‘The Brain Scoop”s Emily Graslie Is The Scientist Of The Future [INTERVIEW]

Emily Graslie was already beloved to science educators and students for her work on the YouTube education show “The Brain Scoop,” based out of the Field Museum in Chicago. And when she posted a video on YouTube calling out the sexism she still receives on a daily basis, she went super-viral and became beloved to women’s rights activists everywhere.

After watching her special episode “Where My Ladies At?” I knew I had to talk to Emily. We spoke about her famous video, women in science and even how we can all work out our brains more.

ACT: You recently posted a video online to talk about the sexism you face while being the host, writer and producer of “The Brain Scoop.” Why was it important for you to show people this type of sexism and talk about it?

EMILY: I put these educational videos up on YouTube, and I started to receive quite a number of emails and messages from young people, young women especially, who were also interested in starting their own channel. Looking around, they didn’t see much of an environment for women in education on YouTube.

They were also seeing these negative comments and messages people were leaving on my channel that were more focused on my appearance than the content of my videos. These comments were detracting away from the real message of what I’m trying to get across on YouTube. More importantly, they were detrimental in encouraging other people to have their own channels, because people see those comments and are disinclined to put themselves in the line of fire. Young women were asking how I dealt with reading those comments and what it must feel like. So that’s what prompted the creation of that video.

+ Watch Emily Graslie ask, “Where My Ladies At?”

ACT: The video also highlights some messages in which people have said sexist things, then tried to say they weren’t sexist. How do you respond to that?

EMILY: I guess what it comes down to is me asking people to be a little more considerate in what they’re saying and to try to think, “Well, if I was in her position, how would I take that comment?” People do think they’re trying to help by saying, “You could dress a little sexier” or “Maybe show a little more skin and more people would watch your show.” That’s not necessarily the fault of the individual. It’s the fault of our societal construct. It’s the fault of people living their entire lives feeling women should be sexy and they should be appealing to the eye. These are cultural shifts we need to make.

ACT: Any advice on what a person can do if they hear a sexist comment from a coworker or friend?

EMILY: Calling it out is one of the most important things, especially if it’s early on. It’s always good to address the issue and not wait until it gets to be out of control. I think making sure you work in a positive work environment can really go a long way.

ACT: How can we do a better job of encouraging girls and women to get into science?

EMILY: People are surprised when we say we have a Women in Science group here at the Field Museum, because they say, “Is that necessary?” And, unfortunately, it is, until we get to a point where it’s just commonly regarded that, yes, there are women in science, and we don’t need to keep pointing it out.

I think it is becoming an educational initiative [to encourage girls in science] in a lot of schools and educational programs. We are putting an emphasis on STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. There is already a push to get more people into these fields, and we’re recognizing that while we may have a 50/50 split of women pursuing STEM careers at an undergraduate level, once they get beyond that, once they start pursuing careers or tenure tracks or academic appointments, that women are dropping off. So we need to get them engaged at a young age, and then help women to maintain and facilitate by making accommodating work environments.

ACT: Not too long ago Yale did a study proving that even if male and female scientists have the same qualifications, the male scientist is overwhelmingly more likely to be hired for a job. It also showed that the female scientist, if she were hired, would likely be paid less. What steps can be taken to create pay equality?

EMILY: Unfortunately, we might get to the point where we have to do more blind hiring. Because people do have a bias, and that bias needs to be called out and recognized. There have been all sorts of studies where they present the same résumé of a hypothetical person and one résumé says “John” and the other one says “Jenny.” Even in these fake tests, women and men alike are more inclined to hire “John” than “Jenny” even though they have the same qualifications. We need to take serious attention to this in order for it to change.

ACT: What do you wish you had known at 17 that you know now?

EMILY: I guess I wish I would have known it’s OK and it’s possible to learn science in a hands-on way. The reason I was turned off to learning science in high school and college was that I didn’t identify at all with theory or reading these really lengthy articles. When I got into college and started pursuing museum studies and got involved with natural history museums, I started learning so much from just holding and looking at these museum specimens. With skulls of animals, I was learning all about anatomy and physiology without ever cracking open a book. Later you go back and reference the descriptive and anatomical terms for these things, but at the time I was learning so much just from hands-on experience. It’s OK to have a different approach to learning so long as you understand the material.

ACT: If you could have any guest, dead or alive, on “The Brain Scoop” who would it be and why?

EMILY: David Attenborough because he was a huge inspiration to me while I was growing up. Especially as an animal and wildlife documentarian and host: He’s so soothing and so engaging.

ACT: Totally random, but can we all do to work out our brains more?

EMILY: Questioning and being curious really lend themselves to self-motivated learning. There’s so much knowledge and information in this world we really take for granted. Like, ‘Where does your iPhone come from?’Can you really answer that question? Can you answer how the train runs on a schedule? How do they build 90-story buildings? Just continuously ask yourself questions.

Photo (Emily Graslie)

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