Dolores C. Shockley:
A Trailblazer in Pharmacology

Dolores C. Shockley, PhD, demonstrating the use of a scientific device, flanked by four students
Dr. Shockley teaching her students

Dolores C. Shockley, PhD, was a distinguished figure in the field of pharmacology, breaking down racial barriers as the first in many categories. Dr. Shockley was the first African American woman to receive a PhD in any discipline from Purdue University and the first African American woman in the United States to receive a PhD in Pharmacology. She was also the first African American woman to chair a pharmacology department at an accredited U.S. medical school. Her life, educational journey and professional achievements outline the impact she has had on the scientific community.

Early Life and Education

Dr. Shockley, a luminary in the field of pharmacology, dedicated her life to advancing scientific knowledge and fostering excellence in research. Her journey into the realm of pharmacology began with a solid foundation in education as early academic pursuits shaped the trajectory of her career. She was educated in the segregated secondary schools of Clarksdale, Miss., because of government-sanctioned institutionalized racism. In this separate but not equal environment, she studied science at home because of the lack of supplies at her school.

In an interview, Dr. Shockley stated that her interest in pharmacology arose from the lack of access to a drug store in her community. She attended Mary Holmes College, a private high school for black girls before matriculating into pharmacy school at Xavier University, an Historically Black College/University (HBCU) in New Orleans, La. Dr. Shockley earned her B.S. in 1951 and was number one in her class. She continued her education at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., where she received her M.S. in 1953 and her PhD in Pharmacology in 1955. In doing so, she became the first African American woman to receive a PhD in any discipline from Purdue University and the first African American woman in the United States to receive a PhD in Pharmacology.

Professional Achievements

Dolores C. Shockley, PhD Dr. Shockley’s professional career is marked by a dedication to pharmacology research. Her name is associated with excellence in the field. Recognition of her work speaks volumes about her impact on the scientific community. While obtaining her PhD, Dr. Shockley accepted a faculty position as an Assistant Professor of Pharmacology at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn.

After completing her PhD, Dolores Shockley assumed a series of influential roles within the academic and research community. She was selected as a Fulbright Fellow to work at the Pharmacology Institute in Copenhagen, Denmark and worked at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine from 1959–1962 before returning to Meharry Medical College as an Associate Professor in the Department of Pharmacology and later chairing the pharmacology department there in 1988.

Dr. Shockley worked to understand the mechanisms of substance use disorder and neurotoxicity in order to develop treatments for overdose and drug dependency. While at Meharry, she created collaborations with nearby Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and in 2009, the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine Department of Pharmacology named a biannual lectureship and partnership award honoring her that is presented biennially. In 1997, she was named a Distinguished Alumna of Purdue, Old Master at Purdue. Established in 1950, The Old Masters program honors distinguished Purdue alumna and provides opportunities for them to mentor Purdue students as they finish their college careers.

After an accomplished career, Dr. Shockley retired from Meharry Medical College as Professor Emerita in 2005. She loved working with students and was committed to increasing the representation of diverse groups in the biomedical sciences. Her national service included work with multiple government organizations as well as being an active member of ASPET. In 2010, the ASPET Dolores C. Shockley Poster Award was established to recognize her service and impact.

The ASPET Dolores C. Shockley Poster Awards

The Dolores C. Shockley Poster Awards traditionally acknowledge outstanding poster presentations in the field of pharmacology and play a crucial role in supporting and encouraging early-career researchers to attend the ASPET Annual Meeting. Although originally only one award, the Shockley poster award competition held at the ASPET annual meeting has been expanded to distinguish excellence in research for undergraduate, graduate and post-baccalaureate students as well as postdoctoral scientists. Applicants for the Dolores C. Shockley Poster Awards must be members of groups defined by the National Institutes of Health to be underrepresented in the biomedical sciences, which include several groups: Black or African American, Alaskan Native, Hispanic or Latino, Native American and natives of the U.S. Pacific Islands; individuals with disabilities; and individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds.

For many, receiving the Dolores C. Shockley Poster Award represents a significant milestone in their scientific journey, providing validation and opening doors to further opportunities within the field. In addition to offering an opportunity for minoritized scientists to achieve recognition for their scientific accomplishments, the poster competition provides a gateway for service in ASPET on the Mentoring and Career Development (MCD) Committee.

One example of the positive impact of the Dolores Shockley Poster Competition is Dr. Ashley Guillory, Associate Professor of Instruction in the Department of Physician Assistant Studies at the University of Texas Medical Branch. Dr. Guillory posits that it was through this mechanism “that she joined the MCD committee, supervised the Shockley competition for several years and in 2022, became the current chair. Dr. Shockley’s legacy inspires and motivates young scientists through ASPET’s Shockley Poster Competition. Since being on the committee, I have seen numerous Shockley winners become leaders in ASPET and make significant contributions in their areas of research.”

Though her specific accomplishments may not be extensively documented, Dolores C. Shockley stands as a symbol of excellence in pharmacology. The establishment of the Dolores C. Shockley Poster Awards ensures that her influence continues to shape the field, encouraging researchers to strive for clarity, significance and excellence in their scientific pursuits. In this way, Dolores C. Shockley’s name will undoubtedly remain synonymous with a commitment to advancing knowledge and fostering the growth of future leaders in pharmacology.

Dr. Dolores C. Shockley, a distinguished figure in the field of pharmacology, passed away in October 2020 at the age of 90. Her presence has left an indelible mark on the scientific community through her significant contributions and a trailblazing story that has inspired generations of researchers. She has been recognized and celebrated by various institutions because of her commitment to advancing knowledge in pharmacology despite the many challenges she faced. In recognition of Black History Month, ASPET celebrates her and all her achievements in pharmacology.

  1. Please follow the link for more information about the Shockley award.


  • Jayne S. Reuben, PhD

    Jayne S. Reuben, PhD is an Instructional Associate Professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Director of Instructional Effectiveness at the Texas A&M University (TAMU) School of Dentistry. She is also an Instructional Associate Professor in the department of Medical Education at the TAMU School of Medicine. Dr. Reuben earned her PhD in Pharmaceutical Sciences with a specialization in Pharmacology and Toxicology from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. She has served as ASPET’s Past Chair and Program Representative for the Division of Pharmacology Education. She is currently a member of ASPET’s Mentoring and Career Development, IDEA, Organizing, and Partnerships Committees. Dr. Reuben is a 2021 Fellow of the ASPET Academy of Pharmacology Educators and an ASPET Fellow, Class of 2022. Reuben, PhD Jayne S.