Spotlight Series:
Sarah Sheldon

What do you do?

"I want to know why the world is what it is, and that is, and I'm starting with the brain"

Sarah Sheldon currently studies neuroimaging techniques to study how the brain takes in sensory information from the surroundings and converts that information into conscious experience. She believes that in order to figure out how our world works, we need to figure out how the brain works.

What inspired you to do what you do now?

“I’ve learned that our understanding of the world is limited to how well our brain can interpret that information, so that's what got me interested in the brain.”

Sarah has always been interested in science and was always reading science-related books such as Michael Crichton. She has always been curious about everything and has studied many sciences, including biology, chemistry and physics. In theoretical physics, she realized that the perception of the world is not the same as the physical reality of the world. Her favourite example to demonstrate this concept is light. Light explained scientifically may not be perceived by someone who cannot visualize it and only can see the colour blue. She explains that “there is a disconnect between the physical reality and how we perceive it.”

What does diversity in STEM mean to you?

“Diversity in STEM means that children now can have someone to look up to; meaning if they want to be a scientist they can be…[diversity] creates possibility.”

Sarah had to hide her books and did not have anyone to look up to as a female scientist. “It’s one of those things that you don’t see and you don’t know if it is possible. She believes that diversity in STEM is giving someone children can look up to and to inspire them to be scientists. “Being able to see the [diversity] creates possibility. She believes that the younger generation now do not need to be ashamed and does not want them to think that it isn’t possible because “someone told them not to or because they didn’t know.”

What are some challenges you have faced linked to EDI (Equality, Diversity, Inclusion) in your experiences/work?

“Being told that women are never gonna be the smartest of the human population, especially as children, wasn’t a message of encouragement. These subtle messages are something I hope younger generations don’t have to face.”

Sarah had to hide her books and did not have anyone to look up to as a female scientist. “It’s one of those things that you don’t see and you don’t know if it is possible". She believes that diversity in STEM is giving someone children can look up to and to inspire them to be scientists. “Being able to see the [diversity] creates possibility". She believes that the younger generation now do not need to be ashamed and does not want them to think that it isn’t possible because “someone told them not to or because they didn’t know.”

What are some ways individuals like yourself can help increase EDI in STEM?

Sarah recommends WISEST because this program provides opportunities to not only females but underrepresented populations. They have a program that allows high school students to perform research. One of her students is in college and presented her first poster at an international conference. The program also allows middle and high school students to see science and to talk about it with others in the field.

Another program she recommends and has participated in is Skype a Scientist. Here, individuals can speak to a wider population “like inmates and older populations” about scientists. She believes this is important because the media does not allow science. All these programs “show people (especially children) how people that look like them and have similar interests are able to become a scientist if they want to.” Sarah provides her nieces and nephews science kits to show them [their] possibilities for the future.

Interviewers: Abhiroop Saha, Amirah Nazir, Hanna Kang (2020)Author: JuliAnn Thai (2021)