Professor Sara Rankin

I am a  Professor in the Faculty of Medicine at Imperial. I am a Pharmacologist, so I study how drugs/medicines work. My current research interest is in discovering and inventing drugs that help the body to regenerate after injury (eg a bone fracture or heart attack).

I am dyslexic and dyspraxic- although I have only found this out ‘officially’ in recent years.

My research about learning disabilities led me to identify myself as twice exceptional – someone who is gifted but has a learning difference. Very importantly, and to my surprise, I discovered that my success as a scientist is probably down to my so called ‘disability’. This is because I have learnt that being dyslexic/dyspraxic essentially means that my brain processes information in a different way to so-called neurotypical people (i.e. someone who does not have a learning difference). On the plus side, this gives me strengths in-

  • creativity, innovation, big picture thinking, being visionary, thinking outside the box, problem solving, having insight, an ability to link disparate ideas, excellent oral communication and collaboration skills.

I think all these strengths account for why I am successful as a scientist. Indeed STEM employers, such as Shell, CISCO, and Google now recognise that having a neurodiverse workforce is an asset, helping them to solve technological problems and develop innovative applications for new technologies, as such they proactively employ 2e scientists.

I have a problem, therefore, with my dyslexia /dyspraxia being seen as a ‘disability’.

I can see how having dyslexia/dyspraxia accounts for many of the challenges I faced during my schooling and academic career:

  • A fear of public speaking
  • Poor spelling, slow reading
  • Organisational and time management issues
  • A dislike of filling out forms

Many other well-known scientists like Stephen Hawkings and James Dyson are reported to have learning differences and other people like Jamie Oliver, Ab Rogers, Will-i-am and Richard Branson have clearly succeeded despite having a learning difference.

Many 2e students like myself, because they are intelligent, will find ways to compensate for their weaknesses, eg developing their own unique ways of learning, be organised etc allowing them to succeed at school, in higher education and into work. Most 2e people mask their learning disabilities because of the negative stigma associated with having a disability.

Young people that are twice exceptional often become frustrated, for instance in that they cannot translate their thoughts onto paper or cannot really showcase their creativity when it comes to STEM subjects. 2e students are currently disadvantaged and underachieving at school where the teaching and assessment methods have been optimised for neurotypical individuals.

If you have a passion for science and a learning difference (dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADD, ADHD or Aspergers ) the 2eMPower STEM workshops may be of interest to you.

As a 2e scientist I have worked with other 2e scientists and STEM educators to develop bespoke STEM workshops for you to build on your strengths, teach you strategies to work around your weaknesses and hopeful inspire you to become a 2e scientist.

I aim to become a champion and be role model for twice exceptional young people and will campaign for the recognition and celebration of neurodiversity. Please do get in contact if you are a student who would like to attend a future workshop or a 2e adult who would like to get involved in the project in any way.