SarahS

Sarah Sandford – Pinnacle alumnus 

    Tell us a little about your journey and how you became involved with The Pinnacle Foundation. 

    I grew up in and went to school in Dunedin in the South Island of New Zealand. I started my university education at the University of Otago where I studied a Bachelor of Biomedical Science majoring in infection and immunity. I completed my honours at the University of Otago and my project was based on testing new vaccines that had been developed in the field of tuberculosis. I was working as a research assistant in the same laboratory after I finished my honours until I decided that I wanted to complete my Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) and that is when I decided to move to Australia. I started my PhD in 2018 which was focused on immune responses in the gut after infection. In 2020, during my PhD studies, I became a Pinnacle scholar, and I was a scholar for two years. Upon completing my PhD I worked in academic research for a short time before moving into the clinical trials industry. I have now moved back to research which I love and am now working as a research scientist at a pharmaceutical company. My team is involved in testing the new drugs that are being developed, in the pre-clinical stage (before they are given to humans).  

    Outside of work, I am part of QueersinScience, to which I was introduced by my Pinnacle Foundation mentor. Sarah, my mentor, is a co-founder of QueersinScience and was in the role of co-chair when I joined. This year I am proud to say that I am the incoming co-chair of the QueersinScience Victorian chapter, so it is a nice full-circle moment.  

    I originally became involved with The Pinnacle Foundation through the recommendation of a friend who was considering applying for a Pinnacle scholarship. I can say that I was drawn to The Pinnacle Foundation scholarship program because I had heard great things about the mentorship component of the program. At the time, I felt like I really needed a mentor and a community as I had no family in Melbourne, was struggling through my PhD and some mental health issues, and I was looking for guidance and advice. 

    What did you gain from being part of the Pinnacle scholarship program? 

    I learnt so much about myself during my time as a Pinnacle scholar. So much of what Pinnacle supported me with was working on my own self-confidence and dealing with anxiety. The Pinnacle Foundation gave me the resources to manage my anxiety which really helped equip me for dealing with many competing priorities in life generally. The financial aspect of the scholarship also made such a difference as I was able to focus more on my studies and not worry so much about the financial strains of studying. The Pinnacle family and community was such a great network to tap into and I have been able to lean on my connections even to this day which has been really beneficial. 

    What was your experience with your mentor like? 

    My mentor Sarah and I got along so well from our first meeting. Very quickly after our first meeting, we were locked down so we had to rethink how we would meet and how we would connect. Conveniently, Sarah and I did not live too far from one another, so we would often walk her dogs at the park and catch up that way which was nice. During these walks we could chat casually about many things. I can honestly say my mentor has given me some of the best advice, and she helped me so much during the time when I was job searching after I completed my PhD. Even though Sarah and I are in very different fields of science, I admire her so much and have learnt so much from her about so many different aspects of my career and life. I am so glad that I was able to become involved with QueersinScience under her mentorship as I have been able to meet other amazing, likeminded members of the LGBTQIA+ community. My mentor really encouraged me to take advantage of the opportunities that presented themselves, some of which I would not have been confident enough to seize prior to her mentorship. This helped me to develop the leadership skills that I now have, and which have served me so well in stepping into different roles within my career. My mentorship is such an important relationship and one that has helped me grow as a person. Sarah and I keep in touch to this day, and that is a testament to the fantastic mentor matching process conducted by Pinnacle. My advice for anyone looking to get the most out of their mentor relationship would be to meet and engage with your mentor regularly, communicate your needs and expectations clearly and make changes if something is not working. I made sure that I was committed to always planning the next session and having a meeting organised for us so that meant this relationship was a priority. 

    What advice would you give to a young person who is thinking about applying for The Pinnacle Foundation scholarship program? 

    [ would strongly encourage you to apply for a Pinnacle Foundation scholarship. I was very hesitant to apply for the scholarship as I thought that there were other people who were more likely to be selected over me, or who were more in need of a scholarship than me, or maybe that I did not need it as much as others, but I am so glad I overcame those thoughts and I applied. This really is a life-changing opportunity and I strongly encourage you to believe in yourself and your journey and apply. 

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