SARA MACSORLEY, Author¹ and Director²
¹SUPER COOL SCIENTISTS
²GREEN STREET ARTS CENTER AND PIMMS, WESLEYAN UNIVERSITY
What is your work/research topic? I’m an advocate for inclusion in STEM. My day job is leading a university-run, community-based Teaching and Learning Center for children and educators to discover the exciting intersections of art, math, and science. My side hustle is the Super Cool Scientists project.
What was your best day of science? I’ve had a lot of good science days but I’d have to say that most recently the best day was when the Kickstarter campaign for my Super Cool Scientists book reached its funding goal. That day I knew the project would be completed and also had my idea validated by total strangers all over the world. That was a pretty amazing feeling.
What was your worst day in science? This is a tough question. One of the most difficult times for me in science was trying to figure out what I wanted to do as a career after I realized research wasn’t for me. No one had ever told me what else you could do with a science degree.
Dr. Sara MacSorley the author of “Super Cool Scientists” and Director of Green Street Arts Center and PIMMS at Wesleyan University. You can follow her at @SMacSorley and @SuperCoolSci.
What did/are you study at university? I studied marine biology as an undergraduate and then business as a graduate student. My internship for the MBA focused on university science communication programs.
What does your average day look like? Running the Teaching and Learning Center is interesting because no single day is the same. Now adding the book on top of that, no day is average because its all new and exciting for me. They all start with coffee and snuggles with Tango the cat.
Life Outside the Lab
Where did you grow up? I grew up in a small town called Cambridge on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.
What profession did you think you would be when you were a kid? Since I was 8 years old, I thought I was going to be a marine research scientist so that is the direction I went in with my studies. Turns out, once I had my first independent research project my junior year of college, I didn’t really like research.
What do you do to relax outside of lab? I’ll adjust this a bit since I don’t work in a lab: It can be difficult to relax outside of work when you have a demanding role however it is one of the things I have been working on for myself the past few years – self compassion and self care. I enjoy reading books about women in science and also crime solving novels like James Patterson’s work; cooking and trying new recipes, and I try to make sure to get a massage regularly and take hot baths when I can since my back and shoulder muscles seem to take the brunt of the stress. I love spending time with my family and friends.
Do you have any pets? I do! My wife and I have a pet cat named Tango.
Do you have any fun hobbies? I make jewelry. Lately I haven’t been able to do it much but have made a few pieces for weddings of friends over the past few years.
If you want to talk about your family, what is your family life?
Is there any one event or person who/that made you want to be a scientist? I’ve drawn inspiration from so many people in my life I can’t answer this question with just one thing. My first trip to the National Aquarium in Baltimore was the event that made me think I wanted to go into specifically marine research. I had a handful of amazing teachers who helped me realize my talent for scientific thinking and also for writing. In college, I was lucky enough to have several mentors that helped me realize that science outreach and communication was the right career path for me.
Why were you drawn to science? Did you ever consider another career path? How close was your schooling related to your current job? I think it is normal to zig zag a bit on your career path – I certainly did! After realizing I didn’t want to do research, I moved into doing science outreach work. Eventually, that put me into project administration work for a large statewide marine science research and education program. Since the program was based at a university, I was able to use tuition reimbursement for a graduate degree and went the business route not because I loved it but because it was general enough that I knew I could apply it to lots of different directions. I think I use a lot of the skills and experience that I gained during college in my current position, not necessarily all the content-specific knowledge. You learn how to manage your time, how to work with people who work differently than you, how to clearly and confidently communicate, and how to solve problems. Those skills are important in any career.
What was your biggest challenge during your degree? I’d say the biggest challenge was realizing I didn’t actually want to go into research. I think that is why experiential learning opportunities are so important to do early. Finding out what you don’t like is just as important as finding out what you do like.
Did you ever consider another career path? Yes, until my senior year of undergrad, I had planned to be a veterinarian. But after working with a veterinarian through high school and college, I couldn’t see myself doing that everyday forever. My professor suggested I try research. I did. I liked it. Here I am!
Are there any women in STEM who are inspiring you right now, and why? Each of the women featured in Super Cool Scientists inspires me. Working with them to make this project a reality was amazing. Dr. Sylvia Earle has been someone I’ve looked up to for years and I’m honored to share her story.
If you left academia, what was the biggest hurdle you had moving to industry/other? Even though I’m not in science specifically, my career has still taken place in higher education so there are lots of similarities in that regard.
Why do you think it is important to have more women in STEM? It’s very simple. All types of diversity bring different perspectives and that helps us come up with new ideas for solutions. Diversity has value (including real economic value) and representation matters which is why I think projects like these that celebrate the stories of women in science are so important to share.
- What is your favorite book? This is tough, I have many. One of my all time favorites though is “The Hot Zone” by Richard Preston.
- What is your favorite desk snack? I’m trying to be better with snacking so lately my snacks have been almonds, apples, or hummus and veggies.
- What is your favorite cartoon? I just restarted watching “Archer” from the beginning on Netflix.
- What would you listen to while writing? I’m one of those people who likes quiet when I work mostly because I tend to sing along to music – which is distracting! So if I listen to anything it tends to be classical, jazz, or something else instrumental.
- What was your favorite subject in high school? I loved science and creative writing.
- What is the strangest thing on your desk right now? Dried sage – we just moved into a new house and one of the women I work with gave us sage to bless the new house and I haven’t had a chance to do it yet.
- Organization nut, or curated chaos? Organized nut would be accurate. I’m big into lists and planners.
- What color socks are you wearing? Bright purple with gnomes. Fun socks are a wardrobe necessity in our house.
CONTACT SARA MACSORLEY ON TWITTER@SMacSorley
www.supercoolscientists.com – Join the Super Cool Scientists community for information on how to get your hands on a coloring book, follow us on social media, or reach out to the author.
www.saramacsorley.com – Sara’s website for information on the book and also for grant consulting.