As the young child of Indian immigrants, Maya Shankar fell in love with playing the violin from just about the moment her Grandma’s old, dusty hand-me-down was placed in her hands. Unlike her three older siblings who dismissed the instrument for its lack of cool factor, she loved the way a violin looked, smelled, felt, and, of course, sounded. By age 9, her prodigious passion and skill led her mother to unabashedly show up at the Juilliard School of Music and ask them to admit Maya into their program. Although it was by no means the conventional way to apply to the lionized school, Maya ended up playing in concerts around the world not long thereafter. A star was born.
At age 15 it all ended. One day, Maya simply heard something give in her hand and she was physically never the same again. Just like that, her promising career was over, her life in disarray. By a stroke of serendipity, however, while both figuratively and literally picking up the pieces of her forever changed life, Shankar stumbled upon Stephen Pinker’s The Language Instinct. Instantly, a new fire for behavioural and cognitive science was sparked. Maya went on to attain a PhD in the field at Oxford University on a Rhodes Scholarship, and pursue postdoctoral studies at Stanford. But wait, there’s more.
After hearing a story of how behavioural research was used to improve access to lunch programs in low-income communities, Shankar realized what the best practical application of all her studies should be: to help create a government department which uses behavioural science to improve the lives of the most marginalized in America. Recalling how her own mother had audaciously dragged her to the front steps of Juilliard, Maya cold-called the United States Government to propose the idea.
Maya Shankar is now the first Senior Advisor for the Social and Behavioral Sciences at the Office of Science and Technology Policy. She still traces it back to her first love, music:
One of the great blessings of playing the violin is that it allowed me to see what it really felt like to be in love with something, and to be really passionate about something. If anything, you see features or traits that are extracted in you from engaging with that pursuit, and then your hope is that, in your new exploration, those disciplines or those new areas can extract those same qualities from you.
Learn more about Maya’s inspiring story of recovery from loss, passion, and growth on the podcast below.
- love stories of passionate people.
- love complex, in-depth discussions around contemporary media representation;
- the ways in which diversity in media is evolving.
- want a unique perspective on ways that Master of None may be uplifting some marginalized groups at the expense of others.
- are very concerned that we have created a society where public shaming is all too common.
- are interested in the experiences and plights of LGBTQ youth.
- love stories of people experiencing big mental shifts in how they think;
- want to learn more about how the above occurs.
- want to learn more about the incredible legacy that recently passed Oliver Sacks left behind for science, our understanding of the brain, and Autism Spectrum Disorder;
- love stories of great scientists.