Harold F. Linder Professor of Social Science
Widely known for her research at the intersection of science, technology, and politics, Alondra Nelson holds the Harold F. Linder Chair in the School of Social Science. Past president of the Social Science Research Council, she was professor of sociology at Columbia University, and also served as the inaugural Dean of Social Science. As Dean, she led the first strategic planning process for the social sciences at Columbia, working with faculty to envision and set long-term research priorities. Nelson began her academic career on the faculty of Yale University, where she received the Poorvu Award for Interdisciplinary Teaching Excellence.
From 2021–23, she was deputy assistant to President Joe Biden, and acting director and principal deputy director for science and society of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). Nelson was the first person to serve in the latter role, which brings social science expertise explicitly into the work of federal science and technology strategy and policy. Including Nelson in the list of Ten People Who Shaped Science in 2022, Nature said of her OSTP tenure, “this social scientist made strides for equity, integrity and open access.”
Nelson’s research offers a critical and innovative approach to the social sciences in fruitful dialogue with other disciplines. Her major research contributions are situated at the intersection of racial formation and social citizenship, on the one hand, and emerging scientific and technological phenomena, on the other. She connects these dimensions in award-winning and acclaimed books, including The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation after the Genome (2016); Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight against Medical Discrimination (2011); Genetics and the Unsettled Past: The Collision of DNA, Race and History (2012; with Keith Wailoo and Catherine Lee); and Technicolor: Race, Technology and Everyday Life (2001; with Thuy Linh Tu). Nelson is currently completing books on science and technology policy in the Obama-Biden and Biden-Harris administrations. She is also at work on Society after Pandemic, a series of essays exploring how the social conditions exposed, exacerbated, and created by the introduction of the novel coronavirus compel reconsideration of prevailing ideas of society, institutions, technology, justice, and democracy.
Nelson is a distinguished senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. Her essays, reviews, and commentary have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Science, and Nature, among other venues.
Nelson has been elected to membership in the American Academy of Arts and Science, the American Academy of Political and Social Science, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Philosophical Society, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the National Academy of Medicine.
Raised in Southern California, Nelson received her BA from the University of California, San Diego, where she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. She earned her PhD from New York University in 2003.