Alondra Nelson is president of the Social Science Research Council and the Harold F. Linder Professor of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study, an independent center for theoretical research and intellectual inquiry in Princeton, New Jersey. She was previously 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 and there was recognized with the Poorvu Prize for interdisciplinary teaching excellence.
An award-winning author, Nelson has published widely-acclaimed books and articles exploring science, technology, medicine, and social inequality. Her recent publications include a symposium in the British Journal of Sociology on the history of slavery, genetic genealogy, and the #GU272, as well as coauthored articles in PLOS: Computational Biology, Genetics in Medicine, and Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race. She is currently at work on a book about science and technology policy in the Obama administration.
Nelson is author of The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation after the Genome, a finalist for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Nonfiction, and a Wall Street Journal favorite book. 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, 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.
A fellow of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Nelson has contributed to national policy discussions on inequality and the social implications of new technologies, including artificial intelligence, big data, and human gene-editing. She has held visiting professorships and fellowships at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, the BIOS Centre at the London School of Economics, the Bayreuth Academy of Advanced African Studies, the International Center for Advanced Studies at New York University, and the Bavarian American Academy. Her research has been supported by the Ford Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, and the National Science Foundation.
Nelson is a member of the advisory board of the Obama Presidency Oral History Project. She serves on the board of directors of the Data & Society Research Institute and The Teagle Foundation, as well as the board for African-American programs at Monticello. A trustee of the United States International University Africa, Nelson also sits on the international board of overseers of Sabancı University. She is a director of the Brotherhood/Sister Sol, a Harlem-based youth development organization.
Nelson was formerly a member of the World Economic Forum Network on A.I., the Internet of Things, and Trust; of the NSF-sponsored Council on Big Data, Ethics, and Society; and of the Board of Governors of the the Atlantic Philanthropies Fellowship for Racial Equity. Past chair of the American Sociological Association Section on Science, Knowledge, and Technology, she was previously elected to the Executive Committee of the Eastern Sociological Society and the Council of the Society for Social Studies of Science.
Nelson's essays, reviews, and commentary have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Science, Le Nouvel Observateur, The Boston Globe, and on National Public Radio, the New Yorker Radio Hour, and PBS Newshour, among other venues.
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 and Princeton.