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Life at Nautilus

Interview with Jarrett Egertson – Nautilus Associate Director of Bioinformatics

Tyler Ford

Tyler Ford

December 15, 2022

Headshot and quote from Nautilus Associate Director of Bioinformatics, Jarrett Egertson

Jarrett Egertson was one of Nautilus’ early hires and helped create the template for the type of team member we strive to bring on board. While he is, of course, highly technically skilled, he also has a deep appreciation for the value of a supportive team, good mentorship, and strong management. 

This appreciation was instilled in Jarrett from an early age through his family, teachers, and friends. On test days and other important days, Jarrett’s mother would always make him a special “success breakfast” of scrambled eggs to show her support (and she continues to do this today). Jarrett’s excellent math and AP biology teachers fostered his early interest in STEM. They always made STEM subjects approachable and interesting while also giving Jarrett the tools to ask and answer interesting questions on his own. Finally, Jarrett’s friends made working with computers fun. In high school, they teamed up to create a video game complete with its own soundtrack. Jarrett’s combined interests in math, biology, and computers naturally culminated in a fascination with bioinformatics. 

Fast forward a decade or so and Jarrett was incredibly excited when he got a call from his undergrad mentor and Nautilus co-founder and Chief Scientist, Parag Mallick, who asked Jarrett to poke holes in the ideas that would form the foundations of Nautilus. Jarrett already knew that Parag was an excellent mentor who could build a fantastic team and was astounded by the potential of the nascent Nautilus platform. Now, Jarrett is absolutely driven to make the potential of the Nautilus platform a reality. 

What made you want to work at Nautilus?

I’ve had an interest in the computational side of biology since my undergraduate days when I did some bioinformatics work in Parag’s lab. After graduating, I went into a PhD program at the University of Washington thinking I would work in genomics but was convinced to join a mass spectrometry-focused proteomics lab after meeting my future advisor, Dr. Michael J. MacCoss, and his team. It was clear to me early on that he would make an excellent mentor and that the members of his lab were happy. 

In the MacCoss lab, I came to thoroughly appreciate the potential of advanced proteomics tools. The central dogma of biology that we all learn in high school states that information generally flows from DNA to RNA to protein in all living things on Earth. While we have comprehensive tools to study DNA and RNA, we don’t have comparable tools for proteins. We’re thus missing a ton data on one of biology’s main pillars! 

When Parag called me and told me about his idea for Nautilus, I lost sleep thinking about the possibilities of the Nautilus platform.  Nautilus’ technology has the potential to provide the most comprehensive data on the proteome to date. 

What do you like about working at Nautilus and how has working here changed over the last 5 years or so?

I’ve always loved the people I work with at Nautilus. Everyone is dedicated to the goal of making the proteome more accessible, and it’s great to be part of such a motivated team. I also think we do a great job of hiring people who are fun to be around. You can seamlessly go from having a conversation about experiments to silly slack emojis and it doesn’t feel forced. 

In the past five years, I’ve gone from doing more technical/experimental work to focusing on management and mentorship. In the early days, I really liked that we got to build a lot of things from scratch. We still do that, but now we’ve got teams of 10 working on projects instead of teams of 1. It’s amazing to see how quickly we can iterate through various solutions these days. 

As I’ve moved into a more managerial role, I’ve learned a ton about how to enable people to do their best work. As a scientist, I used to find it difficult to navigate through ambiguity and to guide people when we didn’t have complete information. Through the examples of my own managers, I’ve learned how to help people move forward and prioritize even when there’s uncertainty. I also do my best to instill an appreciation for work-life balance in my team members. It’s not possible to bring your best self to work if you’re only running on four hours of sleep so I try to set a good example and encourage all my team members to take time for themselves. 

What are your plans for the future?

I’d like to see the Nautilus platform through its full development and application. Like many, I’ve had friends die of ailments that could have been treated if biology research and clinical development could have advanced just a little more rapidly. I’m determined to get Nautilus’ technology into the hands of researchers and physicians who can use it to develop effective treatments and cures for a wide range of diseases. 

If Nautilus had a superpower, what would it be?

I think Nautilus would be a Care Bear with a heart on its belly. Everyone here endeavors to accomplish great things with support and kindness for one another. We all want to help people through the application of Nautilus’ technology. 

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