United Nations International Day of Women and Girls in Science – Meet Dr. Sarah Harris

Saturday, February 11, 2023

Today marks the United Nations Day of Women and Girls in Science. To celebrate the occasion, we spoke to West Australian Dr. Sarah Harris about her background in science and what advice she would give to young girls and women looking to a career in science today.

What is your background?
From a study perspective I have an Exercise and Sport Science and Health Promotion background. I am involved in the sports medicine community, previously been a sports trainer for 10+ years, involved in Sports Medicine Australia and the WA Concussion Network.

Why did you become a scientist/what got you interested in traumatic brain injury (TBI) research/have you always been a scientist?

  • I was the kid that continually asked “but why”. In high school I participated in a State science research competition and ended up being awarded first place. When I reflect, I think in some ways I have always wanted to get into research, I just wasn’t sure how or what area.
  • A previous lecturer reached out to me and asked if I would consider coming back to University to complete a Masters research project. She had piloted a project in football players to do with injury and mental health and thought with my background I may be interested.
  • Over eight years later, I have completed a PhD and continue to engage in the mTBI field. (mild Traumatic Brain Injury)

What does your research focus on?
My research focuses on sport related concussion or mTBI. My PhD project focused on concussion, sub-concussive impacts and associated short-term mental health and post-concussion symptom reporting in male semi-professional Australia Rules Football players.

What do you hope your research will help achieve?
Concussion excites me as there is still so much that we do not understand about the brain. Ideally, I hope we can improve the diagnosis, and treatment of athletes across all sport – to reduce confusion or fear and streamline timely access to medical resources for the cases that require additional care.

What do you most enjoy/what is most rewarding about your job in science?
I enjoy both the challenge of research as well as the opportunity to work alongside so many amazing, talented people every day. The most rewarding part is the thought that your hard work, could offer a small contribution to science, or perhaps have some impact on improving someone’s quality of life.

What would you say/what advice would you give to young girls and women who aspires to have/is thinking about a career in science?
Even the most established researchers or scientists occasionally have self-doubt. Do not let self-doubt prevent you from [succeeding]. Surround yourself with positive, supportive people and be ready to work hard. The old adage is true – the more you learn the less you realise you know – and you can either let that scare you or embrace it!

What science-related achievement are you most proud of? 
I have two key stand out moments – the first is the day my first publication was accepted after quite a few set-backs and previous rejections.

My second moment is the day I was informed that due to my research findings, a mental health program and support person was going to be introduced into numerous football clubs the following season. It was humbling to see the direct impact from the work I had poured my heart and soul into for five years.

Is there a woman working in science you admire, and why?
I have great admiration for Professor Caroline Finch AO who has led sports injury prevention research both across Australia as well as internationally. Not only for her rigour, scientific knowledge, experience and amazing impact in the field, but also despite all her achievements she cares about the translation of findings into practice and is a human first. I have the utmost respect for the time she has taken to mentor me as an early-career researcher over the previous few years.


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