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March 30, 2021

Formula for Success


By all accounts, Jenn Abelin ’09, a double major in Chemistry and Biology, was destined to attend Guilford College.

“It’s important to take risks and be willing to make mistakes. No matter what you do, you have to find the thing that makes you want to get up in the morning and go do it."

Jenn Abelin '09
Chemistry and Biology Double Major

The two seemed to have chemistry from the start, even if Jenn didn’t study the subject right away. In fact, Jenn and Guilford were so perfect for each other, the College was her highest-ranking match on a career personality test she took in high school. 

“I’d never heard of it. I hadn’t done any research and didn’t know anybody who had gone there,” she said. “It was a very funny way to end up there.” She nearly decided on the College sight unseen, but a Spring Into Guilford visit sealed the deal. She originally planned to study Biology. Guilford’s science program had an excellent reputation, and the Frank Family Science Center had just been built. 

[Admitted students, register for Spring Into Guilford 2021!]

As luck would have it, she met Professor Anne Glenn in a course on ancient medicine. Anne encouraged Jenn to pursue Chemistry

Finding Her Element

“She tricked me in a very clever way,” Jenn says with a good-natured laugh. “I’m actually a very lucky person. I was interested in Biology at that point but not Chemistry, so my first year I actually didn't even take Chemistry. Anne convinced me that over the summer at a community college in Connecticut I should just take first-year Chemistry. Then when I came back I could start organic. When I finished organic Chemistry, she said I might as well continue with it, and then she guided me all the way through.”

If double-majoring weren’t enough, Jenn played lacrosse throughout her years at Guilford. After graduating with her Biology and Chemistry double major, Jenn kept the momentum going. She went on to earn a doctorate from the University of Virginia, studying cancer with mass spectrometry-based proteomics. There she was mentored by Donald Hunt and Jeffrey Shabanowitz.

Staying Positive

Jenn completed her post-doctorate work with the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard under the guidance of Steven A. Carr in the Proteomics Platform. Then she went to work for Neon Therapeutics, a biotechnology startup that has since been acquired by BioNTech, the company that’s now making COVID-19 vaccines. At close to four years at Neon Therapeutics, Jenn decided she liked science in the earlier stages of research, so she returned to the Broad Institute where she is today.

Jenn says her motivation is solving interesting problems that have real-life applications. She’s also passionate about finding ways to improve treatments for different diseases. And because she had such wonderful mentors at Guilford and beyond, Jenn now also finds joy in mentoring others.

She is specifically focused on early-stage scientists, such as recent college graduates who are considering medical school or PhD programs. One of her former research associates is now at a PhD/MD program at UCLA; another is a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin; and a third is at the University of Washington in Seattle. The research associate she is currently mentoring is also planning to apply to a PhD/MD program.

“It’s important to take risks and be willing to make mistakes,” she says. “No matter what you do, you have to find the thing that makes you want to get up in the morning and go do it.”

Are you planning to change the world through the use of science? Schedule your personalized visit today — or submit your application — to learn more about Guilford's challenging and impressive science department.