Sciences degree before undertaking a PhD studying “Structural Studies on Some Antibiotics”. His focus remained on structural biology as he moved from a fellowship at Cambridge to posts in ETH Zȕrich then Roche Products Ltd.

Early on in his career, Mike achieved a science first, when he became the first person to produce the structure of a globular protein using nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR). From there Mike has undertaken research studying protein structure and function and has continued to develop the use of NMR as a tool to do that.

Mike’s current research aims to establish new ways of validating NMR structures by creating a means by which NMR structures can be easily validated, thus making it a more reliable tool.

His expertise in the protein structure field is highlighted by the broad use in universities of his book “How Proteins Work”. He has also been Chair of the UK NMR discussion group , Chair of the Biochemical Society theme panel II (Molecular structure and function), a member of BBSRC Committee D (Molecules, Cells and Industrial Biotechnology) and secretary of Euromar.

In his new role, Mike is keen to create the systems and environment that will enable the innovative and creative team in MBB to undertake and talk about the excellent teaching and research that is going on in the department.

Mike plans to increase the numbers of students applying for MBB courses, especially international students because he firmly believes that studying in a culturally diverse environment really enriches the student experience and opens up opportunities that graduates might otherwise miss out on.

When Mike was asked why he thought students choose to come to the University of Sheffield, he said, “For many it is the brand of the University as a provider of outstanding teaching and excellent employability outcomes. The feedback that students give during their studies is that they enjoy the practical side of MBB’s courses. They also love that the University of Sheffield is a friendly, down-to-earth environment to study in where the teaching staff is very supportive and wants to help the students succeed.”

Mike has big ambitions for the Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology fuelled by his own enjoyment of teaching. He said, “Even in this digital age, there is no substitute for the lecture process that allows the teacher to work with the student, identify connections between facts and enable a full understanding of a subject. It’s always incredibly rewarding when you see a student really start to work through the possibilities that new knowledge is giving them.”

When he isn’t bringing structure to proteins or, indeed, lectures, Mike is doing the same musically through his playing jazz string bass and bass guitar. He has also rung bells as a member of the band at Sheffield Cathedral.

Having become Head of Department, we asked Mike what advice he would give his younger self at the point at which he was first applying to university. He said that the young Mike perhaps would be reluctant to listen, but that his advice would be to “Be brave and not to feel limited by the expectations of others.”

For more information about Mike Williamson, please visit his website.