Created with Sketch.
Sci & Tell
18 minutes | Jul 26, 2021
Prosanta Chakrabarty: Pushing for Global (Fish) Science
As much as Prosanta Chakrabarty loves his job as an ichthyology professor at LSU, his favorite part of the job is making human connections while doing fieldwork around the world. And whether it’s trying every single cocktail at a bar in Tanzania or trash talking bosses in Bengali to locals in Kuwait, Prosanta has made tons of great connections and memories throughout his career. We talked to Prosanta about knowing he wanted to be a zoologist from a young age, discovering new fish around the world, and partying in the middle of the Amazon River.
18 minutes | Jul 5, 2021
Ed Weiler: From Hubble Trouble to Mars Success
Ed Weiler only answered to one person when he was the Associate Administrator for Science at NASA Headquarters- the President of the United States. And after a decades long career in astronomy, working on everything from the Hubble telescope to the Mars program, he’s now spending his retirement playing tennis and raising a puppy. We talked to Ed about building a telescope at age 13, finding life outside of Earth in the near future, and leading a team of scientists at NASA- and that’s just the tip of the iceberg! This episode was produced by Shane M Hanlon and Nisha Mital, and mixed by Collin Warren. Artwork by Karen Romano Young.
24 minutes | Jun 7, 2021
Mónica Feliú-Mójer: Making Science More Equitable and Inclusive
A big part of Mónica Feliú-Mójer’s life mission is to help use science communication as a tool for equity and inclusion, and she has certainly achieved this working with two non-profits called Ciencia Puerto Rico and iBiology. Mónica has spent over 15 years making science culturally accessible to different communities in Puerto Rico, and she is eager to continue building those relationships throughout her career. We talked to her about the “scientists without a title” she grew up around in rural Puerto Rico, work-life integration (not work-life balance), and how your cultures and identities absolutely matter in science, despite common belief. This episode was produced by Shane M Hanlon and mixed by Collin Warren. Artwork by Karen Romano Young.
19 minutes | Mar 29, 2021
Melissa Scruggs: From GED to Volcano Ph.D.
Melissa Scruggs’s path to becoming a scientist is anything but straightforward. From getting pregnant in, and dropping out of high school, to being a single mom taking classes at a community college, to learning later in life that she has autism, Melissa has overcome a lot. But oh man is she kicking ass now as a Ph.D. candidate studying volcanology in beautiful California. We talked with Melissa about adversity, perseverance, and her dream to someday wear a certain silver suit. This episode was produced by Shane M Hanlon and mixed by Collin Warren.
17 minutes | Nov 30, 2020
Sharmila Bhattacharya: Helping Humans in Space & at Home
If Sharmila Bhattacharya wasn’t Program Scientist for Space Biology at NASA Headquarters, perhaps she would have been a theater actress. And while her contributions on stage would likely be legendary, we’re happy to have her at NASA learning about how space affects (human and other) biology. We talked with her about the challenges that scientists face, her proudest achievement (it’s not science-related), and that aforementioned theater performance. This episode was produced by Shane M Hanlon and mixed by Collin Warren. Transcript Shane M Hanlon: I’m an ecologist by training. I spent all of grad school outside in rural Tennessee hanging out with frogs, salamanders, and turtles. The lab I was in wasn’t exactly well-funded so we had to work with the limited resources we had. I’ve heard stories from folks about the weird Walmart runs they’ve had but for me it was more about my dual role as scientist and groundskeeper. One day, after weed wacking, (or eating, whatever you call it) around one of our outdoor areas where did experiments, I slowly noticed that I was having some trouble breathing. Not shortness of breath – trouble getting the area through my throat into my lungs. I realized that my throat was closing up. When I was wacking earlier, I had failed to notice that there was poison ivy mixed in with everything else, so when machine hit the ivy, it threw little particles into the air that I ended up breathing in. As my throat was closing, I made a call to my doctor who wrote me an emergency prescription for a steroid and suggested I immediately chow down on some Beonydryl. I ended up being OK and after a few days I was back to normal. I now have a house w/ some land and love doing yard work…but I’m always on especially high alert for poison ivy Shane M Hanlon: Everyone has a story, even, or maybe especially, scientists. Science affects each and every one of us. Let's talk about it. From the American Geophysical Union, I'm Shane Hanlon, and this is Sci & Tell. Shane M Hanlon: Welcome to episode TWO of Sci & Tell. If you missed our kickoff with Karen St. Germain, it’s one up in your feed or at sciandtell.org. For this episode we chatted with Sharmila Bhattacharya, Chief Scientist for Astrobionics at NASA Ames Research Center. Basically, she studies how space affects humans. And while she doesn’t have a story about poison ivy, she’s definitely had some interesting encounters in the field. Our interviewer was Paul Molin. Sharmila Bhattacharya: So my name is Sharmila Bhattacharya, and I work for NASA, NASA headquarters. And so, I'm a scientist. And my role is, I'm the program scientist for NASA Space biology program. So this is a program that's interested in looking at the fundamental biology of how systems respond to the space environment. And so, my job specifically is to help NASA make strategic plans and prioritize the science that we do so that we can keep, so we understand how to sustain habitation as well as exploration, when astronauts go into deep space for periods of time, we have to understand how to keep them safe, how to send food with them, and all of this good stuff, as well as do science, alongside that to understand the underlying changes that happen to systems in space, so that in the big picture, then at the end of the day, we can keep humans safe in space. Sharmila Bhattacharya: As you know, now NASA works alongside many of these, the SpaceX and the Northrop Grummans and the Blue Origins, today, so that we can work as partners to getting things into space. And my interest is, of course, in ensuring that we get the science reliably and frequently into space so that we can do our investigation. Sharmila Bhattacharya: I really enjoyed science, but I also loved English. So, I loved writing, I loved reading, I still do. So literature, was something that was very near to my heart as well. I loved maths, I liked physics, I liked biology, I loved chemistry, I loved history, right? So in some ways, it was a tough choice. So when it came to choosing the one path, it was a little bit of, what's the word? A toss up. And then it struck me that okay, if so, which part of science, so let's say if I want to do science, which part of science do I love? Sharmila Bhattacharya: And then I think, biology for me, was what came to mind. And then I thought, okay, and I love writing, but then in biology, and frankly, this is something that maybe a lot of young folk who are interested in science careers may not think about, but writing and communications, and reading, and literature, all of this actually tie in, and history, tie in very much together, because no matter how good your science is or how well your experiments go, if you can't communicate that, and if you can't write grants effectively, then you don't get funded or if you don't communicate effectively at a conference, then your colleagues don't understand what work you're doing and then you may not, meant will not have done it right. Sharmila Bhattacharya: So communications, writing, english, all of these actually flows very nicely together with science, and so at the end of the day, I think as I grew in age, and maturity and experience, I realized that it's not really that much of an either or. Sharmila Bhattacharya: I think, the biggest challenge is funding. So science, and it's something, Paul that I think, it jumps out at us today, as we're in the middle of a COVID pandemic, where, what are we looking to as the holy grail that's going to get us out of this? It's science, right? It's the vaccines that are going to be developed, it's the interventions, it's those medications, it's the drugs, that is what's going to get us out of this. Sharmila Bhattacharya: And so, I think what sometimes we as a people, as a nation, and perhaps, even sometimes globally, what we forget, we take science for granted, we assume it's going to bail us out of situations, but we often don't fund it to the extent that would really be helpful when we need it. And if you think back, to the heydays of most nations, including ourselves, and we think of the Apollo era, we think of sending humans to the moon for the very first time, right? It was all based on having a solid foundation of funding for the nation for science. I think so, when I look back, just at even from my personal standpoint, as a scientist having a career in science, I think the biggest challenge for most scientists is the funding. Paul Molin: If you could be doing anything else you think with your life, if you didn't end up in the sciences, what do you think you would have done? Sharmila Bhattacharya: Theater, 100% theater. Yeah, I did a lot of plays and theater, growing up in school K through 12. I love that world. And then of course, as I got to college and things just got busy. And I was majoring in biological chemistry, not theater. So, I didn't even have time to take theater courses actually in college. But then in grad school, actually, I did participate again. So, high school, I'd done some even semi professional type stuff. And then in grad school, then I worked with some other groups outside of the university. Sharmila Bhattacharya: And we put some small community type theater that I participated in that I loved, but that's the thing is, as you get more and more focused on your expertise, your area of expertise, and in your career, you really got to pick one, and I love both, but I really did love the science and of course, it's hard to make a living off of theater. Not that it's that easy making a living out of science, but out of the two, since I love both, I figured, maybe someday I'll get back to theater and I certainly attend the theater a lot to watch others on stage. I just love it, but maybe when I retire, maybe I'll go back to some aspect of theater, if I can. Paul Molin: What was your favorite role you ever played in? Sharmila Bhattacharya: Oh, goodness. So, there was this play that we did about. So, it was a play about Alan Turing. He was English, and he was the person who actually broke the code for World War, I want to say to World War Two, the German code, during the war, and that was a huge turning point for the allies. Sharmila Bhattacharya: And so, there's a story about his life and so we did that as a play. I played a role as a lover for Alan Turing, and I really enjoyed, because actually, more than anything else there again, I enjoyed learning about his life and he faced challenges like you wouldn't believe. And just learning about his challenges and how he handled it and lived to still produce something that was so critical for the country, I guess, maybe that would have probably been my most fun role. Sharmila Bhattacharya: The thing that I think in life, in general, that I'm most proud of, is having raised a decent, kind, intelligent, and loving human being, which is my daughter. At the end of the day, if I had to think of what is the one thing that I am really proud that I spent a lot of energy and time doing, it is raising a good human being, a good citizen for the future. Paul Molin: Your greatest personal achievement is, the woman your daughter turned out to be. You don't do that without having a grasp on work life balance, and being able to know, prioritize. What advice would you give on how you're able to manage that work life balance? Sharmila Bhattacharya: I think the main thing is, I just really enjoyed parenting, I loved spending time with my daughter, I love doing the things together that we did. Sharmila Bhattacharya: So I think the main thing is to look upon it as fun. And of course, it's not always fun, we who are parents know. There will be days when they're sick, there are days you have an important meeting where you can't, where you've had to prepare, and you just can't take a breather for days on it. And that's where I think actually having supportive friends and families and partners around you can be a huge help. And that's how it was, for me very fortunately, I was able to rely on help, whether it was from my partner, whether it was from my mother, who on occasion would come and stay with us when my daughter was young, my husband and I always juggled our schedule, so that we would never go out of town on work travel at the same time. Sharmila Bhattacharya: So, it takes coordination and we had friends and neighbors who were this amazing, supportive community who we could rely on, my friend and neighbor across the street, Barb, she was like a second mom to my daughter, on many occasions. So, it's all, as they say, it takes a village to raise kids and it's so true, building that support network and having that group around you is really good, not just for working parents, but also I think for the kids. Paul Molin: Did your daughter end up in the sciences? Sharmila Bhattacharya: She did, actually. She majored in biological chemistry at Brown University. So yes. Now, she's very interested, of course, also in business and commercial companies. So, she's working in healthcare consulting company after graduation. But yes, she's definitely a very analytical thinker, and very interested in science, for sure. Sharmila Bhattacharya: One of the reasons, I think it's very important to have these conversations that you and I are having today, is that it's important to communicate to people, whether it's to my mother, or to my grandmother, or to my uncle, what it is that we do, and why it's important, and how it contributes to society, is a very important dialogue for us to continue to have. Sharmila Bhattacharya: And so, for those kids who love science, it's important for them too, to voice that interests to the adults around them, because that's how folks realize the value, and that's how we as a nation, invest in the future of our country by investing in science, going forward. Sharmila Bhattacharya: One more thing I would say, yes, the first about raising their voices, being an important part of the nation's discussion, as they are doing today in politics and in many other things, and they need to continue to do that. In addition, one thing I would say to our young scientists, that, a career in science is really fun. And it is something that you can be sure of will never get boring, will never be repetitive. It's collaborative, and also people sometimes have this view of that scientists are siloed in their own little world, and you don't talk to anybody. No, science is a community, as we were saying earlier, it's all about communication and collaboration, and partnering and talking to other scientists, and exchanging ideas and working as a team, across disciplines. Sharmila Bhattacharya: You are really interested in biology, but somebody else and their computer science skills, and somebody else with their math skills, and somebody else with their mechanical engineering skills, together build an experiment and build the hardware to do in space. And that's how we do it. I work with folks in the planetary science and earth science and computers, and engineering and all of us together, make it happen. And so, it's really fun. You never stop learning, you're forever learning new things, and I love that. Shane M Hanlon: I’m with Sharmila on this one. I love learning. Years ago when I was that grad student and sometimes landscaper, I would’ve laughed folks out of the field if someone had told me I’d be a professional science communicator, storyteller, and podcast host…all while still being in the sciences. I’m definitely inspired after listening to this story and I wanna thank Sharmila for sharing it with us. Shane M Hanlon: Special thanks to NASA for making this episode possible and to Paul Molin for conducting the interview. Shane M Hanlon: If you like what you've heard, stay tuned for future episodes. You can subscribe to Sci & Tell wherever you get your podcasts and find us a sciandtell, all spelled out, .org. Shane M Hanlon: From this scientist in the studio, to all of you out there in the world, thanks for listening to our stories.
12 minutes | Nov 25, 2020
Karen St. Germain: From B+ Student to Leader at NASA
How does one go from being a B+ student who got dressed down by her 8th grade softball coach to the Division Director of the Earth Science Division at NASA? While this might sound like the plot of an inspirational Hallmark movie, this was real life for Karen St. Germain. For our inaugural episode, we talked with her about mentorship, the value of being able to communicate science, and how perseverance can pay off. This episode was produced by Shane M Hanlon and mixed by Collin Warren. Transcript Shane M Hanlon: Hi everyone, I'm Shane M Hanlon, the host of the Sci & Tell. Just a note before we get rolling - Each episode is gonna start w/ a quick story from me that somehow relates to something our interviewee said. Sometimes it may seem out of context…but there's definitely a thread there. So w/out further ado, let's get into it. Shane M Hanlon: I used to jokingly call myself the Abe Lincoln of fellowships. Something that always stuck with me about Lincoln was how many times he ran for elected office…and how many times he lost before finally succeeding. I could definitely relate to that. I applied to about a 1/2 dozen grad schools and only got into one (and frankly, it wasn't my first choice). As a grad student I applied for dozens of grants and fellowships and came away with a handful of small awards. I was waitlisted for the post-phd fellowship that ultimately brought me to Washington, DC. I think (or at least hope) that my current job is the first time that I wasn't the second choice. But instead of being resentful, I've tried to learn from these situations. And at the end of the day - who cares how I got here. I'm being judged on where I'm going, not where I've been. Shane M Hanlon: Everyone has a story, even, or maybe especially, scientists. Science affects each and every one of us. Let's talk about it. From the American Geophysical Union, I'm Shane M Hanlon, and this is Sci & Tell. Shane M Hanlon: I am so excited for this. A couple years ago I had this idea to take audio from interviews we were doing with NASA scientists here at AGU and turn them into a podcast, mainly because I just didn't like the idea of unused audio. But during that pilot series where I piggy-backed on our other podcast, Third Pod from the Sun, I realized the folks were talking to were great examples of different folks from different backgrounds in different parts of the sciences. They weren't perpetuating stereotypes of who scientists are and what they look like. They were showing that anyone can be a scientist and that there is no one-size-fits-all formula when thinking about who's in the sciences. Shane M Hanlon: Well, now we're back for our first official, I guess season. We're going to bring y'all 12 interviews with scientists, mostly from NASA who is the sponsor for this season, who talk about their career path, successes and failures, inspirations, and more. Shane M Hanlon: For our first episode we talked with Karen St. Germain, Division Director of the Earth Science Division, in the Science Mission Directorate at NASA. That is a long title the basically means Karen does some cool and impressive stuff. So enough from me, let's hear from Karen. Our interviewer was Paul Molin. Karen St. Germain: My name is Karen St. Germain, and I am the director of Earth Science for NASA. That means I lead the team of scientists, engineers and programs to use the unique vantage point of space to study our home planet and understand how the processes on Earth work. Karen St. Germain: When I was a little girl, I absolutely loved solving problems. I was really energized by that, solving puzzles and exploring. So, science is really the convergence of those two things. It's understanding how things work, solving problems and, frankly, exploring to find the answers. So, this was a natural endeavor for me. Karen St. Germain: I have had mentors, and I'll say more broadly, people who believed in me, going all the way back to those junior high days. And then, throughout college and graduate school. I'll give you a couple of examples. When I was in junior high, I was really struggling with algebra. The default response of the system was, "Well, you probably won't use it anyway." Karen St. Germain: But I had one teacher, and I went to summer school to try to really catch up. I had one teacher who really took an interest. She knew that I was smart, and she knew that it must be just something that I was missing. She focused on helping me figure out what that concept was that I had missed somewhere along the way, and after that, math fell into place for me. Paul Molin: Have you now, as your career has moved on, been able to kind of reverse that role and mentor young scientists and engineers as they've come up through the ranks, and been able to give back a bit there? Karen St. Germain: I sure have tried to, and that includes things like going back to my alma matter and talking with students. It includes serving on panels. But closer to home, it includes really challenging the younger people on my team, giving them opportunities to really stretch, to do things that they didn't know they could do, and encouraging them along the way to do that. Karen St. Germain: Helping them work through problems and challenges because those are the things that were really most valuable to me, that people did for me. You learn more when things aren't going well than you learn when they are going well. So, that's the time when you can really use the additional support. Karen St. Germain: I would say, over the course of a career, the real hurdle for me has been, and it's not a hurdle, but the real challenge has been knowing when to stick with it, whatever it is, and just keep grinding through, and knowing when it was time to maybe make a change, build a new perspective and a new set of skills, and then trusting that decision was the right one. So, it's not a single major event. It's more a career is built on the collection of everyday individual decisions. So, it's being consistent and being true in those everyday decisions that I think is actually the biggest challenge. Paul Molin: And from my experience in my field, which is obviously completely different than yours, but a lot of that, being able to look at a problem and switch gears, or to stick with a decision, like you said, a lot of that comes down to confidence and two, having a pretty strong network of people that you can use as a sounding board. Do you find that to be the case? Karen St. Germain: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that's an important thing for everyone to do. And that means a network that not only consists of people who do what you do, but also people who have very different perspectives. So, I'm very lucky. I've got friends in my life who have been friends for 30 years, and they do very different things than I do, but we do that for each other. We talk one another through those challenges and provide that sort of very blunt feedback that we all need sometimes. Karen St. Germain: So, I've been very lucky in my life to have mentors and good friends, who've been willing to do that. And as you mentioned earlier, one has to be willing to do that in return, to be that for other people. And so, it's a mutual investment in those relationships. And those people can also help you with the bravery, right? They can help with the encouragement, because sometimes they see things about you that you don't see about yourself. Paul Molin: I find, in my career, sometimes it's not necessarily that you have to make the right decision all the time. It's like you have to have the confidence to make a decision before you can move forward. And maybe, as you move forward, you find out it was the wrong one, but making a decision can be more of an asset than just hemming and hawing, and being uncertain about how you want to move forward. Karen St. Germain: That is absolutely true. I often think about my eighth grade softball coach when I think about that kind of situation. So, I had always been an infielder when I played softball as a kid, and I was sort of a utility infielder. But my coach believed, especially at that age, everybody should try every position. You really ought to explore. Karen St. Germain: So, he put me in the outfield. He put me in center field, and I was lost. And he said, "St. Germain, what are you doing out there? What are you waiting for?" Somebody would hit a ball toward in my general direction that I was responsible for fielding. I'd never get there in time. He walked out, I'll never forget it. Walked out, slow walk, out to center field. He said, "Look, the second you see that batter's bat come off their shoulder," in other words, "The minute you see that they're taking a swing, you start moving." Karen St. Germain: And I said, "But coach, how do I know where the ball's going to go?" And he said, "It doesn't matter. No matter where the ball goes, you will get there faster if you are moving than you will from a dead stop, if you're standing still, waiting to see where the ball goes." Karen St. Germain: And I have found that to be true in almost every aspect of life. If you're afraid to move, if you're standing still, waiting to figure out exactly what to do, you're really going to be late to the game. Karen St. Germain: The fact is, my entire life I was a B+ student, but I was a B+ student with a lot of grit and a great network of friends and family that were just positive influences. Karen St. Germain: But I didn't get to this position because I was born with a particular gift. I've got a good brain. That's true. But along the way, it was and still is a lot of hard work and paying attention to relationships with people, and paying attention to learning how to communicate. This is the piece of advice I would give to students all the time, is there are two things that are important. Karen St. Germain: Really paying attention to your own passion, paying attention to what gets you fired up. Because if you're going to excel, you're going to need that passion. So, that's one thing. But the other thing is to take every opportunity to practice communicating with people who don't do what you do. Because that's the other thing that's really going to give you an edge, is if you can be the one who can tell the story. Shane M Hanlon: My job, when I’m not podcasting, is to teach fellow scientists how to communicate more effectively and I swear I didn’t ask Karen to plug this. But she has a point – if we as scientists don’t get out there to talk about science, someone else will. This is a good thing to keep in mind, especially now, and I wanna thank Karen for sharing her story with us. Shane M Hanlon: Special thanks to NASA for making this episode possible and to Paul Molin for conducting the interview. Shane M Hanlon: If you like what you've heard, stay tuned for future episodes. You can subscribe to Sci & Tell wherever you get your podcasts and find us a sciandtell, all spelled out, .org. Shane M Hanlon: From this scientist in the studio, to all of you out there in the world, thanks for listening to our stories.
Terms of Service
Do Not Sell My Personal Information
© Stitcher 2021