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Featured Force: Sanae ElShourbagy Ferreira

Each month, we highlight a AAAS member who is a force for science. To find out how you can be a force for science, visit www.forceforscience.org.

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Sanae ElShourbagy Ferreira.
Credit: Lara Woolfson
(Studio Nouveau)

Sanae ElShourbagy Ferreira holds a Ph.D. in Nutrition and Metabolism from Boston University School of Medicine. She is a creative scientist and enjoys thinking about complex problems and helping to connect people through interdisciplinary conversation to address these problems. Ferreira was recently featured in Boston Voyager Magazine in their Inspiring Stories series. You can also find her cooking up fragrant cuisine in the kitchen, painting on the beach, or sharing her latest visual adventures in wellness on bluebootsgo.com (@bluebootsgo).

What science advocacy activity are you most proud of?

After a conference where I had the opportunity to sit down for an intimate lunch with Katrina Armstrong, Physician-in-Chief of the Department of Medicine at MGH, I realized that lunches for women in science like that present an invaluable opportunity to receive mentoring and should be available to all who wish to participate. I founded the Women’s Professional Development Committee at Boston University (WPDC). Women in science face unique challenges. WPDC provides a supportive space to host professional development opportunities for graduate-level women in science at Boston University by establishing and cultivating a network of exemplary mentorship with women in a diversity of scientific careers. Learning and mentorship occur on a personal level, and I’m most hopeful about instituting a culture change that could inspire and empower young women in biomedical sciences (and beyond) to be their best selves. If you are in Boston, please bookmark and share the link above — the application to give back and be a mentor will be live soon!

Read a book you are dying to tell your peers about? Give us a brief summary and why you love it.

I’m reading Originals by Adam Grant, and his well-researched and engaging prose on how creative thinking leads to successful achievement of goals is a must-read for anyone who wants to make an impact but may be afraid of breaking up with the status quo.

If you were an elected official, what would be the first law you would want to pass?

I would pass a law requiring corporations to create wellness at work benefit policies. America is a world power in part because of the dynamo of hard work and innovation. The longevity of being a world power is limited by the productivity and longevity of the workers, and employees deserve the best care possible. Wellness at work exists already in some industries, the law I wish to pass goes beyond sick days and requires provision of wellness resources, access to mental health counseling and more for sound health of mind and body for employees.

What have you done to be a Force for Science?

One way to be a Force for Science is to be a force of change and improvement, and another is to cultivate a community and standard of practice wherein change can flourish.

While creating policy on a national or global scale is very important, I believe that short-range advocacy by each scientist in personal and professional networks is perhaps more important. Communicating science effectively on a one-on-one level could have lasting impacts on the way people think about science and how the next generations grow up to appreciate and be involved as Forces for Science themselves.

Imagine the world as a network map with bright nodes — scientists — connected across vast continents and seas. Surrounding each node is a network of connectors to other types of nodes: these are the personal communities of each scientist. Scientists are uniquely placed in their communities with skills and experiences to inform change in all the types of sectors that affect daily life. I believe that the most influential Forces for Science are able to get non-scientists to be passionate about the work that they do. Then, colleagues who are experts in fields like business management, development, and communication are also deeply invested in the science too. Together, they are a much more impactful Force for Science. Forces for Science do not have to be scientists, but there is an undeniable advantage to the efficacy of advocacy for science, from scientists.

I am most passionate about encouraging scientists to seek mentorship, new experiences, and different ways to think about problems. Sometimes, this may not come naturally, and may require a scientist to take risks and get outside their comfort zone to do things differently. I’m here to add my voice to say that scientists can be effective Forces for Science by building an inclusive and inspired community so that all can succeed.

If you could pick one scientist (living or dead) to have dinner with, who would it be and why?

This is a tough one! I enjoy hearing people’s stories, so there are many who I would like to sit down with. One who comes to mind is Leonardo da Vinci, a brilliant and diversely talented individual who applied science to art, and art to science. He is one who allowed creativity to shape his genius, and managed to come to incredible and beautiful inventions while also creating art. His genius is undeniable. As an artist and scientist myself, da Vinci would be a fascinating dinner partner. If we were sharing a meal, I would like to know more about his creative process, how he collected inspiration, his view on the role of mistakes, his favorite foods (I love to create in the kitchen — so, I would know what to make him again), if he viewed anything as a sacrifice or went 100% into his life’s work without looking back, and how he managed others’ expectations along the way.

Opinions expressed are those of the AAAS member and are not necessarily the opinions of AAAS, its officers, general members, and/or AAAS MemberCentral department or staff.

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Caitlin Jennings