Jing Li joined the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy as an assistant professor of medicinal chemistry in July. He comes to the school from the University of Chicago, where he spent five years as a postdoctoral research associate.
Li brings an extensive background based in biomolecular science and academia to the school, which he hopes to pass on to his students. In addition to his work with the University of Chicago, Li also received his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2014.
Get to know Li in the Q&A below:
Where are you from?
I am originally from China. I call Illinois my home state in the U.S., as it was my first stop and I spent 12 years over there, during which time I got my Ph.D. at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and my postdoctoral training at the University of Chicago.
What is your educational & professional background?
I received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, a master’s degree in biochemistry, and a Ph.D. degree in biophysics and computational biology. I also had five years of postdoctoral training at the University of Chicago in the area of computational chemistry and biophysics.
What brought you to the University of Mississippi?
I got an on-site interview for the faculty position of computational medicinal chemistry in the Department of BioMolecular Science at the School of Pharmacy, and was invited to visit Oxford twice. I was very impressed by the great atmosphere in our department and the friendly community of Oxford, which is another reason for my decision to move to Oxford.
What will you be doing in your role at the University?
As an assistant professor, I am building up my own lab and performing research in the area of computational medicinal chemistry and biophysics. I also teach classes on computer-aided drug design.
What drew you to the School of Pharmacy?
This faculty position matches my research background and interest very well, and being in a research-intensive institute like the School of Pharmacy will drive me to work harder towards my career goal. There are also many collaboration opportunities in the School of Pharmacy for me. Plus, I enjoy the positive working environment, both among faculty members as well as between faculty and graduate students. I believed this is the place that I would really enjoy working at.
What are some of your career highlights?
During my graduate study at Illinois, I learned how to apply state-of-the-art computational approaches to studying the structure and function of biomolecules, with the focus on the molecular mechanism of a major category of membrane proteins-membrane transporters. This research led to several high-profile publications with my advisor, Emad Tajkhorshid, and a number of talks in international scientific meetings. This experience inspired my passion for research.
Then I joined the University of Chicago for my postdoctoral training. I investigated the mechanism of K+ channels with one of the professors, Benoit Roux. Our research brought several discoveries that have significantly advanced our understanding of a key phenomenon (C-type inactivation) among K+ channels at the atomic level. This also gave me confidence in pursuing my career independently in academia.
How do you describe your work or research to people outside of the field?
I am particularly interested in understanding the molecular mechanism of proteins at the atomic level, which is essential to making sense of the biological process and molecular function. It is critical to interpret how disease-associated mutations affect the normal function, and also fundamental for designing novel therapeutic agents. By applying computational chemistry/biology and computer-aided drug design approaches, we have great opportunities to speed up our research in understanding the disease mechanism and the development of new drugs to treat diseases.
What do you hope students gain from their classroom experiences?
I hope students not only take home the knowledge and techniques of computer-aided drug design, but also develop and apply independent learning skills in computational studies to their own research and future career.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
I enjoy traveling and photography. Driving an RV on road trips to visit national parks is always my favorite travel style. At home, I love spending time with my wife and my daughter, especially playing board games and watching movies together.