Sarah Dalesman (@Snail_memory) is a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellow and lecturer in freshwater biology and animal behaviour at Aberystwyth University. Her research focuses on why animals differ in their ability to learn and form memory and how stress impacts on memory. She’ll be talking about her research to determine whether there is such a thing as an intelligent snail and what pond snails can tell us about learning and memory. Sarah will be speaking at Soapbox Science Swansea in June.
SS: Sarah, how did you get to your current position?
SD: I graduated from a PhD at the University of Plymouth in 2007. After a year applying for various postdocs I had an amazing opportunity to go and work in Canada for four years at the University of Calgary. Living 45 minutes from the Rocky Mountains I managed to fit in a lot of skiing and hiking around my research work! I then moved back to the U.K. on a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellowship, returning to the South West but this time based at the University of Exeter. The lectureship at Aberystwyth University came up about a year after I moved back; I applied and got the job. I love living in Aberystwyth, it’s a stunning area of the countryside to live and work!
SS: What, or who, inspired you to get a career in science?
SD: My granddad inspired me to be interested in nature from a scientific perspective, especially how and why animals behave the way they do. I spent many hours sat in the garden with him every summer studying the comings and goings of ants. I knew I wanted to be a zoologist working in animal behaviour from the ripe old age of five. I feel very lucky, not many people can say they achieved their childhood dream.
SS: What is the most fascinating aspect of your research?
SD: I love the fact that I’m constantly surprised by what animals can do. I mostly work with pond snails, a seemingly simple animal, researching how they learn and form memory. I start an experiment with a particular idea of how the snails might respond, and they almost always do something different. It’s then my job to work out why. After ten years working with the same species they still fascinate me.
SS: What attracted you to Soapbox Science in the first place?
SD: I think it’s an excellent opportunity to meet and hopefully inspire scientists of the future. Bringing science into a place that is accessible to anyone, and communicating it in a way everyone can understand is the way forward.
SS: Sum up in one word your expectations for the day – excitement? fear? thrill? anticipation?
SS: If you could change one thing about the scientific culture right now, what would it be?
SD: If I could, I’d love to remove the ‘them and us’ barrier between professional scientists and the public. There is a mistrust of science in some sectors and I think this is largely down to the way scientific research is communicated, in a way that is not very accessible to anyone outside the field. We, as scientists, need to learn to communicate our research in ways that everyone can understand.
SS: What would be your top recommendation to a female PhD student considering pursuing a career in academia?
SD: Be stubborn and pursue your dream! It’s very tough for anyone irrespective of gender coming out of a PhD, and your first research position will often take a long time to get. I took over a year to get my first postdoc. You’re likely to get rejected a lot, don’t take the rejection personally. Persistence pays off eventually.
Catch Sarah on her Soapbox in Swansea, on June 6th on Mumbles Road, Swansea 12-4pm, where she will be talking about “How intravenous nutrition works: a lifeline for people who can’t eat food?”