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The 30 Top Thinkers Under 30: The Science Writer Who Wants to Understand How Sleep Affects Our Health

For the month of April we're profiling the individuals who made our inaugural list of the 30 top thinkers under 30, the young men and women we predict will have a serious impact on the social, political, and economic issues we cover every day here at Pacific Standard.
(Photo: maraga/Shutterstock)

(Photo: maraga/Shutterstock)

Jordan Gaines Lewis, 24, Neuroscience

When Jordan Gaines Lewis was in middle school, her friends would divulge their deepest secrets to her over AOL Instant Messenger. “They expected me to counsel them,” she says, “so naturally I thought I'd make a great psychiatrist.” In high school, she says, “I used all my Barnes & Noble gift cards on books about the brain. The mysteries of this organ kept me coming back for more.”

(Photo: Jordan Gaines Lewis)


Today she’s pursuing her neuroscience Ph.D. on a full-tuition scholarship at Pennsylvania State University. (She did her undergrad in biology at St. Mary's College of Maryland, where she was on the rowing team and worked as a lab technician with the Food and Drug Administration, running experiments on rats.) She also writes an award-winning blog called “Gaines, on Brains”—recent posts’ headlines have included “Why We're Wired to Binge-Watch TV,” “Internet Trolls Are Also Real-Life Trolls,” and “Why Don't Figure Skaters Get Dizzy?” She also writes about psychology for big-name media outlets, including Scientific American, the Washington Post, and the Guardian.

For her doctoral thesis, she’s studying sleep—the complex association between disturbed sleep and obesity, how an insomniac’s sleep cycle differs from a “normal” snoozer’s cycle, and whether sleep quality can predict emotional health.

“In the lab, it's not always easy,” she says. “But once in a blue moon, I'll plug the right variables into my statistical software and find exactly the result I'm looking for—or, even better, a totally unexpected answer to my question.”

One of the problems with joining a lab, she says, is that you often have to research whatever your adviser specializes in. Lewis’ advice to new grad students is: “Find a topic that interests you, then bring your own twist to the research. Once you learn the ropes, you can lead your colleagues to ideas that nobody ever considered before.”

Gaines sees herself as "a focused, career-minded, hard-working, but often self-conscious woman doing her best to 'fake it 'til she makes it.'" When asked what she’s proudest of, she answers,"“being able to snag a husband who somehow saw through my dorkiness."

She doesn’t have much free time, but when she does, she walks dogs at her local shelter, knits, bakes, and runs. Still, the many hours she spends at school and in the lab feel like great fun: “I just really love what I do,” Gaines says, “and wake up each morning looking forward to doing it.”

See our complete 2014 list of the 30 top thinkers under 30 here.