Rob Williams

PhD Structural Biology

Birkbeck alum Rob Williams and his GB teammates came second in a thrilling rowing showdown at Eton Dorney during London 2012. They took the silver medal in the lightweight men’s four just a quarter of a second behind South Africa.

Rob said: 'The racing conditions were very tough, and the wind made the course really variable. It’s a shame we’ve barely ever lost to the team that beat us, but it’s good fun to be part of a good race. We did not realise how close it was until we saw the video footage afterwards. We were a quarter of a second off winning in the lightweight men’s four category, but it was a home Olympics with 30,000 people cheering us on; you’ve got to be happy with a silver. The feeling gets better every day.

'The Olympics were incredible. It is really hard to describe what it was like to be in that environment, living in the Olympic village, being part of Team GB, and watching the other sports. It is something I will never experience again. Even if I go to Rio, it will be completely different.

'My supervisor Professor Gabriel Waksman was instrumental in enabling me to balance my PhD in electron microscopy with my rowing. I was awarded my PhD from Birkbeck and UCL’s Institute of Structural and Molecular Biology just weeks before competing in London 2012. Electron microscopy is one of the ways in which we look at very small objects and my research was about furthering our knowledge of how bacteria cause disease by studying Type 4 secretion systems that secrete macromolecules.

'Birkbeck allowed me to go part-time in the summer, so that I could concentrate on rowing, and then I would study full-time in the winter. I jokingly described it as juggling when you could only concentrate on one ball at a time; you had to throw the other one high enough so that you bought enough time to focus on the one in your hand.'

Learn more about our biology courses.