As a neuroscientist, Carnegie Mellon University alumna Meredith Schmehl knows better than most the unlimited power of the human brain.
She’s using hers to create a better future — distilling complex scientific ideas into conversations anyone can understand, empowering other scientists to become better advocates for their fields, and making STEM more diverse and accessible.
And in between, she’s researching how the brain combines vision and hearing at Duke University as part of her Ph.D. studies in neurobiology.
Like many Tartans, Schmehl, a 2018 Mellon College of Science graduate with degrees in neuroscience and psychology, arrived at CMU with interests in many different areas.
“I wanted to get this dual perspective: what is the biology of the brain, what makes us who we are, how do we work as people, and then how does it make us work at the behavioral level as well,” Schmehl said.
She dove into research. Working with mice, she taught them to follow the trail of a scented crayon.
“I really have some fond memories of my first time learning how to do research, learning how to train a mouse, figuring out what to do and seeing how the actions that I would take could make the mouse do different things,” Schmehl said. “It was exciting, and it laid the foundation for my Ph.D.”
She also found plenty to learn from her fellow Tartans.
“CMU is so strong in so many fields, I could explore all my interests,” Schmehl said.
Schmehl played the cello in two orchestras, co-directed alternative spring break and visited local schools for STEM events with NeuroSAC, the Neuroscience Student Advisory Council.
“As my research work laid the foundation for my Ph.D., opportunities like visiting schools really laid the foundation for my work in policy, writing and all of those other things.”
The school visits also offered a realization.
“I used to believe the key thing that we needed to do was just recruit people into science,” Schmehl said. “I thought if we just get kids really excited about science, they’ll be more likely to pursue careers in STEM.
“Now, I think that alone isn’t really a complete solution because, for example, underrepresented groups are still going to face barriers in STEM workplaces, and so, just bringing more people into those spaces on its own doesn’t really help.”
She describes her work as a science communicator and policy advocate — writing award-winning pieces for Scientific American and Massive Science; serving as Public Engagement & Communications chair for the National Science Policy Network; and training scientists to write in simplified terms for the common person as part of NPR’s SciCommers — as barrier-breaking.
“We need to remove barriers that make professions in STEM inaccessible, and we also need to remove barriers that keep the benefits of science from reaching everyone in the global community,” Schmehl said.
■ Amanda S.F. Hartle