Getting to Know You: Dr Sarah Morton
After picking up this years Public Sector Innovation award at the Digital Technology Awards for her work in user-friendly software that is helping transform evaluation processes for organisations, Holyrood Connect gets to know Dr Sarah Morton.
What is your earliest memory?
One of my earliest memories is moving to Scotland on the sleeper train when I was five. My sister and I were head to toe in one bunk, and my mum and baby brother in another. It was a big adventure going on a train like that overnight. When you’re that young you don’t really worry about stuff, it was exciting.
What were you like at school?
I was quite shy in primary school. I had my best friend, we were thick as thieves and we played a lot of imaginary games. I was quite well behaved, just got on with stuff. I did higher maths, English and physics. I think being really logical but also being good with words is how I fit well as a social scientist. You’ve got to make an argument, and sometimes you have to use numbers to make those claims.
Who would be your dream dinner date?
It would be really cool to have dinner with Barack Obama, he’s such an interesting guy. He seems like a lovely person to sit and talk to. I think he’d also have the grace to make it a two-way conversation – some people it would just all be about them.
What’s the worst thing anyone’s ever said to you?
Some of my worst experiences were when I first started working at the university I didn’t have an academic post. There were a few times there where academics would come into a meeting and wouldn’t look at me. I was just considered ‘not a full member’ because I wasn’t also an academic. I was invisible to some of those people, that’s the worst I’ve been treated.
What’s your most treasured possession?
I’m not very materialistic, but I play the fiddle. I have a fiddle that my dad made for me, and he died a couple of years ago. If I had to save one thing from the house that would be what I saved because it’s irreplaceable.
What’s your guiltiest pleasure?
Staying in bed reading when I should really be getting on with something else.
If you could go back in time, where would you go?
I think it would be really interesting to be in Edinburgh during the enlightenment. I’d probably need to be a man or I might not see much otherwise. That’s a really fascinating time. I’d just like to see what Edinburgh was like as a city, some of it is still so close, quite medieval. To go back that far and see the people walking around, that would be really interesting.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever had?
Think ‘yes’ not ‘no’. They told me this when I was going to have a baby, but I think it applies to a lot of other things. When things are happening, don’t resist. You’ve got to think ‘yes’, it’s always better to come at things with a positive mindset. You can’t avoid most things, you’ve got to go through them. It’s best to get what you can out of it.
What skill should every person have?
That’s an interesting one because at the moment there’s a lot of questions being asked about what we teach at school and university, it’s so subject based. I think what we really all need is to be able to work with other people. Ways of working and dealing with other people, for which you need a bit of insight into yourself. The thing that’s going to get us through these massive changes is being able to trust each other and work well together. Kindness is hugely underrated, and so are process skills.
What’s the worst pain you’ve ever experienced?
I’m someone who’s had quite a lot of chronic pain in my life, but I’m actually okay at the moment. I’m really interested in how people cope with pain and what they’re told about it. At the beginning of the pandemic I had a really bad episode of back pain where I couldn’t sleep for more than twenty minutes at a time for about three months. I also had acute appendicitis in 2019, that was pretty bad as well.
What’s your top film or TV programme of all time?
Night on Earth by Jim Jarmusch. It’s stayed as my favourite film since I first saw it. It’s five stories that all take place at the same moment but in different time zones. I like it because it’s saying that we’re all experiencing life on earth but from different perspectives. I was born in England but I grew up in Scotland, so I’ve always been a bit on the fringes of things. I think you get an interesting perspective from that, and it helps me in the work I do being able to go into an organisation, read the room and figure out what’s going on. A few of us at Matter of Focus have always been on the periphery, and it makes it a bit easier to figure things out.
What was your best holiday ever?
When we were kids we went up to the North coast near Tongue, it was one of those really, really hot summers. We had a campervan and we literally wore swimsuits the whole week. We went swimming twice a day, camped, it was just a little bubble of magic.
What was the last book you read?
I tend to read a business book at the same time as a novel. I’ve been reading a really old business book called Maverick, about a guy in 90’s Brazil who reworked his whole company to be completely organised by the workers. I’ve also just finished ‘Electricity’ by Angus Peter Campbell. It’s about living in the Western Isles when electricity first came around. It’s about how the community reacted to the change, but also what they gained and what they lost.
Salt and vinegar or salt and sauce
Cats or dogs
Pub or wine bar
Early bird or night owl
Continental or (veggie) Full English
Coffee or tea
Fame or fortune
Book or film
Night in or night out
Couch or gym