We are excited to share our first research community conversation! This new series focuses on brief conversations with member of our scientific community about their passions inside and outside of the lab. The first community member we are getting to know is Dr. Sarah Hayes. 


When did you realize you wanted to become a neuroscientist and what led to that decision?

I completed my undergraduate degree at a small liberal arts college, which allowed me to build meaningful connections with my professors. I saw their passion for research, education, and mentorship, and knew that I wanted to be a professor before I knew what field I wanted to be in.

I took a neurodevelopment course in the final year of my undergraduate degree, where I got to grow neurons in cell culture and use time-lapse microscopy to measure neurite growth over time. I was blown away by how such a simple process ultimately leads to the complexity of our brain. I was also struck by how little we know about the brain and knew that I wanted to become part of the neuroscience community.

How did you become interested in auditory neuroscience?

I chose to complete my PhD in biomedical sciences, in a program that involved a year of general course work and lab rotations to begin with. This gave me the opportunity to gain experience across several research areas. I eventually joined an auditory neuroscience lab because I enjoyed using a diverse collection of skills, from cell culture, to immunohistochemistry, to in vivo electrophysiology, and behavioural paradigms, to answer systems-level research questions with direct clinical applications. This ultimately led me to pursue my clinical doctorate in audiology alongside my PhD. I now use my clinical experiences in order to inform my preclinical research.

What are some of your favourite research techniques to tackle your research questions?

Today, I enjoy using a combination of in vivo electrophysiological and behavioural readouts of auditory perception and cognition. I find it fascinating to see the consequences of my experimental manipulations in real time with direct observable behavioural changes and simultaneously recording the associated brain activity.

Going forward, the most exciting path I see is to harness advances in cell-specific in vivo microendoscopy and optogenetics to interrogate the circuits that underlie the complex neural circuits underpinning auditory perception and cognition. With traditional electrophysiology, you are blind to the type of cells you are recording from, and so the depth of the conclusions you can drawn is limited. Advances in genetically-encoded and virus-mediated calcium indicators offer huge promise to parse the roles of different cell types of involved in auditory perception and cognition.

Where do you see research techniques developing in the future?

I think the continued development of genetically encoded indicators in the brain is likely to happen. I am excited to see the development of robust voltage indicators and biosensors targeted at specific signaling cascades.

If you could go back to when you were starting your scientific career, what advice would you tell your younger self?

I recently discussed this topic with students that I mentor. So not only do I think of advice I would give my younger self, but also what is important advice to impart to those I mentor now.

It is important to enjoy and find fulfilment in the process of studying and graduate school rather than focussing on the outcome. Science is full of individual failures from the experiments that don’t work out, to grants that never get funded, and papers with challenging reviews. It is important to remember that nobody is successful all the time, and everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. I encourage my students to find ways to learn from times where they fall short of their goals, so that they become useful experiences rather than focusing solely on the end goal and become disheartened by failures along the way.

What has been the most unexpected thing you have learned from your scientific career so far?

I am surprised by how important it is to be business savvy and have strong management skills. I have become proficient at preparing seemingly endless excel files of grant budgets to plan out years of experiments ahead of time in order to successfully pitch those ideas. Despite finding it intimidating when I started out and struggling to communicate complex ideas successfully, I now love the grant writing process. I enjoy planning out big picture experiments and learning how best to communicate the importance of those ideas

What is your fondest memory of your research experiences so far?

Student mentorship! I love to see the students I work with grow into successful scientists and clinicians. We need as many talented individuals and great minds involved in science as possible, and I see fostering the talent of those I work with as a key part of my role in the lab.

What is one lab task that you love doing and keeps you going?

I love designing and implementing new behavioural paradigms. For me, this is a very creative and rewarding process requiring a broad spectrum of skills – from the initial conceptualization to physically constructing equipment to data collection.

What are your passions outside of the lab?

I am an avid baker and cook. I love searching out new recipes and combing different ideas to make my own unique dishes. I can’t say things always work out perfectly, but they are almost always edible!

The Allman Lab also has a fun tradition of baking custom desserts for each person’s birthday based on their choice of flavours. One notable example involved potato chips and bacon, while another was cupcakes decorated to look like sushi rolls!

If you could compete in the Olympics, which sport would you pick and why?

As a New Yorker, I am a famously fast walker, my friends and family definitely think I would make an excellent Olympic speed walker!

Dr. Hayes met with Mightex Applications Neuroscientist, Dr. Catherine Thomas. Dr. Hayes’s research includes use of the Mightex OASIS Implant System to conduct awake freely moving imaging and optogenetics in Dr. Brian Allman’s Lab.

If you would like to be featured in our community conversations series, please get in touch:

Contact Us