Cool Cat: Sarah Tom

I became friends with Sarah when I worked at UC Berkeley and she was working on her PhD (smartypants!). She was incredibly active in disability activism, awareness and support on campus and within California. By that, I mean she was a part of the Disabled Students Union and the California Governor’s Committee. She  introduced me to many, many people – most of whom will hopefully agree to be featured here themselves!

I love Sarah. She was my yoga and walking buddy at Cal. She and I also spent countless hours talking. She is a solid soul: highly practical, intelligent, but very down-to-earth. She is thoughtful: the type of person who will bake you cookies – she’s also fun: she’s game to try and do most anything (including ravishing campus plum trees!)

I love Sarah. I’m glad you get to meet her now.


Getting to Know You

Your name: Sarah Tom

What’s your connection with disability? I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia at age 17.  This condition means I have fatigue and widespread pain.  My symptoms were quite severe until my mid- twenties.  Currently, I usually  am not bothered by symptoms, but I do have the occasional flare- up.  In order to manage these symptoms, I have  been striving to acheive a better balance with health and well being through yoga and mindful living and also to help others do the same.

Star Trek or Star Wars? Both!  Yoda is one of my favorite characters ever, and I used to watch the Next Generation and Deep Space Nine with my dad when I was growing up.

If you could live in any other country for 2 years, where would you go?  Hong Kong

What dish would your bring to our community picnic potluck? cut fresh pineapple

Now That We’ve Been Introduced…

 What do you do: Assistant Professor at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy in Baltimore

How did you come to doing what you do? How has your career trajectory flowed?

I was always fairly good at math, and when I was a sophomore in college, I decided I wanted to do something related to people rather than just numbers.  I discovered that I wanted to be a researcher, and that meant I needed to go to graduate school.  I went to college and graduate school at the University of California, Berkeley, where I studied economics, demography, and public health, I then completed a series of research fellowships in London, Washington DC, Seattle, and Texas.  I am now an Assistant Professor at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy in Baltimore, where I am an epidemiologist and study aging, insomnia, women’s health, and physical function.

I would say the  most important driving forces of my career have been curiosity about the world and not being afraid to ask questions.  Because of asking questions, I landed several internships while I was in college as well as my first job.  My friend Stephanie Black says you should always focus on what you want to do with your work, and the path will become clear.  True to this advice, I have always tried to focus on what kinds of research questions I want to investigate and how the answers will help people archive better health and well being.

Where would you like to see yourself in 5 years?

I hope to be spending time with friends and family and to be involved in engaging work.

Not to be morbid, but what do you want people to remember about you when you’ve gone?

I hope to be remembered as someone who lived life fully and inspired others to do the same.

Who or what inspires you? My family, friends, and teachers

About Disability

If you could say something to yourself in the past – that is, the you that was really struggling with something related to disability – what would you say?

It was very challenging to start to have Fibromyalgia symptoms during the transition from high school to college.  In hindsight, this challenge forced me to learn how to access resources and communicate with people about what I needed, or about the fact that sometimes I wasn’t sure what kind of help I needed.  The skills have also helped me be a better communicator in general.


What do you like about your particular disability?

As my friend Ben Chater says, there are lots of inconveniences about having a disability, but I wouldn’t change anything if it meant I wouldn’t have been able to meet the amazing people I have as a result of my disability.


Any one thing that you wish people would *get* about disability?

Having Fibromyalgia means I often have a different schedule that includes sleeping more and taking more time for recovery, but it doesn’t mean I do less with life.


What single piece of technology makes your life easier?

Suitcases with four wheels that swivel

Sarah Tom

Where else can we find you online?

Twitter:  @sarahetom


Other Cool Cat Profiles:

Joshua Miele

Pauline Victoria 

Susan Henderson

Neil Jacobson

Dave Hingsburger

Rich Donovan

Joy Elan

Alice Wong

Carrie Griffin Basas

 Tony Candela


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is a deaf blogger, global nomad, tech-junkie, cat-lover, Trekkie, Celto-Teutonic-peasant-handed mom of 3 (one with Down syndrome and one gifted 2E).
She likes her coffee black and hot.
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