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Science Profile: Eli Lilly Research Fellow and Eckerd Alumnus Jeffrey Dodge '84

posted on 10/15/2009

by Mary Ellen Collins

Dr. Jeffrey A. Dodge graduated from Eckerd College in 1984 with a major in Chemistry. In addition to celebrating his 25th reunion during Alumni Weekend, Dr. Dodge will serve as the honorary chair of the inaugural science sympsosium, Molecules and Life: Science Serving Society, to be held on October 23-24, 2009 at Eckerd's Sheen Science Center.

For Jeff Dodge '84, a Research Fellow at Eli Lilly Laboratories, an interest in health and helping people was in the genes. His grandfather was a medical missionary, and his father, who grew up in Africa, was a physician who relocated his own family to Ethiopia for two years.

"My dad was teaching and working in preventive health in rural Africa. I was really young, and I didn't realize how much that influenced me until much later." By high school, Dodge had decided to become a physician and chose to begin his educational journey at Eckerd, partly because both of his parents had gone to liberal arts colleges and pointed him in that direction.

The Inverness native entered Eckerd as a Chemistry major bound for medical school, until an unexpected opportunity prompted a change in direction. At the end of his junior year, a professor asked Dodge if he would like to spend the summer in a University of Central Florida research lab. He accepted the offer to work with a UCF professor on organic chemistry-based research, and by the end of summer, he says, "I decided I'd go to graduate school to study organic chemistry instead of medical school. I really liked this hands-on research thing. Organic chemistry is working with your hands to test hypotheses, and that part of it was really enthralling." He laughingly admits that the 16-hour days his father worked as a small-town physician also had a slight influence on his career decision.

In his senior year, Dodge had the opportunity to conduct honors research and worked with Professor John May on developing antiviral compounds. "That influenced my decision later on to go into the pharmaceutical industry. We were making molecules designed to fight a disease - it was the first time I was introduced to making molecules to influence human health."

Through Dodge's work on a doctorate at the University of California, Irvine, and a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Texas, he developed a new appreciation for his undergraduate experience.

"I realized that students who go into larger, more research-based schools have to focus very early on... they sometimes miss out on classes that were required at Eckerd, like humanities, social sciences, writing. In any job, there's the technical side where you need to be an expert, but there are also the people skills, writing skills and thinking skills you use. Eckerd provided a really well-rounded education, and that has a lot of career benefits."

Dodge has been at Lilly Research Laboratories since 1991, holding the position of Research Fellow since 2004. He remains energized by discovering medicines for diseases like breast cancer and osteoporosis.

"My dad was a doctor who got to influence human health, one patient at a time. Patients who take one of our breast cancer preventive agents stand a better chance of not getting cancer; we can develop medicines that influence millions of people."

Having just completed the college application process with his daughter, Dodge has revisited the value of a liberal arts and sciences education. For Science majors in particular, he points out that with a lot technical work being outsourced to other countries, there are advantages to learning how to think and communicate in addition to learning hands-on components of a particular field. He also envisions wide-ranging benefits from Eckerd's plans for the new Center for Molecular and Life Sciences.

"Florida is unique in that it has figured out life sciences. They have Scripps and Burnham Institute for Medical Research-magnets that have historically proven to build jobs and the economy around them. When I was going through the [job search] process 18 years ago, there wasn't this kind of work in this industry in Florida. It's a unique time for Eckerd to enhance the Sciences and prepare students for those opportunities. It will be good for the College, for the students, for the state and for human health."

This feature is the first of a series of profiles of Eckerd alumni and friends who embody the emphasis of the Sciences at Eckerd College. Learn more about the Many Experiences, One Spirit: The Campaign for Eckerd College and the Center for Molecular and Life Sciences, a Campaign priority.

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