Honors Alumni Q&A with Jack Challis '04

Jack Challis '04

Profession: Cancer diagnostics company builder

Education: Jack graduated from UK and the Honors program in 2004, earning bachelors of science degrees in mathematics and physics. He went on to earn a Ph.D. in physics from Yale University. 

What was your major and are you working in that field today?

I majored in math and physics and now I work in cancer diagnostics. Safe to say I've moved a lot on this. 

What was your career goal in college? (If that changed, how?) 

My original career goal was to become a research physicist like my mentor Dr. Ganpathy Murthy at UK. During graduate school I had an epiphany that I wanted to use data to improve healthcare, and that's been my focus more or less ever since. 

Who is your hero?

Elwyn Berlekamp was my mentor for several years and more than anybody else helped me carve my own path in work, family and service. Elwyn grew up in Kentucky and became an expert in information theory and mathematical games, serving on the Berkeley mathematics and electrical engineering faculty for more than 4 decades. KET did a wonderful interview with him a few years ago  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XHotBRJW4-0). We would have lunch a couple times a year and his guidance on math, on building wealth, on having a strong family, on the design of clinical trials really influenced me.  Although he passed away in 2019, his memory still helps me adjust my personal compass for work, family and service. The world needs more Elwyns! 

What motivates you to work hard?

Like many who work in healthcare, the mission to help the lives of cancer patients is a strong motivator to get out of bed and give 100%. Our generation will succeed in making early detection of cancer, maximizing patient quality of life and minimizing suffering ubiquitously available. Like our foremothers and forefathers who have joined a generational challenge (electrify America, go to the Moon), it's a challenge of purpose and scale. 

What is your favorite book to read?      

I've become a big fan of Jin Yong's wu xia masterpieces - I'm currently reading Legend of the Condor Heroes and am totally hooked on the action, the history and the drama. Long popular in the Sinophone world, we are finally starting to have English translations worthy of these masterworks.