Sarah Short will begin a faculty position at the Center in Fall 2018. She received her Ph.D. from UW– Madison and has served as the Center’s new Scientific Co-Director for the past year. She joins us from the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, where she previously served as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry’s Early Brain Development Program.
Was there an “Aha!” moment you realized you wanted to do science?
Yes, there have been several, but the first time I had this realization was when I worked at an in-day treatment center for at-risk youth. These kids would come in, and everyone would work really hard all day just to make a tiny bit of progress. Then they would go home to challenging environments, and the next day we’d start back at square one again. It made me realize I wanted to put my efforts into a research career focused on identifying early risk factors and methods of prevention. I’ve always had a desire to help people, and it seemed through research I might be able to have a broader impact that could benefit more people.
"The more we know about the brain networks and processes that support foundational cognitive skills early in life, the better equipped we are to design interventions and educational programs to promote well-being."
Why study memory in children?
Memory is a foundational cognitive skill that is critical for daily functions and learning in general. Memory deficits are also common in many psychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders. For these reasons, my research has focused on improving knowledge of early brain development with the ultimate goal of promoting resiliency and healthful long-term outcomes for developing and at-risk children. The more we know about the brain networks and processes that support foundational cognitive skills early in life, the better equipped we are to design interventions and educational programs to promote well-being.
How do you plan to lead research efforts amid funding challenges, especially as federal research dollars decline?
Research across the board is suffering the effects of our current federal funding structure. If you’re fortunate enough to secure funding, there’s often just enough to run the experiments and collect the data, but then not enough support to analyze the data, write up the findings and disseminate the results. The tenuousness of the current funding situation also presents barriers for longitudinal research, which is one of our richest sources of information. More and more, scientists are finding support from private donors, and the Center for Healthy Minds is a clear example of how such generosity is expanding opportunities for research and positive impact.
-Interview conducted and edited by Marianne Spoon