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The Brain Scoop is written and hosted by:
Emily Graslie

Created By:
Hank Green

Directed, Edited, Animated, and Scored by:
Michael Aranda

Production Assistant:
Katie Kirby

Thanks to Anna Goldman for answering all of our questions!

Filmed on Location and Supported by:
The Field Museum in Chicago, IL

MAJOR PROPS to Evan Liao, Katerina Idrik, and Seth Bergenholtz for translating all 22 and a half minutes of this video!
(The Brain Scoop intro) 

Emily: Hey! We're with Anna Goldman today, sitting in the old mammals wet prep lab and we're going to do a Q&A session because you guys have a lot of questions not only for me, but for people like Anna who have sweet science jobs. 

My question number one was "how are you today?"

Anna: I'm- I'm very well. Am I allowed to ask questions back?

Emily: Yeah.

Anna: How is Emily today?

Emily: Emily's pretty good, pretty good day on The Brain Scoop set. 

Anna: It's a good day for Emily, it's a good day for Anna. 

Emily: Yeah! Wink. So then he puts a little star. Pyoo. My next quest- [laughter] Um- so- so a lot of people have been really curious about your experience and your educational background. They- they want to know how you got from point a to point b. So what did you study?

Anna: Um- I wouldn't say that I took the traditional way of going about where I wanted to go. Um- I wanted to study bugs when I was a little kid. But um- long before that I always really liked roadkill and dead things and anything fascinating I just was really excited by it. And then I went to Jewish summer camp and I was exposed to mosquitoes and instead of getting really upset that they were biting me, I just started to dissect them and I got really excited. So I started reading a lot about bugs and I really- I really really love insects. But, while I was going to school, um- it's really hard to find a good program that studies bugs and not pest control. I didn't want to kill them.

Emily: Yeah.

Anna: So I ended up at The College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine and I got a degree in human ecology while focusing in biology and entomology. But there's also a lot of opportunities there for me to skin dead animals.

Emily: Oh!

Anna: So since we're right across the street from a national park, we would haul in roadkill on the weekends to the lab and uh- skin it. 

Emily: Was that like part of your program? Or-

Anna: No.

Emily: you just did it- oh!

Anna: I just had some cool friends and uh-

Emily: Nice!

Anna: Yeah, and then we'd take the meat that we'd skin and throw it in the ocean and bald eagles would come and eat it. 

Emily: Nice!

Anna: Yeah, and they have an allied whale program where they take beached marine mammals and they skin those and I- I would like to skin those animals. So I've always really liked to skin, so I was volunteering and interning in the insect division here when this position opened up and I- I just happened to be a really good fit. I was super lucky.

Emily: The mammal prep lab position?

Anna: The mammal prep lab, the mammals preparator. I feel so lucky to have this job. 

Emily: Yeah, and I get a lot of questions about that too. Everybody wants to have your job they're like "I want to be Anna Goldman when I grow up" and I'm really excited for them. I'm like "Yeah! Let's have more Anna Goldmans in the world." But then I'm like- also like "Uh, good luck with that" because your position, from what I understand of like- other national history museums in the United States and the world, your position doesn't really exist unless it's in a really large institution like the Field Museum. I don't say that to be discouraging, I say it kind of as to be like- enlightening a little bit. Um-

Anna: Well you can't- you can't like hold your slingshot and direct yourself at this position, which is bogus but at the same time um-

Emily: It's realistic.

Anna: It's realistic. You- you have to really find a passion and move toward it and find any way to get toward it. And sometimes that means giving up a lot of your free time, getting paid nothing, and just loving what you do every moment and then opportunities will present themselves for you. 

Emily: Everybody I've talked to, I would say nine and a half out of ten people, have volunteered or interned and ended up in the position that you have today. Like one of your volunteers, Lauren, was just hired on her first full-time position in the insects lab after volunteering for mammals for two years. 

Anna: Yeah, she's been here for two years and we haven't paid her anything. And she has come in two to three times a week for two and a half years.

Emily: Do you know anybody who works in the museum who has gotten by- without like having to volunteer or intern?

Anna: Bill Stanley

Emily: Really?

Anna: Yes. Bill Stanley is the only one in the mammal division that has not volunteered. Otherwise everybody else in the mammal division, at least that I know of, has volunteered to get here.

Emily: Did you ever think that you would end up in the job that you are in today?

Anna: I think I knew from a young age that I wanted to end up in a museum, but I had no idea this happened in a museum. And so, no, I never expected to be here and I'm sure like- eleven year old me would look at me today and be like "Woah. What?" and they'd be really happy. 

Emily: I think thirteen year old me would be pretty stoked about where I am today, a little confused but I think it all worked out in the end. I did like- spend a lot of time in Sailor Moon chat rooms so like being on the internet was always an important part of my-

Anna: Sailor Moon

Emily & Anna: Sailor Moon chat rooms

Emily: What's your favorite part of your job?

Anna: God, there are so many favorite part of my job. Um- the flesh-eating beetles are probably really- they're up there.

Emily: What is it about them?

Anna: That I get to work with them, that I get to be around insects while still working with mammals. That I get to feed them and watch them reproduce, and know what they like and what they don't like, and- and pick up on their moisture levels, and if they like it to be moist or not. And I- I feel like I'm really personal with them and I feel- more so than other mammalogists who had this job because I feel like I'm- I'm really paying attention to them and they're just not doing my bidding, they're like- they're like my friends that I'm having over for a dinner party all the time.

Emily: Like, they know who you are, like a puppy when you come home and they're like "Anna! What did you bring us today, Anna? Aw."

Anna: I feel like when I'm out of town and like- someone else has to watch them, like- they're not as productive for them.

Emily: Really

Anna: Yeah, they're just- they're just like "Ugh" and so like- they don't have to put as many things in the colony because they're just it's like not...

Emily: The beetle- Anna Goldman, beetle whisperer

Anna: Yeah.

Emily: Is there anything about this position that you don't like?

Anna: Bill Stanley

Emily: Aww come on-

Anna: I'm kidding. No, Bill Stanley is probably- he's probably one of my favorite things about the job too. Um, things I don't like about the job? I don't know, there's a lot that I do like, there's not much that I don't. It's- it's- I'm always nervous how people are going to perceive my job, so-

Emily: Because they think that you're- you're some kind of- like they want it to be personal almost. They see you using these animals and preparing them and they-

Anna: Yeah, they're like "Why'd you- why'd you kill that squirrel? Why- why did you kill that squirrel?" and I- and I'm like "I didn't kill this, this is not- that's not my job." Um- so it's hard to kind of manage that type of emotional response from people, so I think that that's probably complicated in knowing what people can handle and can't. But overall, like- I just really like what I do.

Emily: Nice.

Anna: Yeah.

Emily: Has there been a really memorable animal that you've dissected? That you- just sticks in your mind for whatever reason? Like the grossest or the coolest or the most exotic or- I know you like chipmunks.

Anna: I do, I think rodents are probably the highlight.

Emily: Really!

Anna: I really like chipmunks and I really like squirrels. I think that they're just really neat and, you know, possums are really cool, like the first or second time you skin them, only because their features are so different but so similar. But that gets old really fast.

Emily; Really, possums smell really bad.

Anna: Yeah, they're just awful, their bladders are always full

Emily: Gotta pee all the time.

Anna: They- all the time, all the time. Everybody's like "ohh it release-" No, it doesn't release. Um- but I also think we've got bags of zoo specimens in the freezer that are always like- really interesting to go through.

Emily: I mean, we've done snow leopard— I mean, I assisted a little bit with that, in that skinning, so there's— I know there's been snow leopard, we've had multiple zebras...

Anna: Yeah. Multiple zebras.

Emily: Zebra Bits wasn't the only zebra. So kind of talking about zoo animals, are you ever afraid that like, a zoo caretaker will see your treatment of a specimen on the show and feel like you're disrespecting an animal that was like a public figure itself?

Anna: That's an interesting question, and it's not something that I'm as concerned about because we do get these specimens in such hectic condition, you know, like, they've been cut up already. Somebody, and from what I've heard it's the keeper themselves that helps in breaking down this specimen. So the zookeeper has already taken a bone saw to back of this animal's skull and taken its brain out.

Emily: Yeah.

Anna: I'm not necessarily sure if there's anything I can do, other than like, throw it on the floor and spit on it, that would like, really defile this animal more than they have.

Emily: Yeah.

Anna: And I think that they, more than any of us, can detach a dead body from a living body.

Emily: So it's like what you're caring for is the essence of the animal. It's not the remainder, it's not the flesh and bones that are left afterwards.

Anna: Yeah.

Emily: Because in the Zebra Bits video, we— all we got from that zebra was part of a skull with the ears gone, and the skull cap missing, and the brains taken out,

Anna: Yeah.

Emily: and like, a big chunk of the shoulder.

Anna: And yeah, eyeball gone, cheeks, yeah like it was totally... yeah.

Emily: And I feel like I can personally kind of detach from it too, because you know that the parts that have been missing and the parts that have been taken out have been gone to be used for a better purpose.

Anna: Yeah.

Emily: I personally think it's better than seeing an animal all bloated on the side of the road.

Anna: I agree.

Emily: Obviously, like, we can't go out and bury every animal. We can't bury every piece of roadkill and erect a tombstone.

Anna: Yeah, and that's— 

Emily: "Rest in peace, Mr. Wolf."

Anna: And that's not natural, I mean, there's so many things that go decomposing on the side of the road. And at least we can give value to the things that we are either donated— that are donated to us or otherwise.

Emily: Dealing with so many animals on a daily basis and like, and processing so many things— because it's not just like when Brain Scoop is here and the camera's rolling, like, this is your 9 to 5 and you're running 30 chipmunks through the beetles, like, a day— how do you feel about your treatment with the animals?

Anna: Well I love animals. I have pets, I love them very much, and if they were ever hurt or— I mean, I'd be super sad. It's really hard. And we get a lot of animals that are like, banged up and like, they come from wildlife sanctuaries and like, they're not in the best of shape, and they died a hard death. Like, they probably suffered when they died. Obviously not at the hands of any of us, but like...

Emily: Right.

Anna: It was hard for them. And that's hard. It's hard to get animals and see like, awful abscesses and cavities, and to know that they lived their life in pain. But that is life, that's real. And I- it's not by my hands. It's not— like, you're not doing it. So like, I'm not like, "Emily, you should really stop giving candy to these squirrels." So because it's a part of life and this is by, like quite literally, this is by nature. Like, this is totally natural, for...

Emily: Unless something got hit by a car, really.

Anna: Yeah. It's by nature for things to suffer. Like, this is natural. Suffering, dying is natural. And it's really hard to take, but I feel that it makes me stronger. I feel like it helps me become a better person and I can know how to gauge bad things. I don't know.

Emily: Your own level. Yeah, I always feel like if I have a bad day, it's kind of like, "aw, I stubbed my toe and my toe hurts really bad and that sucks." Guess what? I have a warm home to go to at the end of the day, and there's food in my refrigerator, and...

Anna: And you don't have a cavity that drives you crazy that you can like, suck pus out of every day.

Emily: Yeah, like, cue squirrel with an abscess. I don't have a giant pus filled sack of bacterial infection growing out of my face.

Anna: And it's sad yeah, and there are some days that I take my work home with me, and it's hard. It's hard. But it's all for the greater good, and I think that I just remember that at the end of the day.

Emily: When you take a genetic sample— I'm only asking this because people were really concerned about this in some of our episodes— When you take a genetic sample, like a tissue sample, and you do it with your bare hands, is there a way that you can like, be contaminating that by handling it without gloves?

Anna: Well, so I'm sure, in theory, there's a way that I could be contaminating it. My...

Emily: If you licked it.

Anna: Yeah, like if I spat on it, and rubbed it, but what I know is what my bosses tell me. And my bosses have been doing this for multiple, multiple decades. And so all of their DNA samples have been synthesized and processed and everything, and so my understanding— which I'm sure there's many different understandings, I mean, this is science, so there's like a million different ways to answer one question— that is, you know, you're skinning an animal, their DNA is all over your hands, and so anything that you have on your fingers, your DNA is so small that you don't like, have— there's not like, loads of DNA like right here. And plus, I'm just working with this animal; their blood is all over my fingers. So if I put that then into a tube, that's nothing that I'm concerned about, nor are my bosses.

Emily: Yeah.

Anna: And I'm sure that there are some labs out there that would argue differently and that's totally cool. Everybody has their own practice.

Emily: But that just kinda goes back to like your job being so unique. You know, you're not an anatomist, you're not— I mean you are in a sense of the word, but you're not a veterinarian, you're not a coroner, you're a mammal preparator for a natural history museum.

Anna: Yeah and like, I'm not trying to... man, I'm not conducting any studies, I'm not a researcher, I'm not an artist, I'm not recreating anything, I'm a butcher. So like, for me to even know bones or muscles is like completely unnecessary for my job, even though I find those interesting, it's unnecessary. I don't need to know what any bone is. I just need to know how to get it out of the body. I need to know how to preserve it for a museum collection so that 2 years, 5 years, 100, 300 years from now, someone can look at that and it's not moldy and degraded.

Emily: Nice. I think, you know, knowing anatomy definitely adds value to your job. That's cool.

Anna: I dig it. I like it. But it's definitely not like, a job description.

Emily: Yeah.

Anna: I have to be good with my hands, I've gotta know what I'm doing, and I have to do it the most efficient way possible.

Emily: I used to wear a lab coat in Montana. I didn't have any real formal job training with my volunteer position. I did not have an Anna Goldman to go to for guidance. And so we just kind of wore lab coats as standard practice because that's just something that we did. And earning your lab coat was a big deal, it was almost like a ceremonial thing. I remember the day I got my lab coat. Like, you know, my name was like put on the rack where all the other coats were hung, and I got a brand new lab coat and then wearing it and it still had all the wrinkles in it and then you like, you get blood stains on it and you're like, "This was my wolf, and this was my chipmunk." Like it was more... probably like a ceremonial thing.

Anna: A rite of passage?

Emily: Yeah! Like a rite of passage more than like, actually needing to wear it. 'Cause we never washed the lab coats, so they were just gross all the time. So... we didn't have a big budget. So are you concerned that you don't wear a lab coat that you're going to have blood all over your clothes? Or you're gonna go home and you're gonna smell like dead stuff all day?

Anna: Since it's my job every day, it's kind of like, part of my job to get blood on my clothes.

Emily: That's written in the job description.

Anna: That's written: "blood on your clothes." No, I mean, I'm handling smelly, dirty things pretty much every day and so I know that I don't wear nice clothes. I don't wear clacky shoes. I don't wear skirts or dresses. These are the clothes that I wear because they're inexpensive and I can clean them easy. And if I come home with the smell my dogs are really happy and my clothes go in the washing machine. I mean, this? This like, dead sheep on my head? This is like a sponge for odor like you wouldn't believe. So like, I bathe, I mean, this is...

Emily: You?! You? Shower?

Anna: Me. Even me. I bathe.

Emily: I think that's really interesting that so many people are concerned about your clothes. And they're concerned about your wedding ring. They're concerned that you're gonna like get gunk under your ring, and...

Anna: Yeah, so the thing about a ring is that it doesn't come off easy. Otherwise you couldn't wave to people 'cause your ring would fly off. Well the same thing goes when your hands are in guts. And I intentionally have a wedding ring that like, does not have anything else going on it, 'cause if I did it'd get all bloody and crummy. So like, yeah. This is my wedding ring. It stays on my hand, like everybody else's wedding ring. I'm married. This is what it looks like when you're married.

Emily: So what about your tattoos?

Anna: My tattoos are symbolic of things that I've done in my life and it's important— I like mile-markers, I like journals, I like to remember things, and so, since I fell in love with mosquitoes, I got a mosquito when I was really young.

Emily: Awww.

Anna: I was very, very young. My mother was very upset with me. But I don't— I obviously don't regret it because I'm still in the field and it's a very important time for me. And then I have a praying mantis because college was hard and I graduated and I feel like I accomplished something really big. And I feel like the mantises are like the... they're like the...

Emily: Victors.

Anna: Yeah, they're so cool. They're like the kings of the insect community. And then this is Anthia, this is a South African ground beetle. I recurated the ground beetle collection for my senior project and this is the last beetle—one of—it's the last type of beetle that's in the ground beetle collection.

Emily: Nice!

Anna: And so they all mean a lot to me and obviously my next endeavor is for mammals, but I just don't know where I'm going with that yet.

Emily: I think you should get a wombat tattooed across your chest. "WoMBaTz 4 lYfe." You should get Soon Raccoon tattooed on your forehead. How do you feel about women pursuing careers in science?

Anna: I think it's like the greatest.

Emily: Yeah?

Anna: I think women should definitely pursue more careers in science, and... I personally really like being on The Brain Scoop and the job that you do because it actually shows that science isn't just like math and technology. There's so much more to science. It's as big as any other field, and me, personally, like I'm intimidated by math. It's not that I'm awful, it just, it takes me a while. But I'm a scientist, and I'm asking questions and answering questions every day. And I think that some women get intimidated by it. I have girls who are from my lab who go off to grad school in archaeology or anthropology and they have "science-y classes" and they're like, "science is not me" and they have no idea how much of a scientist they already are. So I think it's a really intimidating word that some of us just need to get over already.

Emily: Yeah, I feel like that personally 'cause we always get into, not debates, but like, discussions about like, am I a scientist? I'm doing a good job of getting people excited about STEM careers,

Anna: Yeah.

Emily: but like I, myself, with my art degree... But, I don't know, it's like it's some kind of—it's almost a buzzword in a way, like, "I'm a scientist."

Anna: Yeah.

Emily: It seems to put restrictions on what naturally comes to humans being curious.

Anna: Well, and then of course it becomes intimidating too, when you have like the... super in-a-box scientists who work in very, very like strict labs, and it's much different than what I do, but we're both scientists. You know, if you're synthesizing DNA and transferring clear liquids from tubes, I mean, it's still just as important. It's just very different.

Emily: It's not as messy.

Anna: That's true. It's much more sanitary than what I do.

Emily: Yeah.

Anna: But it is— being a women in science, it is very difficult to not constantly be reminded that you're a woman in science. I mean, you're constantly either fighting for your stance and to prove yourself, or you're just getting feedback from a different community.

Emily: Or people think that it's kind of a novel thing. Like, "Anna Goldman: Female Scientist."

Anna: Oh, right.

Emily: Like it has to be like, "Anna Goldman: White Scientist."

Anna: Yeah.

Emily: "Anna Goldman: With Blonde Hair Scientist."

Anna: I'm a Jew. I'm a scientist. Representing the community.

Emily: I know we have our own Women in Science group here at The Field Museum, which I think is awesome and I love all the women and men who are a part of that group. But it always seems a little silly to me that we still have to have like, "Women in Science!" as a thing.

Anna: Yeah.

Emily: Like, we're just... scientists.

Anna: But it's also difficult for a lot of women to get jobs in science because we do wanna have kids and we do wanna settle down, and I think that gets negatively judged against us, and people don't wanna hire us over a man because a man's never gonna have to take that kind of leave. Or, we're pretty sometimes. It's nice to have a compliment, but it's also like it's a backhanded compliment.

Emily: Yeah.

Anna: Like, "She's really pretty, and she's a woman, and she's smart. Wow, look at her go."

Emily: Wo-oah.

Anna: "She didn't give up and just be pretty."

Emily: Thank you for answering so many questions Anna! I had a good time talking with you today on camera.

Anna: Thanks Emily, for asking me so many wonderful questions. It's my pleasure to be here.

Emily: Yay! Well I hope that answered a lot of questions that you guys probably had for Anna, and hopefully we will be doing another interview with another scientist from The Field Museum on a future episode of The Brain Scoop.

(Both sing The Brain Scoop theme with credits)

[in unison] still has brains on it.