In May 2021, UC Irvine School of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences Professor Emeritus Frances Leslie, PhD, earned selection as an Inclusive Excellence Professor (IEP).
In this role, Leslie advises on faculty development activities on campus and serves the faculty supported by the grant for Advancing Faculty Diversity (AFD). In collaboration with the grant’s PIs, Professors Ilona Yim and Nina Bandelj, she meets with mentees, and serves as part of a mentoring resource network for the faculty who participate in the AFD grant sponsored activities.
Leslie points out that a significant priority for the IEP Program is establishing communities that support junior faculty.
“We have found that younger and more diverse faculty at UCI are most likely to dedicate their time to serving others,” she said. “Finding a way to measure their impact and to recognize people for their efforts is key.”
Leslie has enjoyed many collaborations at UCI over her 40-year career that have inspired and motivated her to find ways to provide that same experience for students and fellow faculty.
From 2009 through 2019, Leslie served as the Dean of the Graduate Division at UCI. In 2020, she joined the UCI School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences (SPPS) as professor emeritus and is still actively involved in research and mentoring.
With the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Leslie has focused much of her attention on the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts.
“I have always cared deeply about DEI and it’s important to me that SPPS is a safe space for everyone,” Leslie said. “As we’re building up the new school, I want to make sure we’re establishing a community at SPPS that values inclusive excellence – one that makes every member from students to faculty and staff, including those who may consider themselves to be outside of the mainstream, feel comfortable and valued.”
As the new Chair of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee at SPPS, where she assists Founding Dean Jan Hirsch with DEI efforts and initiatives, Leslie strives to make lasting, institutional change.
Leslie also played an integral role in securing federal funding for UCI to create two new programs – DECADE and DECADE PLUS. Both programs are intended to enhance the climate for equity and inclusion in graduate school.
“Through Dr. Leslie’s founding of the DECADE program, more than 115 faculty members have served in the mentor program with a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion,” Hirsch said. “We are incredibly pleased to have her helping to spearhead our DEI efforts in the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.”
Leslie credits UCI and SPPS leadership for making it possible and for making DEI a priority.
“It’s rewarding and validating to know that everyone, including Dean Hirsch and the UC Regents, care deeply about the DEI efforts at SPPS and will be holding all of us accountable to build a culture that is truly inclusive,” she said. “It’s the push we all need.”
One of the defining and most unique attributes of UCI that Leslie appreciates and has benefited from is the truly collaborative nature that can’t be found anywhere else. In fact, Leslie says that many of the techniques she uses in her lab today, were learned from fellow faculty and researchers.
Originally hailing from Scotland, where she worked in the lab credited with the discovery of endorphins, Leslie first joined UC Irvine’s School of Medicine as faculty in 1981.
The research she conducts excites her. A neuropharmacologist, Leslie is dedicated to studying the effects of drugs of abuse on the developing brain through an integrative range of experimental approaches. Looking at everything from molecular biology to animal behavior, Leslie and her research team aim to determine whether abused drugs, including tobacco, cocaine, and amphetamines, have unique effects at various stages of brain development, especially during the prenatal period and adolescence.
In addition to her research and administrative duties, Leslie dedicates time to mentoring the next generation of scientists.
“It is a privilege to help students discover and develop their interests and talents and to identify what possibilities are out there that will help them achieve their goals,” she said. “When I first meet students, many don’t know what they want to do, nor do they have a true sense of their abilities, but they evolve by the time they graduate, and it’s a gratifying experience to see them mature.”
The key to Leslie’s personal and professional success? Setting boundaries.
“My personal and professional roles fit into three primary buckets – faculty, administration and family,” she said. “In order to be successful in each domain, I had to learn to focus on each one of these at a time and not force myself to try and do everything at once.”