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Maya Shankar

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Maya Shankar
Senior Advisor at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy[1]
In office
April 2013 – January 19, 2017
PresidentBarack Obama
Chair of Social and Behavioral Sciences Team[1]
In office
September 2015 – January 19, 2017
First Behavioral Science Advisor to the United Nations
In office
January 2016 – October 2016[2]
PresidentSecretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon
Personal details
SpouseJimmy Li
Alma materB.A. Yale
Ph.D. Oxford
postdoctoral fellowship Stanford

Maya Shankar is a cognitive scientist and the host and executive producer of the podcast, A Slight Change of Plans.[3]


Podcast: A Slight Change of Plans[edit]

A Slight Change of Plans was first published in 2021 by Pushkin Industries, the media company co-founded by Malcolm Gladwell and Jakob Weisberg. [3]

A Slight Change of Plans explores what happens after a person experiences a life-changing event. It’s inspired by Shankar’s experience as a young classical violinist, training at Juilliard, whose career was cut short by an injury. “My whole childhood revolved around the violin, but that changed in a moment when I injured my hand playing a single note,” said Shankar. “I was forced to try and figure out who I was, and who I could be, without it.” [4]

On the show, Shankar interviews people who have lived through different kinds of big changes — accidents, deaths, kidnappings — to understand how they navigated the waters ahead. The show emphasizes the universality of human psychology to help listeners feel less alone with their own choices. Shankar explains: “Cognitive science teaches us that the strategies we use to navigate those changes can be quite similar. Which is heartening to realize!” [4]

A Slight Change of Plans was named the Apple Podcast of the Year in 2021.[4] In 2023, it won the Ambie Award for Best Personal Growth Podcast.[5] In 2022, Shankar earned a Webby nomination for Best Podcast Host.[6]

Career in behavioral science[edit]

Shankar served as a senior advisor in the Obama White House, where she founded the White House Social and Behavioral Sciences Team,[7] which was formalized by Executive Order 13707 in 2015.[8] Her work at the White House was profiled by The New Yorker in 2017.[9]

Shankar also served as the first Behavioral Science Advisor to the United Nations.[10] She is a Director at Google.[11]

Early career as a musician[edit]

Shankar is a graduate of the pre-college program at the Juilliard School, where she was a private violin student of Itzhak Perlman.[12] When she was a teenager, she injured a tendon in her left hand, bringing her musical career to an end.[13][14]


Shankar earned her B.A. from Yale University in cognitive science and went on to earn her Ph.D. from the University of Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship. In 2013, Shankar completed her postdoctoral fellowship in cognitive neuroscience at Stanford University.[15] She attended high school at the Juilliard School PreCollege program.[12]

Personal life[edit]

Maya Shankar is the daughter of Ramamurti Shankar, Indian theoretical particle physicist and a professor at Yale University.[16] In her Meditative Story, The Joy of Being An Unwilling Traveler Through Life, she describes her father's influence on her and the insights he shared to ease her lifelong anxiety.[17]


  1. ^ a b "White House Author: Maya Shankar". whitehouse.gov. 6 August 2014. Archived from the original on January 21, 2017. Retrieved December 27, 2019 – via National Archives.
  2. ^ "Secretary-General Meets UN Adviser on Behavioural Insights". United Nations. Retrieved 2016-12-12.
  3. ^ a b "A Slight Change of Plans - Pushkin". 10 May 2021.
  4. ^ a b c "Apple Podcasts presents the Best of 2021". Apple Newsroom. Nov 30, 2021. Retrieved Dec 21, 2013.
  5. ^ "2023 Winners and Nominees". The Ambie Awards. March 7, 2023. Retrieved Dec 25, 2023.
  6. ^ "Webby Awards: A Slight Change of Plans Podcast". The Webby Awards. May 16, 2022. Retrieved Dec 25, 2023.
  7. ^ Thaler, Richard (June 2016). Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics. p. 344. ISBN 978-0-393-35279-5.
  8. ^ "Using Behavioral Science Insights To Better Serve the American People". Federal Register. Retrieved November 24, 2021.
  9. ^ "Can Behavioral Science Help in Flint?". The New Yorker. 16 January 2017.
  10. ^ "Maya Shankar Joins Center as Research Scholar". 2016-10-18. Retrieved 2018-04-30.
  11. ^ "Maya Shankar". LinkedIn. Retrieved November 24, 2021.
  12. ^ a b "Loss and Renewal". NPR.org. NPR. Retrieved November 24, 2021.
  13. ^ "Why We Do What We Do". End Well. March 27, 2019. Retrieved December 27, 2019.
  14. ^ "Loss and Renewal: Moving Forward After A Door Closes". NPR. December 31, 2018. Retrieved December 27, 2019.
  15. ^ "Maya Shankar | SIEPR Policy Forum". stanford.edu. Archived from the original on April 25, 2017. Retrieved December 27, 2019.
  16. ^ "How Do You Get to Camp? Practice, Of Course; Teenagers Who Play Music, Not Tennis". New York Times. June 27, 2002. Retrieved December 27, 2019.
  17. ^ Shankar, Maya (July 14, 2022). "The joy of being an unwilling traveler through life". Meditative Story. Retrieved December 25, 2023.

External links[edit]