Spotlight: Dave Robb

December 07, 2012
Dave Robb

Dave Robb began working at UCSF 13 years ago, in 1999, when he was hired as science coordinator for both the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies (CAPS) and the AIDS Research Institute (ARI), working half time for each.

The ARI had been established just a couple years earlier to coordinate, integrate, and support the HIV/AIDS research activities of some 60 programs and laboratories throughout UCSF. Dave’s original job eventually morphed into his current position of scientist services manager for the ARI.

When and why did you come to work at UCSF?

After working for nearly a decade at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, I took a year off to travel and try my hand at freelance graphic design. Just about the time I was deciding freelancing wasn’t for me, I got a phone call out of the blue from a friend working at this new thing I’d never heard of called the AIDS Research Institute at UCSF, saying there was a job opening and I’d be perfect for it. I interviewed, met with Tom Coates, who directed both CAPS and the ARI at the time, and came away excited about the work that was being done. Apparently they liked me too, and I was hired. When John Greenspan became director of the ARI in 2003, my job turned into a full-time ARI position (one that he liked calling “the face of the ARI”). I now work for Paul Volberding, who became ARI director early this year.

What do you do at UCSF, and how is it connected to the UCSF mission?

My role as scientist services manager relates directly to the ARI’s three-fold mission to foster and facilitate HIV/AIDS research at UCSF, disseminate findings, and train the next generation of HIV/AIDS scientists, which in turn supports UCSF’s mission to advance health worldwide. It’s a hard job to describe since it feels like I do about 100 different things every day, but it mostly boils down to providing specific services to our constituent scientists — referrals, internal communications, meeting and event support, design, writing and editing — external communications through our website and Facebook page, and special events and services directed toward early-career investigators. I also support the director, communications director, and development staff in their respective roles.

What are the most challenging and rewarding parts of your job?

Not to kvetch, but the biggest challenge in my job is understaffing. The amount of good we could do as a unit is virtually unlimited, and so there is no shortage of great ideas of new things to take on; but we are basically four people representing, publicizing, raising money for, and otherwise working on behalf of hundreds of scientists and what I’m pretty sure is the single biggest disease-specific chunk of research going on at UCSF. (One of every seven National Institute of Health dollars coming to UCSF is for AIDS research.)

Another big challenge is keeping track of who all of our constituent scientists and programs are and what they’re all doing. And a third challenge is visibility. How many people know the magnitude of UCSF’s AIDS enterprise, or that it is among the most esteemed in the world, ranked #1 by U.S. News and World Report every year since they began their rankings? How many people know about the work we are doing to end AIDS and that the cure, when it comes (and it will), is quite likely to come out of UCSF?

Interestingly enough, the challenges of my job are also what make it rewarding: the fact that there is an endless variety of things to do, and it’s always changing; that I get to work with so many brilliant scientists, I can’t keep track of them all; and that I am supporting work that is changing the world. I know not everyone has the good fortune to be able to work at something they’re personally invested in, as I’ve been doing for most of my adult life, and it’s good to remind myself of that from time to time. (I wrote a piece for the UCSF AIDS 2012 blog on this topic during the XIX International AIDS Conference.)

If you chose another career path outside UCSF what would it be?

I actually do have other career paths! I am a massage therapist, which I love because of the physicality of it and the fact that you get the benefit of seeing instant results; and I do a fair amount of freelance writing and editing, which my brain really enjoys. When I think about other careers, I usually gravitate to either something involving the body (personal trainer, yoga instructor) or writing. I think I would have made a good teacher. Or statistician. Or Buddhist monk.

What’s something that members of the UCSF community would be surprised to know about you?

Other than what I’ve just said, maybe that I speak Spanish or that I have a huge record collection, mostly from the ‘70s, or that I write both fiction and a non-fiction blog, or that I always wanted to open a grilled cheese restaurant (way before there were any grilled cheese restaurants), or that I’m a Buddhist, or that I like to iron shirts.

What are your favorite things to do with your free time?

This is starting to feel like a dating website. (I’m single, by the way.) When I’m not playing records or ironing, I’m usually writing, riding my bike, swimming, doing yoga, reading, watching films, meditating, traveling, cooking for friends, walking all over the city, playing Scrabble, playing poker, or flirting…or some combination of those things.