Smashing Stereotypes, Cara Croft PHD: Less diverse perspectives and problem-solving skills slow the pace of research and scientific breakthroughs.

Posted on the 11th March 2021

Dr. Cara Croft

Dr Cara Croft studied for her Undergraduate Masters Degree in Neuroscience at the University of Manchester and obtained her PhD in Neuroscience where she worked on Alzheimer’s disease at King’s College London. After her PhD, science took Cara to the United States and the University of Florida where she wanted to build her skills in the field of gene editing and gene therapies whilst still researching what goes wrong in Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative conditions as a Postdoctoral fellow. In 2019 she became a ‘Race Against Dementia fellow’ where she is using genetic technologies to understand how risk genes link to dementia in her research being conducted at the University of Florida and UK Dementia Research Institute at University College London and advised by biotechnology partners.

My first memories of being excited by science, always wanting to know more and understand ‘why’ come from visits to the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester as a child with my parents, as well as school trips to Jodrell Bank and the Lovell Telescope capturing my attention and imagination. My favourite thing about now being a scientist is the fact that you are constantly learning new things, asking new questions and learning more about your research topic. I think it’s this process of learning and relearning in science as new hypotheses develop and advance that makes you feel so lucky to be a scientist. That, and the fact that my discoveries may help advance human health and that of loved ones.

I was the first in my family to study for a degree and then also the first to then get my PhD. I wanted to study neuroscience originally because of all the unknowns that surround how our brain functions but also the mysteries of how it then stops functioning in diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease which are the focus of my research now. I am still learning as I go along about being a scientist in a university environment. I have been very fortunate so far to be surrounded by exceptional people who have guided and supported me on my journey to date and introduced me to the lay of the land, whether that be honest opinions on my research ideas, processes like how to apply for funding, or that as a student I ought to spend a Summer exploring different research to that I would be doing as a part of my degree.

Working in STEM, especially in universities you will come across a lot of people that look like the ‘stereotypical scientist’, the white man with grey hair or an Albert Einstein lookalike but this needs to change. Nearly all the biggest science problems our world faces don’t only affect white greying men, they affect people of all different backgrounds, and all of those people have a place in science. The scientists studying these diseases or world’s problems should look like all the people they affect.  By excluding a proportion of the world’s brains and ideas from research, then this results in less diverse perspectives and problem-solving skills which I genuinely believe slow the pace of research and scientific breakthroughs.

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