Sarah-Elizabeth Byosiere, Ph.D., is the Director of the Thinking Dog Center at Hunter College (CUNY) where she focuses on studying the behavior and cognition of domestic dogs.
Sarah grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and received her undergraduate and graduate degree from the University of Michigan, before moving to Australia to pursue her PhD! After completing her Ph.D. in 2018, Sarah relocated to New York City to join her significant other and begin her post-graduate career. Since being here, Sarah shares that she has grown to “love the city and all of its quirks” and admits that “at the moment [she] can’t imagine living elsewhere”!
How are things in NYC different/the same from your hometown?
“I was born and raised in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Go blue! For me, the biggest difference between NYC and Ann Arbor is the scenery. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a patch of grass! Perhaps a surprising similarity is kindness. Generally, New Yorkers are willing to go above and beyond for their fellow companions. It is a bit different from midwestern hospitality, but it does come close!”
What’s your favorite thing about being a scientist? Did you always want to be a scientist?
“To be honest, I don’t think I recognized who could be a scientist. In my younger mind, a scientist was someone who wore a lab coat and worked with chemicals. It took me a while to recognize that the term “scientist” enveloped a whole host of varying disciplines.
I began to realize, in college, that the information we were being taught was not always black and white.
In other words, definite answers were uncommon and we were taught to critically evaluate material. Around this time I found myself posing a lot of questions in my classes. Finally, it “clicked” – scientists are not just those that wear lab coats, they are trying to answer these questions, to better understand the grey areas.”
Can you think of a specific time when you found science or pursuing science challenging?
“Every day. The point of science is to think critically and try to bridge gaps. In my mind, this brings a challenge throughout the scientific process, be it brainstorming a new research idea, collecting data, analyzing results and more! More specifically, I find pursuing science can be challenging when answering a question leads to what feels like 100 more questions. This is certainly a fun part of science which drives curiosity, but it can also be overwhelming to recognize that not everything in life is easily explainable.”
If you could give one piece of advice to young scientists or students, what would it be?
“One of my favorite Dr. Seuss quotes goes:
You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.
If I have any advice to offer the next generation of young scientists it would be: do what you love, be happy, be curious and most importantly be proud of yourself! You have your whole future ahead of you and the world at your fingertips. There are so many things you can do when you grow up, some which probably don’t even exist yet, so question anything and everything around you. Make friends, find good teachers, love animals, and never stop learning. P.S. You can be a dog behavior and cognition scientist when you grow up, and it’s super cool because you get infinite puppy cuddles!”
Have you ever made something explode or otherwise wildly go wrong in lab?
“Of course! I was working on an experiment evaluating dog’s perception of various visual illusions. I had mapped out and included various controls (a crazy number, like 8-10!) to understand how dogs were processing the information… However, I forgot to include one. By the time the experiment concluded and I had looked at the results I recognized I couldn’t interpret the findings because of the lack of this missing control condition during the actual experiment.”
If you hadn’t pursued science, what would you have done instead?
“I actually think about the question relatively frequently and I’m not quite sure I know what I would have done otherwise. Given my love of animals, especially companion animals, I think I may have chosen a related career. However, I tried working in an animal shelter, and a veterinary setting and it wasn’t exactly for me. Maybe I would have opened up a doggy daycare or training school! Maybe I would have studied human behavior, or maybe I would have gone into art? Well.. perhaps not art, I can’t draw!”
What is the funniest/strangest thing you have seen in NYC
“I feel like I have seen a fair share of weird/gross things living in NYC, but one of the funniest involves a dog. I once saw an oblivious NYC dog owner chatting on the phone on a busy street corner. While this man was just going on and on, his dog had found a lovely “smell” to roll in (on the sidewalk) and was just covering his/her whole body in it. It was one of those moments where I just laughed thinking about how the NYC equivalent of a dog rolling in grass is a dog rolling on the sidewalk. But also, it reminded me about how we are so focused in our daily routines that we forget what’s happening around us. I do hope this owner gave his pup a bath when he got home!”
If you were a lab animal/model organism, which would you be and why?
“I’m probably biased given I absolutely love the species I study, domestic dogs, but I certainly know what breed I would be! If I was a model organism I would be a Golden Retriever with a little bit of a Labrador, Staffie, and an unknown combination of some random things thrown in. In other words, a mutt, but I do like to emphasize the Golden Retriever. Why you ask? Well, these guys tend to be people pleasers, love attention, are happy go lucky, have random bursts of energy, but also love naps. I feel like that description certainly represents me as a person. Why is this a model organism? These guys tend to be food motivated and are awesome paw-ticipants for canine science studies!”
If the building was burning, what single item would you grab as you ran out the door and why?
“If I had a dog (which I certainly keep hounding my significant other about), I would grab my pup! But being the scientist that I am, my life is stored on my laptop. While everything is backed up on hard drives and in the cloud (PSA: store your data in many places, please!) I would certainly grab my laptop.”