Bob Jacobsen obtained a B.S.E.E. from MIT in 1978. He spent 1976 through 1986 working in the computer- and data-communications industry for a small company that was successively bought out by larger and larger companies. He left in 1986 to return to graduate school in physics, obtaining his Ph.D. in experimental high-energy physics from Stanford in 1991.
From 1991 through 1994, Jacobsen was a scientific associate and scientific staff member at CERN, the European Laboratory for Nuclear Physics, in Geneva Switzerland. While there, he was a member of the ALEPH collaboration concentrating on B physics and on the energy calibration of the LEP collider. He joined the faculty at Berkeley in 1995.