James graduated from the University of Warwick (2000) in Physics, before completing Maths Part III at Cambridge (2001). He then studied for a PhD in Biology and Theoretical Physics at the University of Warwick, with supervision from Professors Andrew Millar and Matthew Turner. During his PhD he used mathematical modelling to propose a new feedback loop in the plant circadian (24-hour) clock. For this work he was awarded the Promega Young Geneticist of the Year award (2007).
As first an EMBO Research Fellow and then a Human Frontiers Fellow, James conducted his postdoctoral work in the lab of Professor Michael Elowitz at the California Institute of Technology. He applied single cell time-lapse microscopy, modelling, and synthetic biology techniques to understand how cells amplify small molecule differences (noise) into alternative transcriptional states. Since 2012 he has been running a research group at the Sainsbury Laboratory, University of Cambridge, examining noise in gene regulation.