SPOTLIGHT

Dr. Sonia Bansal

#Kenya
#Neuroscience
#Psychiatry
#Psychology

Where are you from?

I am of Indian heritage, but blessed to be born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya. I consider myself to be a proud Kenyan of Indian descent and have embraced the rich Kenyan culture as much as I take pride in my parent’s ancestry. Through a mix of hard work, ambition and a sprinkle of good luck, I ended up in the US to pursue further education beyond high school, which is where I am now based.

I am currently based in the United States.

What is your educational background?

After high school, I moved to Iowa, USA for my undergraduate studies(BSc. in Neuroscience and Psychology) at Drake University, following which I received a MSc. in Biotechnology at Johns Hopkins University (Maryland, USA). I completed my PhD. in Neuroscience at George Mason University (Virginia,USA)

What is your current occupation?

Instructor & Psychosis researcher, University of Maryland School of Medicine Dept. of Psychiatry. I am a neuroscience researcher with background and interests in cognitive and perceptual function in schizophrenia patients.

What or who got you into STEM?

Although there were burgeoning indications of my future neuroscience penchant even in my high school biology classes where I learnt about the brain, I believe it was my scrapbook of ‘world science news’ snippets from the local newspaper that motivated me – I had the ambition to feature in those snippets some day! As I proceeded with undergraduate studies, I got fascinated with the questions of why human beings are capable of thoughts and emotions and how human beings perceive their environment and perform actions and these early curiosities fuelled my interest in neuroscience.

What is the biggest challenge/barrier you have faced as an African in STEM?

Initially, it was a struggle to gain knowledge about the resources and opportunities available to me, not knowing what to expect from various training programs. There are in fact very limited initiatives to help foreign students with their transitioning to graduate school life. Further, there are definitely microaggressions and biases that come with being from Africa.

How do you think your background/upbringing has been beneficial in your journey/career?

Having the ambition to rise above sparse resources, finding creative ways to succeed in spite of lack of funding and resources. I attribute the habit of hard work and my ambition to my parents, who strived to provide me with resources and the drive to succeed in whatever path I chose.

How do you think we can start to change the narrative surrounding African contributions
to global STEM research & careers?

Joining hands with African scientists in the diaspora to gain more visibility and representation at international conferences, more access to international journals, virtual platforms, etc.

What advice would you like to give to young, aspiring Africans in STEM?

Seek out mentors and resources, there are plenty! Also, keep in mind that with certain challenges specific to Africans in STEM, timelines may not match those with other geographical backgrounds, do not be bogged down by comparisons of success – Everyone’s timeline of success is different, but have a clear end-goal.

Do you have any projects you’re working on that you would like us to highlight?

My research interests lie in translating basic science to investigate how a breakdown in sensorimotor mechanisms can lead to perceptual and cognitive deficits in schizophrenia. I am part of the outreach committee for World Women in Neuroscience (Twitter: @WorldWomenNeuro) and I will be soon be starting an initiative to mentor and provide resources to foreign neuroscience trainees in the USA.

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    SPOTLIGHT

    Hello World

    I think it’s about time you heard my story.