Behavioural Science is a rapidly expanding field and everyday new research is being developed in academia, tested and implemented by practitioners in financial organisation, development agencies, government ‘nudge’ units and more. This interview is part of a series interviewing prominent people in the field. And in today's interview the answers are provided by Tara Swart. Tara is a neuroscientist, medical doctor, executive advisor, Senior Lecturer at MIT Sloan, and author of best-seller ‘The Source’. She is passionate about disseminating simple, pragmatic neuroscience-based messages that change the way people live and work. She personally advises a small number of individuals via personal recommendation only, and speaks at major conferences globally. Tara is currently the Chief Science Officer at Heights, Neuroscience and Psychological Advisor at To Be Magnetic and Chief Neuroscience Officer at Arowana International (Private Equity). Take it away Tara!
Who or what got you into behavioural science?
I am the first child of Indian immigrant parents who moved to the UK to give me the best possible education. There was a lot of expectation on me to become a doctor but behavioural science didn’t have a particularly high profile then but I was drawn to it through my own curiosity.
At medical school I simply found all the neuro- special topics to be the most fascinating eg the biology of ageing, the pharmacology of drug dependence and neuro-anatomy. So I went on to do a PhD in neuro-pharmacology on Parkinson’s disease (very much inspired by the film Awakenings based on the book by Oliver Sacks) and then after qualifying as a Medical doctor, I specialised in psychological medicine and over 7 years I worked with adults on locked and open wards, children, eating disorders, learning disabilities, care of the elderly and forensic psychiatry.
What is the accomplishment you are proudest of as a Behavioural scientist? And what do you still want to achieve? Writing up my PhD is my biggest accomplishment. It was the most challenging thing I’ve ever had to do! Becoming Professor at MIT has been my biggest reward. My special interest is in neuroplasticity so I’d like to get involved in the intersection of this with AI, AR and VR. Making a big career change in my mid-thirties demonstrated my own willingness to really learn, change and meet challenges so that’s a personal development I’m proudest of. In terms of relationships, being a positive, psychological resource to my step son is something I always want to prioritise.
If you weren’t a behavioural scientist, what would you be doing? I’d be an actress or art historian! In a way, being an actor, you inhabit the consciousness of another and I find this fascinating and enjoyable. I also believe that art invokes such deep emotions, holds so many secrets, and stories that are keys to unlocking our thinking, so they are more related than you might think.
How do you apply behavioural science in your personal life? I’m all about learning and growth - both for myself and my executive clients, students, and readers of my book The Source. I take on a new intense learning each year such as a language, tennis or musical instrument. I focus on sleep, nutrition, hydration, movement and mindfulness and positive, meaningful relationships to keep my brain in optimal condition.
With all your experience, what skills would you say are needed to be a behavioural scientist? Are there any recommendations you would make? Anyone with a passion for science and people would make a great behavioural scientist. Doing a PhD in behavioural science doesn’t narrow your career opportunities to staying in research. There are many alternative careers with behavioural science so look for mentors around your options. There’s a Nature article about neuroscientists who became film makers, comedians and more!
How do you think behavioural science will develop (in the next 10 years)? Mostly in tandem with AI research. I think we will be moving towards human-AI hybrids and uploading our consciousness to the web. I recommend people to read sci-Fi and watch things like Black Mirror to prepare humanity for the future.
Which other behavioural scientists would you love to read an interview by? Monique Mendes, Amishi Jha, Huda Akil, Lily Jan. As behavioural scientists we need to really step up to global issues like gender equity, racial diversity and broader inclusivity. If a child sees people in all forms enjoying success in STEM subjects, their developing brain will believe that they can do it too!
Thank you so much for taking the time to write down these amazing answers Tara!
As I said before, this interview is part of a larger series which can also be found here on the blog. Make sure you don't miss any of those, nor any of the upcoming interviews!
Keep your eye on Money on the Mind!