Meet the Office of Undergraduate Research’s New Director, Janet Goins
Goins brings nearly 20 years of Ph.D. and field experience in scientific research, education and communication to NC State.
Throughout her undergraduate education at the University of Tennessee, Janet Goins followed a pre-med track. It wasn’t until her senior year that a professor convinced her to conduct research outside the classroom, but she was immediately hooked once she did.
“I got so addicted to doing research, and when he offered to mentor me as a Ph.D. student I said ‘Yes, please,’” Goins laughed. “When I share this story with students now, I actually joke with them that this was a terrible way to choose to go to graduate school. I talk a lot with students about decision-making, and if we graded my decision-making process, that was a bad process, but I got lucky with the result.”
As the new director of NC State’s Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR), Goins aims to help others find and follow their passion for research — in whatever form it takes.
“When I learned about this job, I was really excited by the emphasis on equity in research and redefining research to mean things that we don’t traditionally think about,” Goins said. “I think sometimes we get stuck thinking it’s just the scientific method, and I love this idea of making sure that students, no matter where they are, think about research as available to them.”
The Journey to NC State
Following the discovery of her own love for research, Goins went on to earn a Ph.D. in microbiology from the University of Tennessee. Along the way, she was a graduate research assistant and studied marine algae and the viruses that affect them and their impact on local and global ecosystems. Her work also took her outside her home state to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she worked as a postdoctoral fellow for the Nebraska Center for Virology. Another fellowship took her to Washington, D.C., where she worked for the American Society for Microbiology and produced multiple learning modules for professionals in the field and gained experience in science communications. She drew national attention for her work on the organization’s Annual Agar Art Contest, where she encouraged microbiologists to submit fun designs with the microbacteria they grew on Petri dishes. Entries were shared on social media, and followers voted on their favorites, including one that resembled the New York City skyline.
For the next several years, Goins worked at universities in California, starting as a postdoctoral scholar and lecturer at the University of California Irvine. She was then promoted to director of educational outreach, where she oversaw the Water PIRE (Partnerships for International Research and Education) program. Funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, Goins started and led an initiative called UPP (Undergraduate PIRE Program) Down Under. Through the experience, students had the opportunity to study wetlands in Southeast Australia for two weeks in the summer and share their findings through outreach events with the public and local grade school students.
More recently, Goins was the associate director for Undergraduate Research Center-Sciences at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), where she introduced a campus-wide science journal and created an online research portal, which she describes as “Indeed.com but for research.” The platform allowed students to create profiles and search for research and scholarship opportunities posted by faculty. Goins also partnered with UCLA’s career center to share off-campus opportunities.
In the last year before joining the staff at NC State, Goins led the expanded department of Washington University’s research experiences for biology majors and taught best practices in mentoring to research mentors. While she enjoyed the work, she found herself getting more involved in teaching rather than research and missed collaborating on projects with undergraduates.
“I think one of the things I love so much about this kind of work is watching students blossom in their place,” Goins said. “I love seeing the imaginary light bulb go off over their head, or the look of joy they have when they win a scholarship or nail a presentation they were nervous about.”
A Warm Welcome to the Wolfpack
When interviewing for her new role with the OUR at NC State, Goins immediately bonded with the faculty and staff. She also enjoyed a mutual love for food and humor in the workplace. Visitors to her office will notice a viking ship left behind by her predecessor on the top shelf of her book case — with a crew of plush microbes that she added.
“I felt like everyone I got to interact with during the interviews had a good head on their shoulders and a genuine passion for the work they do,” she said. “I liked that everyone appreciated the value of continually looking to change and improve.”
I want the Office of Undergraduate Research to be seen as advocates for the students and advocates for the faculty and staff who are working on behalf of the students and trying to help them that way.
Likewise, Goins’ new colleagues are pleased to have her on board.
“We’re delighted to have Dr. Goins join the OUR team,” said Holly Hurlburt, associate dean and executive director of Academic Enrichment Programs. “She brings experience from multiple research-1 universities and a lot of enthusiasm for the work empowering all students through research and creative activities. She joins OUR at a moment of strength and growth, thanks to the excellent work of Associate Director Dr. Catherine Showalter.”
Outside of work, Goins loves gardening and hanging out with her dog and two cats. She also loves video games and board games, and has already become a regular at Side Quest Game Bar and Lounge in downtown Raleigh, where she has been part of multiple Dungeons and Dragons campaigns.
“I love games and would actually like to see more of an appreciation for them in society,” Goins said. “I’ve seen articles recently about using games as therapy for young children. I know for me, especially during the pandemic, gaming became a lifeline to be able to connect with friends all around the world.”
Goins is excited to join the Wolfpack and help students navigate their research and career paths, and she welcomes students and faculty to reach out about partnerships and collaborations.
“I want us to be a valuable partner to everyone on campus,” Goins said. “I want the Office of Undergraduate Research to be seen as advocates for the students and advocates for the faculty and staff who are working on behalf of the students and trying to help them that way.”
Learn more about the Office of Undergraduate Research on their website, https://undergradresearch.dasa.ncsu.edu/