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WHEREIN I talk to Emily Graslie about what it means to be a Chief Curiosity Correspondent, and a little bit about science communicators for the modern age!

MIT - The Evolving Culture of Science Engagement --
The Brain Scoop --

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Peter: Hi. I'm Peter... and this is Go Verb a Noun. Today we're talking to Emily Graslie, the Chief Curiosity Correspondent for the Field Museum in Chicago, and the writer/host/director of The Brain Scoop. If you've always wondered what a Chief Curiosity Correspondent does, then today's your lucky day. She's going to talk about just that, as well as the topic of science communicators in general. Once you're done watching this video, check out part two, where she talks about The Brain Scoop a little bit more, as well as talking about YouTube and the media in general. Let's check it out.

Emily: My name is Emily Graslie, and I am the Chief Curiosity Correspondent at the Field Museum in Chicago, and I also am the host and writer and producer and semi-director of The Brain Scoop on YouTube.

Peter: What does the average day as a Chief Curiosity Correspondent look like?

Emily: Oh my gosh. I've never had, I've never had, the same day at work twice, every single day has been different. It usually involves quite a bit of email. Which is the like most unappealing answer to that question, but it's the most honest answer. I do a lot of coordination. I... I am talking with people from different organizations and institutions every single day. Like half the museum- or half the work I do seems to be outside of the museum. And then it all comes down to like collaboration and like meeting the mission and goals of similar institutions.

And it's a lot of planning. Like, the episodes take a lot of work. You have to first identify what it is that you want to do an episode on. Then you have to identify the people who can help you make that happen in term of, you know, location within the museum or outside of the museum. Specimens that you want to have in the museum, if they have any important papers that would be relevant, if there's somebody else who you need to get clearance for first, if you want to give a heads-up to like an associate curator, just, I mean it's- it's a lot of just coordination back and forth, and um, and so that takes quite a bit of time.

But, on the plus side, I get to see a lot of really amazing aspects of this museum and some incredible parts of the collections that otherwise I wouldn't be able to see. Cause if I have an idea to like- I wanna do an episode about sharks. Or like, let's say we'll do like 5 episodes in a row about sharks. That happen to be when another major network is also doing a lot of episodes about sharks. Um, where are all the different places in the museum I could see sharks? Well zoology is kind of a no-brainer, so you go speak to the fishes guy, and then they have millions of specimens down there of fishes and they've got a couple hundred different species of shark, and then I get to spend my day browsing through jars of sharks. Or then you get kind of the tip off like, why don't you do prehistoric sharks? And then I gotta go up to geology and look for all the shark fossil remains. And then they point you down to anthropology, cause they're like, you know, there was some weaponry that was like made with like shark teeth as part of the blade of the weapon, you're like, that's super intense.

Um, so some days are like that at the museum, but it's a lot of fun. I mean, I'm working with all different departments here at the Field Museum. I'm work with everybody from like Institutional Advancement and Fundraising, to Exhibitions, Marketing, and Communications department, uh Public Programming, you know, we'll have a meetup or an event, right now we're planning an event about the bats of Kenya. I got to accompany one of our mammalogists on an expedition to Kenya at the beginning of the year when he was working with some Kenyan biologists documenting different herbaceous and insectivorous bats of Kenya. They're doing an entire call library, they're documenting a call library for these bats, so they're trying to figure out- or trying to create a library where you would technically be able to record the call of a bat and then refer- or, reference it against a call in the library and be able to identify that species without ever having to, uh, you know capture or trap it or otherwise take it out of its natural environment. So anyway, I went to Kenya for a week to figure out what that was like, and that was amazing, and they're spelunking in bat caves and just like covered in guano and like insects flying in your face. And then you know, so we have all this footage that Exhibitions has, and then they want to put it into an exhibit to live in the museum, and then we have that, and it's like if were gonna have that, why don't we have the Kenyan biologist, like, on site to answer questions, we can have a whole event and have all this food and drink, and, and, like, let's do all this stuff.

But that takes like months of planning, so. And a lot of emails. But, I have a lot of help here at the Field Museum, and most people are really incredibly supportive of what it is that we're doing, and by most, like, anybody I ask for help is more than willing to help out.

So that's what I do here at the museum. And outside of that, I do a lot of talks and presentations at other universities in and around Chicago. I travel a lot for work. I'm going to Gettysburg College in a couple of weeks to give a lecture there about the importance of science communication, and to, you know, wave my flag for Chief Curiosity Correspondents. And I just got back from an expedition with a bunch of geologists in Wyoming, I'm going to spend the month of October in Peru with our conservation group. There is a lot that happens. And then I'll do the random event here or there. Like I did- helped out with- well I didn't really help out with, I participated in and made an appearance at the Mental Floss trivia event that was passing through Chicago last week. I, you know, have interviews with newspapers and radio shows and podcasts. And I do photo shoots like last Monday I spent all Monday morning doing a photo shoot for Cosmopolitan magazine. There's a lot that happens around here. But, it's awesome. I love it.

Peter: Do you have any contemporaries-- that is, folks who work at museums, but also have an online presence?

Emily: Not in online video. Yeah. There are a growing number of researcher scientists, um, and museum employees, if I'm just talking about museums, or like, research institutions, or people at NASA, or whatever, that, that do have an online presence, and they incorporate like social media and fostering that online presence as a big part of their outreach, and a big part of like being a spokesperson or an ambassador for their institution, but I can't think of another museum or place that has like a face. You know, a face to the name kind of thing. The closest thing I can think is like Boback, who is a, who is the mohawk guy from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Remember when the Mars Rover landed? Like, Boback kind of became the face of JPL, in that sense. I got to meet him and it was awesome, he's really great.

Um, but I think there needs to be more of us. You know, we kind of need- I think that people have a preconception of what-what the people inside of an institution look like. Um, and if you're not actively working towards changing what that preconception is, um, you're kind of missing out on an opportunity to include more people in your mission. You know, it's- you think about a museum and the image that comes to mind is typically an old, white curator, you know? Or, you think of like a nerdy engineer, or a nerdy physicist, and like nerdy not in an endearing kind of way, like nerdy in a like, "Oh, I don't wanna hang out with those guys" kind of way, and when it comes to like a place like NASA, or particle physics, you know, whatever, um, and I think that's a shame, because... that's not what scientists and physicists look like at all. So, I think it behooves other institutions to put a face to their place and... I didn't intend for that to rhyme.

So I wish there were. I wish there were other contemporaries. Um, I go to other institutions and give lectures and I advocate for more Chief Curiosity Correspondents because, dammit, we ought to have, you know, a conference we can go to every year and hang out. I don't want to be the only one. It's lonely.

Peter: On the topic of science communicators...

Emily: You know, like Carl Sagan is kind of touted as the first really great science communicator, decades and decades ago. And it's... that line of work has seen a resurgence, definitely, you have people like Neil Tyson who are doing a really fantastic job of communicating science and popularizing science again. And yes, science communication is like an up-and-coming thing. But... at the same time the avenue in which you're doing science communication really changes. Like, how I approach a video script versus how a science writer for an online publication or a traditional media publication would approach the same topic, they're completely different. Like, the delivery's different.

And on top of that, like, science communication can, and is adaptable to like an infinite number of media and outlets. One of the people who was at the conference I did at MIT was, um, one of the members from the Wu-Tang Clan, because he's coming out with an album all about science rap songs. And this is for a select audience, like he is taking his background as a hip-hop, a world renowned hip-hop artist and taking this to urban environments and urban schools and public schools and trying to get underprivileged youth excited about learning science through rap. And I think it's great. It's obviously not something that I could probably do. Um, but, he does it in spades.

So it's kind of like having a conference all about math. There's a lot to talk about, there's a lot of different avenues it could take. But yeah, incorporating science communication and science literacy into the larger picture and larger dialogue is increasingly important.

Peter: Do you have any advice for individuals or organizations who would be interested in becoming or enabling the next Chief Curiosity Correspondent?

Emily: Yeah. I mean, I have a lot of advice. Not that I would be able to summarize it all in like a 2 minute answer. But I think there needs to be support on both sides. I think there needs to be more support and encouragement from universities and academic environments to foster good communicators within their degree programs. So in addition to getting your physics or your geology or your geosciences or your biology degree, you should also be required to take communications courses. It's the same kind of thinking like when I was in art school they really encouraged us to take business courses because you can't have one without the other- you can't be really, really good at art and have no understanding of how to sell your art. I mean you can- you're going to be at somewhat of a disadvantage. So I think fostering the well-rounded scientist or the well-rounded artist or the well-rounded anybody is really important. And creating critical thinkers is also imperative.

So people who can, like, objectively look at a situation or opportunity and say, "How can I insert myself in here? How can I kind of take ownership of this role or this position, and how can I improve it, and how can I, like, bring my unique voice to the table?" And they don't teach you how to do all of that in school. They don't teach you how to look at a job opportunity or even how to identify what an opportunity is. You know it's um, was I like, lucky that I ran into Hank, or that he came to the museum? Was that luck, was it fate, or whatever? No, it's kind of like, you know.... Destin (?) from Smarter Every Day quotes a Roman philosopher, I think it's Seneca, who says that, um, "Luck is what happens when opportunity and preparedness meet".

And that's kind of what happened. But being able to identify that that was like an incredible opportunity is something that I don't know if I otherwise would have known to do, if I hadn't kind of tried to identify what my dream job was going to be. So in that way like that's kind of how I had to pave my way into this, but um... it's difficult. It's difficult because you do have people who are going through the program and through um...  getting through traditional like academic routes, who are just getting their degree and they're trying to follow the advice of the people who came before them and... the system has changed. You know, you have just a surplus of people getting undergraduate degrees and the job market is flooded and it's far too competitive and it seems like people can do a million things and try and do volunteer... they can like, they can try to do it all and still not get anywhere. And that's frustrating. So from that aspect again, like the institution has to change. And the structure has to change. And we even have to change the way that people like judge and determine their own successes. And there's just like- it's a total culture shift that's happening. Um, and it's difficult for me to get my head around it sometimes. Because... obviously I'd love for there to be other Chief Curiosity Correspondents and how they happen I don't know. I don't know. It's tricky.

It kind of has to come from the top down. Like it kind of has to come from trustees and directors and people who are on these boards of directors to recognize that they need to put investment and money behind fostering the communication roles for their institutions. And I'm talking about academic institutions.

Um, it's not a huge... like you were kind of mentioning off camera/on camera, it doesn't take an incredible investment on the part of an institution. I get paid a salary, and, you, know, I have one producer/editor/director, and we're able to come up with a video every other week. And you know, there was some initial funding for equipment and that kind of thing, but if you're talking about a large institution like the Field Museum, or like any other major museum in the United States, any other university, it's the cheapest investment someone could make. I mean you hear about different companies who make millions of dollars investment into marketing campaigns, and they just are not as relatable as somebody who genuinely cares about what it is they're talking about. Um, but I think that's something that, it will kind of become a no-brainer after a while, um, and I'd like to see other institutions take advantage of the incredible resource that they have, which is a an energetic and youthful and empowered and hopeful new generation of creative people.

Peter: So that's part 1. Now riddle me this : what are some organizations or museums that you think go with having a Chief Curiosity Correspondent of their own? Let me know in the comments below or on the social medium of your choice.. Tumblr, Twitter, wherever... eh, it's up to you. If you are ready for the second part, go ahead and click my face anywhere and we will see Emily talk to us a little bit more about The Brain Scoop, the channel, as well as YouTube, and some of the issues that are facing the media currently. Alright. Let's do this. Any day. Go ahead and click me. You know you wanna. Okay. Bye.