Alisha "Jonesy" Jones

Faculty Spotlight

Alisha “Jonesy” Jones

Assistant Professor of Chemistry,
James Weldon Johnson Professor

Current research focus

I’ve got four letters for you: RNA.

I tell people that I am interested in anything and everything RNA. Right now, my research team is mainly focusing on long noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs). These are RNAs that are longer than 500 nucleotides and that do not encode for protein. Instead, they control a plethora of biological processes in the cell, and have been linked to numerous diseases. What my group is interested in are the structures that lncRNAs fold into, and the dynamics associated with those structures. We use both computational and experimental approaches to figure out how (and why) lncRNAs are structurally dynamic. Our long-term goal is to develop therapeutic agents that target lncRNA structured states that are associated with disease.

Influential mentors

Two professors from my undergrad days at Miami University, Blanton Tolbert and Andre (Andy) Sommer, have been very influential mentors to me. Everyone should have someone who is in their corner, to encourage them when they find it hard to encourage themselves, to crack a good joke here and there (and laugh at the corny jokes in between), and to provide advice and mentorship when navigating new and/or tough decisions. People should also have someone who can provide both constructive and positive feedback; that is important for growth. Andy and Blanton have definitely been those people for me. Real talk: I can honestly say that they have inspired how I mentor my own students today.

Favorite course to teach

Macromolecular Chemistry is my favorite class because it allows me to share my enthusiasm for a subject I am deeply passionate about – RNA/protein structure-function relationships. In the previous academic year, I collaborated with my students on a unique project. Using bioinformatics, we collectively crowdsourced a research project that high school students then experimentally validated during the summer. The culmination of our efforts resulted in a manuscript that we have submitted for publication; it is currently undergoing the revision process. Notably, both graduate and high school students share co-authorship in this exciting venture.

The course design, with its emphasis on freedom and flexibility, has been particularly rewarding. It seamlessly integrates everything I am passionate about – delving into the intricacies of RNA, introducing students to novel research areas, and providing aspiring scientists with the opportunity to engage in meaningful research. Bringing together graduate and high school students to collaboratively address compelling scientific questions is, in my view, a pathway to nurturing the next generation of scientists. This course has afforded me a direct and fulfilling means to contribute to this important goal.

Jonesy and high school student Lance Ellis

Jonesy and high school student Lance Ellis, who joined her Macromolecular Chemistry course in summer 2023. 

What’s special about receiving the James Weldon Johnson Professorship

The James Weldon Johnson Professorship is crafted with the purpose of acknowledging scholarly contributions that have a profound impact on the realm of inequality. During my high school years, I engaged in an outreach initiative facilitated by the American Chemical Society called Project SEED. This program offers students from traditionally marginalized backgrounds the chance to delve into research and benefit from mentorship in STEM-related fields.

Participating in Project SEED marked a pivotal moment in my life, unveiling the realization that numerous students miss out on potential careers in science due to a lack of exposure. Undoubtedly, Project SEED played a pivotal role in shaping me into the Assistant Professor of Chemistry I am today.

Throughout my academic journey—spanning undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral pursuits—I have consistently sought avenues to mentor, train, teach, and share my experiences with budding scientists. Now, as an Assistant Professor, equipped with a research group and ample resources, I am privileged to continue this mission. As I mentioned about my favorite course to teach, I also integrate high school students into the experimental validation process conducted by graduate students. Notably, the participants from this past summer belonged to traditionally excluded groups. For me, this initiative mirrors my own interpretation of Project SEED—an opportunity to introduce students (who otherwise may not have had the opportunity) to the world of science and STEM, much like I was introduced years ago.

It is endeavors like these that deepen my gratitude for the James Weldon Johnson Professorship, as it aligns seamlessly with my interests and aspirations.

A living or historical person I’d like to meet

A person I would like to meet … hmm. That is such a tough question. I guess my mind immediately goes to three authors: James Tynion IV, Brian K. Vaughan, and Liu Cixin. They have all written things that I have really enjoyed (Something Is Killing the Children, Saga, and The Three Body Problem, respectively) and I would love to sit and have a coffee (or beer) to discuss characters, alternate endings, and a few plot holes that live rent free in my brain.

What I’d do for work if I couldn’t work in academics

If I could not work in academics, I would make a living as an author. I not only love reading sci-fi and fantasy, but I enjoy writing short stories in this genre too. I might have to live in my parent’s basement though; I am not sure if I’d make enough to cover living expenses. But hey, if my fictional writing is as good as my scientific research, maybe I’d be alright. 😉

Jonesy and members of her research group: Emma Bose, Lucy Fallon, Ethan Arnold, Shengwei Xiong, Daniel Cohn, Hollie Watmuff

Everyone should have someone who is in their corner, to encourage them when they find it hard to encourage themselves