Alondra Nelson is President of the Social Science Research Council. She is also professor of sociology at Columbia University, where she served as the inaugural Dean of Social Science. Nelson began her academic career on the faculty of Yale University, where she was honored with its Poorvu Award for interdisciplinary teaching excellence.
Nelson has published award-winning and widely acclaimed books and articles exploring the junction of science, medicine, and social inequality. She is currently at work on a book about science and technology policy in the Obama administration. Nelson is author most recently of The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation after the Genome, a finalist for the 2017 Hurston-Wright Foundation Award for Best Nonfiction and a Wall Street Journal favorite book of 2016. The Social Life of DNA is now available in an Arabic translation. Her books also include Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight against Medical Discrimination, which was recognized with five awards, including the Mirra Komarovsky Book Award and the C. Wright Mills Award (Finalist), as well as Genetics and the Unsettled Past: The Collision of DNA, Race, and History (with Keith Wailoo and Catherine Lee) and Technicolor: Race, Technology, and Everyday Life (with Thuy Linh Tu). In 2002, Nelson edited “Afrofuturism,” an influential special issue of Social Text, drawing together contributions from scholars and artists who were members of a synonymous online community she established in 1998.
Her research has been supported by the Ford Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, and the National Science Foundation. She has been a fellow of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, the BIOS Centre at the London School of Economics, the Bavarian American Academy, the Bayreuth Academy of Advanced African Studies, and the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University.
She has contributed to national policy discussions on inequality and about the social implications of new technologies, including artificial intelligence, big data, and human gene-editing. Nelson serves on the board of directors of the Data & Society Research Institute and the Center for Research Libraries, on the board for African-American Programs at Monticello, on the academic council of the A.I. Now Institute, and on the steering committee of the Eric H. Holder Initiative for Civil and Political Rights. She sits on the editorial boards of Social Studies of Science and Public Culture. Her essays, reviews, and commentary have appeared in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Science, the Boston Globe, and on National Public Radio and MSNBC, among other venues.
Nelson is chair of the American Sociological Association Section on Science, Knowledge, and Technology, and an elected member of the Sociological Research Association. She served as a member of the World Economic Forum Network on A.I., the Internet of Things, and Trust as well as the NSF-sponsored Council on Big Data, Ethics, and Society. Nelson was an elected member of the Executive Committee of the Eastern Sociological Society and of the Council of the Society for Social Studies of Science. She was also a member of the Board of Governors of the the Atlantic Philanthropies Fellows for Racial Equity program. Until 2017, she was Academic Curator for the YWCA of the City of New York and also served on its program committee.
Raised in Southern California, Nelson is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of California at San Diego. She earned her PhD from New York University in 2003. She lives in New York City.