Todd Harris, MS ’05
▪ College: N/A (Graduate student)
▪ Major: Bioengineering
▪ Hometown: Orange, CA
▪ Currently Lives: San Diego, CA
▪ Career: Founder & CEO – Tyra Bioscience
How did you get into surfing?
I grew up in the city of Orange, in Orange County, and had some brothers that were into it. We were about 15 minutes away from Newport Beach. That’s where I grew up surfing and I just loved it from the start. I certainly had my episodes of the beaches being inaccessible, but now I live in Carlsbad, so whenever the waves are good, I take my kids out, and I’m always happy to still be doing it.
You were a grad student while on the surf team. How was that?
I was stoked cause when I went into grad school, I didn’t know that that was even available to me. I was a little bit older, but I’d also missed out surfing as an undergrad cause I’d moved away to BYU. It certainly made me feel a bit older, but honestly, I think it was better surfing in grad school than it would have been an undergrad. The nice thing about grad school is you’ve got a pretty light class schedule and then a very intensive lab schedule. But for lab work you can really make your own time. So I had the flexibility of really surfing every morning. There wasn’t a rush to get out of the water, either, so it made it far more accessible than had I gone here for undergrad.
How did surfing complement your UC San Diego education?
For me, surfing has always been about personal achievement. I wasn’t much of a team sports guy, but with surfing there’s such a dynamic playing field every single day, an adaptable playing field, so it’s always really challenging and new. It kind of sets you up to be competitive and in business and in life in that way. I still learn things every day when I’m surfing. It’s about improving your skills in dynamic conditions, and that can apply to every walk of life.
The surf team provided a nice network outside of the academic network that I had, so it certainly broadened the cultural experience. And for me, it was a real unique experience to be able to compete since I didn’t have the opportunity in undergrad. It altogether added a really important dimension for my experience, to be able to another network happening alongside of my academics.
Do you have a favorite memory from your days on the team?
It would have to be the day we had a surf competition at Blacks and I actually placed fairly well, like the furthest I placed any contest, and that was because it was basically in my backyard. 2003 or 04, I think, when I made it to the semis. Or another time there was a crazy event where half the cliff fell and it buried a bunch of people’s stuff. Luckily no one got injured, but it was a pretty memorable experience.
What’s your career?
I’ve always been interested in the interface of technology and medicine. So I finished my masters and transferred to MIT to do my PhD. Once I finished my PhD, I went to work for a large management consulting firm McKinsey. And from there I got involved in entrepreneurship and started my first biotech company, Sienna, and then ultimately started Tyra Biosciences, the company I lead now. I will say UCSD was pretty integral—having been exposed the biotech community here, it helped me see San Diego as a settling place for my family and career going forward.
What would you say to someone thinking about joining the UC San Diego surf team?
Do it—it’s the best decision you’ll ever make.