Joel Swanson was a boardwalk portrait artist for several summers before enrolling briefly in the Art Students League in New York City. He received degrees in Biological Sciences (B.A.), Botany (M.S.) and Biology (Ph.D.) and pursued research in cell biology as a member of the faculty at Harvard Medical School and the University of Michigan Medical School. He studied filmmaking at the New York Film Academy. Currently, he is a professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Michigan Medical School, where he uses advanced microscopic methods to study living cells.