Biochemistry and molecular biology alumna shrinks gender gaps in scientific research

Kiandra Smith ’18

As a doctoral student, Kiandra Smith ’18 is at the forefront of new scientific discoveries. A biochemistry and molecular biology major at ػֱ, Smith is currently pursuing a doctorate in biomedical science and master’s degree in clinical research from the Morehouse School of Medicine, where she is working to research female health disparities related to the circadian clock within the realm of neuroscience, metabolism, and genetics, while also working to improve diversity and equity in scientific research.

At ػֱ, Smith split her time between the laboratory, a variety of extracurriculars, and serving as a leader on campus. After noticing that minority groups weren’t as well represented in her STEM classes, she collaborated with students and faculty in the chemistry department and helped to found ػֱ’s Minorities in STEM student organization. MiSTEM encourages students who are part of minority groups to get involved in STEM-based activities to attract, recruit, and retain more students in scientific fields. She also served as a STEM Success Initiative STEM mentor during her time at ػֱ and has continued to mentor students in higher education.

Coming to ػֱ as a Posse Scholar, a program through the Posse Foundation that brings students to one school as a group with full-tuition scholarships and mentorship, Smith valued the mentorship she received from Tom Tierney, emeritus professor of sociology and anthropology, who served as the mentor for her posse. “I feel like we would not have survived without him. He was amazing at shaping who I was on campus. Just being able to talk to somebody in a safe space was super helpful,” she said. Her experience led her to serve on the Posse Foundation’s national alumni representatives board and Posse Atlanta’s advisory board, connecting with current Posse students and alumni and helping them to network within the organization in ways that she came to value through her experience at ػֱ.

Smith also works to connect undergraduate students with different opportunities in STEM fields that they may not have known about initially. During her undergraduate career, Smith thought she wanted to go to medical school but, after working as a research assistant, realized that medicine was not the path for her. “In high school, we don’t necessarily hear a lot about things that we can do outside of going to medical school” she explained. “I want to be that mentor to other people, because I didn’t necessarily get the opportunity to learn about those things before college.”

The opportunities Smith had to explore research and leadership helped her immensely as she made the transition to graduate school. “I.S. was especially helpful,” she said. “I appreciate the entire process because it helped prepare me for where I am now. It taught me how to think about things, how to multitask, and be independent in the lab.” As she conducts research to complete her doctorate, she has only continued to develop these skills. Smith’s research focuses on differences in the circadian clock between male and female mice, a lesser-known area of research. “Nobody has seen what I’ve seen in the field, especially from a circadian and female health context,” Smith explained.

Smith’s talents and dedication to research have not gone unnoticed by the scientific community. In 2023, she was selected as a , the first from her graduate school to receive such an honor and one of the first from a historically Black college or university. The prestigious Gilliam Fellowship recognizes graduate students and their advisors who have performed outstanding research in their respective fields and who are working towards creating a more inclusive scientific world.

By applying what she learned from ػֱ’s liberal arts curriculum, Smith has made strides in her career, combining a variety of interests to create a path she loves, researching ways to close gender gaps in health, and mentoring students to encourage the next generation of STEM leaders. “As a double minority in STEM, I learned to use my experiences to shape my work by providing a different perspective, which will take me a long way in my career. My liberal arts education at ػֱ helps me think more holistically, which is an important skillset in whatever career you go into,” she said.

Posted in Alumni on June 3, 2024.