Meet the Researcher: Lori Adams

Lori Adams, University of IowaWhat is the focus of your work?
The primary focus of my work is to support undergraduate student success, particularly for students associated with a STEM major. The features of student success which are the focus of a lot of the work I do, are: confidence in navigating a chosen career path and an understanding of what it means to be a good mentor and how to be mentored.  The opportunity to do undergraduate research is what I consider a “transformative” career discernment experience and I aim to reduce barriers for students taking part in research. In that regard, I direct several programs dedicated to increasing access to undergraduate research opportunities in STEM: the Iowa Biosciences Academy, Science Alliance, and UI LSAMP programs. I am also passionate about science communication and community engagement. I recognized early on that students have unique perspectives on how to engage with the community about their love of science but lack formal structures to do so. Thus, the Latham Science Engagement Initiative was developed (with much credit to my colleague Brinda Shetty), which supports students as they create a strategic plan to take their research out of the lab and into the community.

Read an article about the Iowa Biosciences Academy, a program directed by Lori Adams and housed in Biology.

IBA supports the academic and personal success of University of Iowa students interested in pursuing a Ph.D. in the Biosciences. 

IBA students have access to hands-on research opportunities that earn competitive wages, a faculty mentor, professional development workshops, career counseling, free tutoring (as needed), and a strong community of students, staff, and faculty who value diversity in the biosciences.

Tell us about the broad impact it has/could have.
When I consider the impact of the work I do, I reflect on my own experience growing up in rural Illinois graduating with a class of 34 students and then attending a large Research I institution. My dorm was the same size as my entire town! My entrée into research was serendipitous as I was looking for a part-time job and landed in a laboratory washing glassware. I quickly became curious about what was in the microscopes and found myself doing undergraduate research for the rest of my undergraduate career. I then applied to graduate school and began the next phase of my career studying plant molecular biology. I have not forgotten the impact that doing undergraduate research had on my sense of belonging, persistence through my major, and my socialization into the world of academic research. Students face a number of challenges as they seek out and embark upon undergraduate research experiences. Transitioning from the classroom and integrating into the social structure of a research community can be especially overwhelming for those who may not be familiar with the culture of research, or feel intimidated or isolated. I think sometimes we forget how strange academic institutions are. We work in such a rich place full of so many experts in so many areas. It is truly unlike other work environment. Helping students find their unique/creative talents and connect them to others on campus is simple and can make a huge difference to a student.

What excites you about the environment in CLAS?
Curiosity is a powerful motivator but students don’t always know what they are curious about. That’s what college is about, right? What I love about the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is the diversity of disciplines coexisting in one larger unit; recognizing that we provide a stronger liberal arts education for our students together than apart. Without hesitation I can say that the Latham Science Engagement Initiative would not be a success without the expertise from departments and programs like Rhetoric, Journalism and Mass Communication, and the Writing Center. Many of our Latham STEM majors double major or minor in Music, Spanish, Dance, and the projects they create are made better by the expertise they seek out from numerous faculty and staff in CLAS. I think the spirit and will to support the student success of CLAS majors is strong and the diverse perspectives and approaches each unit brings provides students with a robust liberal arts education.

What are your hobbies and pursuits outside of work?
I have three kids (one in junior high and two in elementary school) so a large portion of my time outside of work is with them! I do enjoy some solitude gardening, playing piano, and jogging every now and then with my two dogs. I also picked up breadmaking during Covid.

Favorite things to do in Iowa City?
I love walking around the city parks like Willow Creek and Terry Trueblood with various kids and dogs. I also am a fan of Big Grove and catching a Friday night concert on the Ped-mall.

Lori Adams, PhD, associate professor of instruction in the Department of Biology, joined the University of Iowa faculty in 2010. She is program director of the Iowa Biosciences Academy (IBA) and the Latham Science Engagement Initiative, and teaches courses in science communication and honors seminars. As part of her work with IBA, she spearheaded the Iowa Mentoring Academy, and serves as a Master Facilitator for the National Research Mentoring Network at the National Institutes of Health. In 2021, Dr. Adams was named the inaugural recipient of the Advancing Understanding in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Award by the Office of the Vice President for Research; was named Distinguished Associate Professor of Instruction by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in 2018; and in 2016 received the CLAS Outstanding Outreach and Public Engagement Award.