Professor Spotlight: Jennifer Lyles


Photo by: Contributed Photo

Jennifer Lyles, an FMU alumna, continues her research in biology while also teaching at her alma mater.

Having experienced first-hand the life of an FMU Patriot, Jennifer Lyles offers a personable experience to her students.

A native of Florence, SC, Jennifer Lyles is a sixth-year biology professor at FMU. She attended FMU as an undergraduate student, obtaining a bachelor’s in biology. After graduating, Lyles went on to attend the University of Florida College of Medicine, where she obtained a Ph.D. in biomedical sciences with a concentration in genetics.

“Having family members that worked [at FMU] in various capacities, it was really just a natural fit,” Lyles said. “I was already really familiar with FMU.”

Lyles said the biology department was extremely supportive of her endeavors as a student. Because of this, it was encouraging to have opportunities present where she may not have found on her own, as well as building relationships with professors.

“When I started getting interested in research, they helped me find available research opportunities,” Lyles said.

Halfway through undergrad, as her interest in the field continued, she decided acquiring more experience would be a big part of her post-graduation plans. Lyles participated in several research projects in graduate school, as well as during her professional career at FMU.

Lyles is currently working on two research projects. One project focuses on viral vectors, where harmless viruses are used for gene therapy to treat genetic disorders, while the other focuses on probiotic microorganisms, bacteria and yeast that are beneficial to health.

“Biomedical science is science that has a medical application, often known as bench-to-bedside,” Lyles said. “It’s translational research – research that has some kind of clinical or medical application.”

While in graduate school, Lyles thought her future career could be working for a biotech company. However, her plans changed as she spent more time observing and experiencing additional aspects of the research process on a larger scale. She noted, at a larger university, such as the University of Florida, there is an immense amount of pressure on the researcher to acquire sizeable amounts of grant funding, produce results quickly and publish frequently. Witnessing other researchers struggle with these extreme expectations, she decided researching full-time wasn’t the best option for her.

During her graduate experience, she sought teaching opportunities outside of her graduate program. She eventually landed an opportunity as a teaching assistant and taught a microbiology lab for pre-health undergraduate students at the University of Florida.

“I really loved it,” Lyles said. “I enjoyed it, and I felt it was much more my pace. I knew it would be something I would enjoy doing long-term, and that I would look forward to going to work every day.”

Nearing graduation from the University of Florida, a position opened at FMU for a microbiology professor, and Lyles found herself in Florence again.

In addition to her responsibilities at FMU, Lyles serves on an Institutional Biosafety Committee for Advarra, Inc. As a committee member, she reviews protocols for clinical trials and performs risk assessments. Reviews have included the recently FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccines, among other emerging vaccines and treatments.

Lyles spends her time outside of FMU with her husband and their two young daughters. They especially love camping and spending time at the beach in the summers.

“Francis Marion means a lot to me,” Lyles said. “I’ve had some of my best memories here on this campus, both as a student and as a faculty member. FMU has been such a huge part of my life, and it will always hold a special place in my heart. I feel really fortunate to be a part of what I consider to be a huge family here.”