He wanted to become a major league baseball player.
As an undergrad at U.C. Berkeley, he often walked past the science building on Fridays at midnight and noticed all the lights on. He wondered, Who would want to work in a lab on Friday night?
Soon after, though, Rock landed a summer job at Genentech, the biotechnology giant in San Francisco. For the first time in his life, he was filled with excitement and inspiration for the work. “I was surrounded by really talented people who were passionate about science. Unlike my coursework, there was no memorization involved. It was all problem solving, and I loved it.”
When Rock returned to U.C. Berkeley that fall, he joined Prof. Jeremy Thorner’s molecular biology lab. “It was fantastic,” he says. “It’s what got me up in the morning.”
After graduating from the university in 2004 with a degree in economics and biology, that year he won the school’s Yanaba Jung Memorial Prize, an award given in recognition of outstanding undergraduate research and scholarly achievement in biochemistry and molecular biology.
After Berkeley, he became a research associate for two years at Sangamo BioSciences, a biotechnology company in Richmond, California, where he helped engineer proteins to edit the human genome, the ultimate goal being to treat genetic diseases such as sickle cell anemia and cystic fibrosis and to develop therapies for HIV/AIDS. “The potential to help millions of people is pretty awesome,” he says.
Rock is now an MIT grad student pursuing a Ph.D. in biology in the lab of Prof. Angelika Amon. His goal is to one day run a research lab at a large university.
“The Presidential Fellowship is an honor,” he says. “The money is great, but what’s also great is that it gets your colleagues’ attention. In science, your data speaks for itself, but you need people to listen. These fellowships facilitate that interaction and open a lot of doors.”
He adds: “Now that I’ve discovered my love of science, it keeps me up at night. I can’t stop thinking about it. My hope is that by serving my own intellectual curiosity, I am also serving others.
“Being a scientist is hard. It’s long hours and a lot of sacrifice. It’s an extremely engrossing experience, but when you find a problem that pulls you in, it’s just thrilling.”
And now, often on Friday nights Rock is hard at work. “I’ve discovered that I actually love being in a lab late at night.”