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Biology Faculty

Undergraduate Research is Spelman's Secret Sauce

As a top producer of Black women with doctorates in scientific fields, Spelman’s undergraduate research initiatives aim to build on and expand its strong outcomes across all disciplines.

Undergraduate ResearchWhen Janina Jeff, Ph.D., C’2007, entered Spelman College, she majored in biology and set her sights on a career in medicine. Then the New Orleans native earned an A in genetics class and felt she had found her calling. Her interest in genetics was further stoked while conducting research in a Spelman genetics lab using bioinformatics data analysis, where she discovered her passion for using genetics to study health disparities. As a Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement scholar, she received a salary to work in a research lab of her choosing, program support, and mentoring to further explore her interests. Also, as a RISE scholar she developed her networking skills and gained confidence by presenting her research at conferences across the country.

In 2012, she became the first African American to earn a doctorate in genetics at Vanderbilt University. Now Dr. Jeff travels the world as a global bioinformatics geneticist for Illumina, a San Diego-based biotech company.

“As I got to do research and present at conferences across the country, a light bulb went off. I get to do what I love and travel the world doing it,” she said. “Spelman gives interdisciplinary training on how to network, how to be a good communicator, and how to express your value. That’s unique. It really helped propel me in my career.” 
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Top Producer of Black Women Who Earn Doctorates in STEM Fields

As a key component in the unique formula of a Spelman education that includes global studies, leadership and sisterhood, undergraduate research has become a significant factor in the College’s mission to transform students into solution oriented global leaders. Undergraduate research also has played a significant role in the College’s national recognition as a top producer of Black women who earn doctorates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

According to a 2002-2011 report from the National Science Foundation, the College is ranked No. 2 of the top 10 baccalaureate-offering institutions in producing Black doctorate recipients in STEM. In the past few years, the College has been building on its success in STEM by requiring undergraduate research across all disciplines as a cornerstone of the Spelman experience – a student-centered liberal arts curriculum that fosters critical thinking and inquiry. 

“Research is one place where students can see the relevance of their discipline and how it influences the world,” -  Leyte Winfield, Ph.D.

“Research is one place where students can see the relevance of their discipline and how it influences the world,” said Leyte Winfield, Ph.D., associate professor of chemistry.

“In addition, research allows students to engage in the discipline beyond the classroom in a hands-on, experiential environment. These experiences complement the curriculum and are often the reason and the foundation for students pursuing graduate degrees.”

How Students Benefit From Research

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Office of Undergraduate Research