Because I seek an inclusive environment that values my differences and empowers me to advance science as my authentic self, it is incumbent upon me to help create that culture. I will personally contribute to a diverse and inclusive environment by raising visibility, awareness and acceptance of disability in academia and providing a patient perspective for why biomedical research matters.

My disability and neurodiversity

Neurodiversity, the natural variation in neurological function that diversifies our abilities, is a core of my personality. I am an autistic scientist with a chronic neurological disorder who believes that biomedical science should welcome the contributions of anyone passionate about the field. Despite their challenges, my neurological disability and high-functioning autism provide me uncommon strengths and perspectives that augment my impact as a biomedical scientist and educator.

My progressive neurological symptoms are wide-ranging and complicate many areas of my daily life. The most visible symptoms are my movement disorder. I have dystonia and parkinsonism that cause spasticity, tremors, slow movement, balance problems, unusual postures, chronic pain and limited stamina. Many of my additional issues are less outwardly visible but just as debilitating. With accommodations that allow me to be patient with my body, a career that does not depend on physical ability, and compassionate and tolerant colleagues who understand that I must work around significant limitations, I can thrive as a researcher and teacher and help advance biomedical science.

Life with a neurological disorder has made me resilient, self-aware and motivated, and I am determined to contribute my skills and knowledge to biomedical research despite progressive disability. When increasing neurological symptoms made my previous bench career unsustainable, I prioritized computational skills and teaching aspirations compatible with my health and abilities. Despite my challenges, I leverage my talents to find opportunities that accommodate my physical limitations. I am still a scientist, and specializing in computational and quantitative biology will complement my existing bench skills to help me pursue my profession regardless of disability.

Many of the assets that make me a promising biologist, from my passion and perception to intelligence and independent thinking, originate from my autism. My self-motivation, rapid learning and strong verbal skills will serve me well as a textbook and journal author and lecturer. My attention to detail means I notice patterns, connections and small flaws that others miss. Like many autistics, I have a pervasive interest in a narrow field: mine is cellular and organismal biology, particularly signaling networks. My insatiable curiosity engages me and my sense of wonder moves me to share my knowledge. This enthusiasm, ability to simplify complex material, and tendency to make material approachable to multiple learning styles accentuates my teaching skills. It is a privilege to channel this passion into a career with the potential to benefit others.

Though I have more challenges than many scientists, the fact that I have found a productive path in spite of them demonstrates I have been able to successfully adapt to my constraints and leverage my diverse talents to define a meaningful and successful future for myself. In the face of medical issues and systemic roadblocks, I still want - need - to be a scientist. Nothing else will satisfy me. The niches that neurodiverse people like me fill in the scientific ecosystem are underpopulated. Because people with disabilities are underrepresented in science, my diversity is a valuable complement to the field.

Why diversity matters

It benefits patients for science to be accessible to current and aspiring biologists with different needs. Inclusive research environments unlock a rich spectrum of people with different thought processes and perspectives. Academia thrives on the creation, exchange and evolution of ideas, and a broader base of scientists contributing to the field provides more opportunities for breakthroughs.

In addition, scientists and teachers are also role models. Increasing diversity in the field can inspire a wider range of people to pursue science as a career, contribute to efforts that advance research, or simply view biomedical scientists as people like everyone else who reflect all aspects of humanity and have the best interests of patients at heart.

I can be one such role model for the neurodiverse and disabled community. The lack of visibly disabled or autistic scientists sends a message that I am less welcome in the field than my able-bodied neurotypical colleagues, though I know that I have valuable skills and creative ideas to share. My presence and success in science can convince others like me that their disability does not limit their value and encourage more people to get involved with science in ways that suit their strengths. I want to demonstrate that there are many different ways that people can contribute to research despite physical or mental differences.

How I support diversity, equity and inclusion

Importantly, I promote equity and inclusion in my teaching through Universal Design of Learning theory, based on the concept that interventions that increase accessibility for students with special needs actually improve education for everyone. I aim to accommodate different learning styles and special needs through simple interventions to generate complementary written, visual and auditory material, like providing lecture slides in advance, centralizing notes and recording lectures. My personal experiences and pedagogy education make me conscious of disabilities like sensory impairment, auditory processing and attention disorders, physical limitations and other obstacles that can impede learning but can be accommodated with flexible instruction. My own diversity positions me to be an ally for biologists from all backgrounds, and my teaching experience provides me tools to promote equity in my work.

I would love to study which undergraduate biology education methods and interventions are most effective for engaging and supporting students from disadvantaged educational backgrounds and students with disabilities. As a disabled person myself, I believe that everyone has the potential to make valuable contributions to biomedical research and that the more diverse our perspectives in the field, the better we can address patient needs and overcome current barriers to effective research and clinical implementation.