Jill Barrett Biology Research Program


The mission of the Jill Barrett Biology Research Program is to encourage the advancement of women in the biological sciences by providing research experiences to Mills undergraduates. The research experience and professional development of students will be fostered through close mentorship by faculty supervisors, interactions with fellow Barrett participants past and present, and interactions with other collaborators. Students will engage in research projects that aim to provide insights into unanswered questions in biology. In the process, participants will gain technical skills, practice in the logic and creativity of science, and experience analyzing and presenting data. More broadly, the program aims to increase the representation, participation, and leadership of women in the biological sciences through the promotion of leadership skills, professional development, and contributions of new biological knowledge.


The Jill Barrett Research Program was initiated in 1998, funded by the generosity of donors Richard and Elaine Barrett in honor of their daughter Jill, who graduated from Mills as a Biology major in 1993. She wrote her senior thesis on "The Evolution of Optimal Foraging Strategy in Araneophagic Spiders." (“Araneophagic” means “eating spiders;” these are cannibalistic spiders.) She also did fieldwork at the Marine Mammal Center in Marin County. After Jill graduated, she became an active conservation biologist, working to eliminate threats to endangered sea turtles, which remain at risk of extinction. Tragically, Jill lost her life in an accident in Greece while coming home from early morning observation of sea turtles. Her family established the Jill Barrett Research Program in her memory. We are grateful for the support of this program, and all participants are mindful of the contributions that Jill made and undoubtedly would have continued to make had her life not ended so prematurely.

Financial Support of Research Activities

The Jill Barrett Research Program at Mills College provides scholarships for students participating in a 10–week long summer research project under the tutelage of a faculty member in our Biology Department. There are two levels of support depending on level of responsibility and experience: 1) Barrett Scholar (full-time position with full stipend), and 2) Barrett Research Assistant (part-time position with partial stipend). Students with limited coursework and experience in biology are encouraged to apply for the assistant position. Students accepting a scholar position are expected to engage in directed research during the spring semester prior to the start of their scholarship period to prepare for their summer research project.


This program offers first-hand research experiences to students with a variety of interests including genetics, animal behavior, and microbiology. Scholars in the program will gain both depth and breadth in the field of biology through weekly meetings in which Barrett students present and discuss their research findings (at various stages of completion) with faculty and peers. Additional outcomes may also include continued collaborations with faculty members and students at Mills College as well as the production of scholarly works (such as presentations at professional meetings and publications in professional journals). Mills College has limited financial support for students interesting in presenting their findings at off-campus venues. For more information, please visit the Undergraduate Research and Opportunity Program grant page.

Research Interests & Faculty Mentors

Students are encouraged to identify a potential mentor for their research in their application materials. For more information about the research programs of faculty mentors involved in the program, please visit the links below:

Dr. Ana Mostafavi, Assistant Professor of Biochemistry
Professional Interests: Bio chemistry
Faculty page

Dr. Jennifer Smith, Associate Professor of Biology
Professional Interests: Behavioral and evolutionary ecology of social rodents and carnivores
Faculty page | Lab website

Dr. Sarah Swope, Assistant Professor of Biology
Professional Interests: How plants mediate interactions among pollinators, herbivores and pathogens; geographic variation in demography; invasive plants as model systems for research; conservation of rare native plants
Faculty page | Lab website

Dr. Jared Young, Associate Professor of Biology
Professional Interests: Genetics of learned behaviors in the nematode C. elegans
Faculty page

Application Information

Applications for the summer program are due the previous fall, usually in early November. An informational presentation is offered, typically in mid-October, for students interested in applying.

Barrett Application Form (PDF) | Barrett Application Form (DOC)

For specific questions about the program, please contact Dr. Jennifer Smith at jesmith@mills.edu.

Biology Program Goals

  • Possess knowledge of general biological principles.
  • Have the ability to carry out standard laboratory and field techniques, including analysis of results.
  • Have the ability to communicate findings in both oral and written modes.
  • Understand and practice the process of scientific inquiry, including the logic of experimentation and data analysis.
  • Have the ability to evaluate a new area of research using knowledge of biological principles and the process of scientific inquiry, as well as the current biological literature.