Former soccer coach, current Western University professor, and now, Science Advisor for the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).
Last week, Dr. Sarah Gallagher was appointed the new position which will see her report directly to CSA President, Sylvain Laporte. Gallagher teaches Physics and Astronomy at Western University at the undergraduate and graduate level.
But before all of the cool titles, she was just an undergrad student studying Physics; and like many at that age, she was unsure of what to do past graduation. She decided to become a high school teacher.
Based in a boarding school in New Hampshire, she taught Physics, coached the soccer team, and worked as a dorm parent, watching after the students. At the age of 22, Gallagher was suddenly responsible for a group of students, some of whom were just four years younger than her. She credits the position with helping her to grow up, and be prepared for the future.
“It was a leap into being a professional and having to be a grown up… I really had to be an adult and be organized, and all of the different aspects of my job were what it’s like to be a professor.”
Gallagher says that the high school teaching experience helped her realize her goal of being a professor. The end goal is what helped her stay focused and committed throughout graduate school.
In 2010, The Canadian Association of University Teachers reported that 12.4% of Physics faculty members were female. Dr. Gallagher is a part of that statistic, but getting there wasn’t always easy. She says a fellow female graduate student helped her through the process.
“I feel like to some extent, we dragged each other through graduate school, and we really supported each other. She’s currently still in the field, and we still bounce idea off each other, we’ve collaborated scientifically- I’ve supported her and she’s supported me.”
She stresses that it doesn’t have to be a lonely endeavour for young ambitious females, but sometimes you need to go out and find your people.
“I have had a really rich and rewarding career, and I am so glad that I did it…. Trying to figure out things and solve problems is hard. You don’t always know the right answer, you’re not always going to find it right away. Those rough patches are inevitable, but as long as you have a good support system, they’ll help bring you through it.”
Dr. Gallagher adds that she’s seen more women in scientific leadership roles than ever before.
She thinks that having female leaders who are empathetic to implicit bias, discrimination, and harassment will provide a positive shift within the scientific community.
In addition, she thinks it’s great that female students will have more role models to look up to.
Dr. Gallagher herself, is one of those role models.