2020 UCLA Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Research Award

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Juli Feigon, Distinguished Professor of Biochemistry and National Academy of Sciences member, receives the 2020 Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Research Award. 

Feigon was the first female assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry when she joined the UCLA faculty in 1985. Even in her field, she was one of very few women academics in the world. The UCLA Academic Senate selected Feigon for the DEI Research Award to pay tribute to the tremendous efforts and accomplishments she has made toward diversity and to acknowledge her many contributions to fostering a diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment at UCLA.

“For her entire career, Juli has consistently and without fanfare fostered diversity, equity, and inclusion in her laboratory, among her undergraduate students, and in her scientific field,” said UCLA Chemistry & Biochemistry Department Chair Professor Neil Garg. “She has also been a female role model to generations of graduate students, postdocs, and younger professors who she has trained or who she has influenced.”

Soon after beginning her academic career, Feigon’s work began to be noticed and she was invited to speak at meetings where she was often the only woman speaker. As a consequence, younger women sought her advice after her talks. The high caliber of her work has influenced younger generations of women and men. Over the years, Juli has been a co-organizer of several prestigious scientific meetings and has served on the advisory committee for International Conference on Magnetic Resonance in Biological Systems. In these roles, she was able to help promote the careers of female and other minority scientists by inviting or suggesting them for talks. 

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Professor Juli Feigon, standing on the platform of the newly installed 800 MHz NMR spectrometer, in 2004.

During her early years at UCLA, Feigon quickly realized that many lesbian and gay students (terms used in those days) were attracted to UCLA for their Ph.D. studies, and recognized that many of these students were at risk of depression especially since this was often the time they came out to their parents (if they came out at all). She and her lab members provided an open and accepting environment where students could be themselves. Feigon takes pride in having trained a diverse group of people from many countries and backgrounds who, despite their differences, managed to get along and not judge each other.

Feigon’s laboratory has provided essential training for a diverse group of undergraduate students, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in the area of structural biology and biophysics of nucleic acids (DNA and RNA) and nucleic acid-protein complexes. This is an area in which women and minorities are still underrepresented even at the graduate student level, and her laboratory provides a role model for them. Feigon feels strongly that, as a woman scientist, it is equally important for her to be a role model for men as well as to women because most of her postdoctoral fellows and graduate students have gone on to academic or industrial positions where they train the next generation of scientists. Her success in her field helped pave the way for many more female professors who have joined her field as NMR spectroscopists and structural biologists and has made it the inclusive field that it is today, providing mentoring and nurturing to its graduate students and postdocs. 

In recent years, Feigon has served as a mentor for several diversity outreach programs at UCLA including the MARC (Maximizing Access to Research Careers) program, SPUR-LABS (Summer Program for Undergraduate Research – Life and Biomedical Sciences), Competitive Edge Graduate Summer research program, NIH-Initiative for Maximizing Student Diversity (IMSD), HHMI pathways to success program, and the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies (LACES) high school (a Title 1 school) summer intern program. She and her laboratory members have participated in CityLab, UCLA PEERS (Program for Excellence in Education and Research in the Sciences) hosting laboratory tours for freshman, introducing them to structural biology, LACES high school student structural biology tour day, and UCLA Undergraduate Research Poster Day (undergraduate presenters and postdoctoral researcher as a poster judge).

Feigon received her B.A. from Occidental College and her M.S. and Ph.D. (1982) from the University of California, San Diego where she studied with Professor David Kearns. Her postdoctoral work was completed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she was a Damon Runyon-Walter Winchell Cancer Fund Postdoctoral Fellow with Professor Alexander Rich from 1982-1985. 

Feigon’s research focuses on structural studies of nucleic acids by nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy along with other biophysical techniques. In addition to being a Member of the National Academy of Sciences, Feigon is a recipient of the 2018 Biophysical Society Founders Award, 2017 Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin Award from the Protein Society, Dupont Young Faculty Award, National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator Award, Glenn T. Seaborg Research Award, Herbert Newby McCoy Research Award, and Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Feigon holds the Christopher S. Foote Term Chair and is a member of the Molecular Biology Institute and the California NanoSystems Institute.

A reception to honor the DEI award recipients will be held at the Chancellor’s Residence at a date to be determined after the current COVID19 crisis.

To learn more about Feigon, visit her group’s website

Penny Jennings, UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, penny@chem.ucla.edu.