Sara Beery

PhD Candidate and NSF Graduate Research Fellow, Caltech

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You don't need to take the traditional path to be successful in STEM!

What do you do?

My graduate research focuses on machine learning and computer vision for biodiversity monitoring, particulary for detection and recognition of animal species in challenging camera trap data at a global scale. I work closely with Microsoft AI for Earth and Google Research/Wildlife Insights where I help turn my research into usable tools for the ecology/biodiversity community.

Why did you choose this field?

My path to AI was far from a traditional one. My first career was in the arts, as a professional ballerina. At sixteen I graduated summa cum laude a year early from high school and moved across the country alone to dance with the Atlanta Ballet. On breaks from rehearsal I would attend free seminars at Georgia Tech on subjects ranging from astrophysics to neuroscience. I found the research fascinating, and was especially inspired by the humanitarian and environmental impact of technology. I developed a thirst for making a tangible difference in the world and promised myself that after my dance career I would return to school and obtain the necessary knowledge and skills to improve lives. The discipline I gained as a ballerina led me through two bachelor of science degrees in EE and Math and on to pursue a PhD in the Computational Vision Lab at Caltech, funded by an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. I am devoted to learning as much as I can about AI and eager to find new ways to use it to understand and improve the health of our planet.

What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?

I wish I would have known that computer science can help so many people across so many disciplines! Just look at #AIforGood, #AIforClimate, #Tech4Wildlife ... the list goes on. There are so many ways to make a difference in the world with a technology degree.

Why do you love working in STEM?

I love collaborating with people from all over the world on things I'm really passionate about, like using technology to scale up biodiversity monitoring! My favorite thing is hearing how my work is being used by biologists and ecologists, it's so empowering to connect the dots from academic research in computer science to conservation impact.

Best advice for next generation?

You don't need to choose between the arts and STEM, and you don't need to take the traditional path to be successful in STEM!

Inspo quote / fun fact / role model

"Every individual matters. Every individual has a role to play. Every individual makes a difference." - Jane Goodall

NOMINATE a woman in STEM

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