Beverly Farms — Dr. Phoebe Martha (Robertson) Roberts, a Research Fellow at Pfizer who was an avid athlete and world traveler, died unexpectedly on Sunday, December 8, near her home in Beverly, MA. She was 47.
Phoebe was born on July 25, 1966, in Urbana, IL, to Jane (Ingersoll) Robertson and Dr. James E. Robertson, a Professor of Computer Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1968 and lived there until she graduated from Ann Arbor’s Pioneer High School in 1984. She graduated from Miami University in Ohio with a BA in Biology in 1988. After several years of research at Toronto’s ”Sick Kids” hospital, Phoebe attended graduate school at the University of Chicago and received a PhD in Molecular Biology in 1997, publishing research on the degradation of intracellular proteins. She performed postdoctoral research at the University of Pennsylvania.
She began her professional career at Proteome, Inc, a small biotech startup in Beverly, MA in 2000. She then joined Biogen and later, Pfizer, where she helped nurture the emerging field of biomedical text-mining. Phoebe’s pioneering use of automated text mining tools gave researchers the ability to better understand the medical and scientific implications of the academic literature. By compiling and organizing the literature, Phoebe’s work allowed researchers to avoid repeating earlier work and focus on the most promising future directions. Phoebe used to sum up her work by telling researchers that ”a week in the lab will save you an afternoon in the library.”
In addition to her passion for science, Phoebe was a remarkable athlete with diverse skills and interests. She biked, skied, hiked, kayaked and ran with the enthusiasm and prowess of someone half her age. Among her most notable athletic achievements was the completion of the 750-mile Boston-Montréal-Boston bike event in 2001, along with multiple full marathons. Her latest vacation involved a 7-day mountain bike trip from Telluride, CO to Moab, UT. She tailored her daily commute to include an eleven-mile ride on her folding bicycle. During the winter, she spent available weekends skiing at Killington, VT.