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Dr Sarah Jackson

Senior Research Fellow, University College London

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You can have it all, your expectations of what it all looks like might just need refocusing.

What do you do?

I’m a Behavioural Scientist focusing on nicotine and tobacco research. I analyse data from large surveys of people across the population in England to monitor smoking and quitting behaviour. Key aims of my work are to try and find out: why people continue to smoke, what is most likely to encourage them to try to quit, and how we can make each quit attempt more likely to be successful. 

The rapid rise in popularity of e-cigarettes over the last decade has seen a lot of my research focus on their role as a potential quitting aid and any potential adverse effects of using them. The majority of my day is spent at a computer, analysing data and writing up the results for publication in scientific journals. Other aspects of my role include consulting with organisations aiming to reduce smoking, including Public Health England and Action on Smoking and Health, and communicating my research findings to the mass media and general public.

Why did you choose this field?

I got into academia following a lifelong love of education. I’d gone straight from school to university and on to complete a Master’s degree, and when I realised that I could effectively do dissertations as a job – and get paid for it – I jumped at the chance. I had always had an interest in obesity and eating behaviour, so began my career in obesity research, working on a variety of projects that included delivering an intervention to promote fruit and vegetable intake for pre-school children and interviewing parents about the Change 4 Life campaign. 

Before long, I embarked on a PhD, also focusing on body weight, this time in older people. After my PhD, I worked on more varied research projects across other health-related behaviours, before moving to a role focusing specifically on smoking. As one of the leading preventable causes of death and disability, and a key contributor to social inequalities in health (poorer health among people with greater disadvantage), smoking provides an engaging and exciting area to work in with potential to improve population health.

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

Last year I spoke to a packed room in the House of Commons about research I had done on smoking in social housing. When I was a small child, I was painfully shy and hid under the bed if someone rang the doorbell. I would never have dreamed of talking to a room full of (important) strangers. While public speaking is never going to be my favourite thing, I am always surprised that I can do it and people are interested in what I have to say.

Why do you love working in STEM?

I love that opportunities for progress and discovery are endless. No two projects are the same, and each moves the evidence base one step further on. I also love the collaborative research process, and am really lucky to have the opportunity to work with world-leading experts on a daily basis. On a more personal level, the flexibility of academia works really well with raising a family and means I can pursue a career I’m passionate and excited about without having to miss out on seeing my two young boys grow up.

Best advice for next generation?

Never feel like you have to sacrifice your career for family life. You can have it all, your expectations of what it all looks like might just need refocusing.

Inspo quote / fun fact

Twitter can be just as good for organising your work life as it can your social life. I’ve made great contacts in the field through tweeting about my research and relevant issues. But it’s not all business: scientists love a good meme.