The Graduates


Emily King


Andrew S.: Hi. You're tuned into 90.7 FM, KALX Berkeley. I'm Andrew Saintsing, and this is The Graduates, the interview talk show where we speak to UC Berkeley graduate students about their work here on campus and around the world. Today I'm joined by Emily King of the Department of Integrative Biology. Welcome to the show, Emily.

Emily K.: Hi. Thanks for having me.

Andrew S.: It's great to have you here. So Emily, you study invasive species, is that correct?

Emily K.: Yeah.

Andrew S.: Why don't we just start by defining an invasive species?

Emily K.: That is a good place to start, and kind of a complicated place to start. So most folks define an invasive species as something that did not evolve in the place where it currently resides, and it could have been brought there accidentally by humans or accidentally by extreme weather events, but most folks now put another kind of caveat on top of that. It's not just something that didn't evolve in the place where it currently is; it also is causing damage in that place or has the potential to cause damage.

So we can think of a lot of invasive species as being like weedy plants, things that grow over their neighbors or out-compete their neighbors, and some animals species especially, they eat other animals that we care about. So yeah, usually invasive species are associated with bad things, but that's part of where some of the complexity comes from. Some scientists don't like that. They think we're kind of assigning value judgments to just what's happening in nature and they think that's a bad idea because so many folks want to remove invasive species. The scientists who think that we are misplacing our values think we're trying to play God a little bit in whatever we think of as restoration.

Andrew S.: Right. That's really interesting. So, I just had in my mind that an invasive species is something that human beings introduced, but you're saying that that's not even necessarily true.

Emily K.: Yeah. Sometimes there are accidents. So in the case of like the tsunami that hit Japan in 2011, we've found animals that have made it to the west coast of North America that we only used to find in Japan, but they were attached to tsunami debris that also made it across the ocean. So some of those things have established here on the west coast, and another, in a human adjacent case, a lot of marine organisms especially get transported around on the holes of ships. So, you know, those aren't people actively saying, "We want to bring this thing to a new place." You know, it was in the harbor where they docked their ship the first time and it goes into the next harbor on the other side. That's not on purpose, but it's definitely, it's an accident but something to think about.

Andrew S.: Right. So like you were saying with the value judgment, I guess in the case of the Japanese tsunami, you could argue that that's just a natural occurrence, and so how could we to decide whether or not to remove Japanese animals that have established from that event?

Emily K.: Exactly. So that's where the complexity really lies, and I think a lot of folks are just encouraging each other to think about what their values are. At least if you can acknowledge that you have values around what you're talking about, you might try to work to not include those and how you do your science, but if you do, you can say that that's part of your worldview.

Andrew S.: So how would you remove human assigning values, you know what I mean, to the study of invasive species?

Emily K.: Yes. A lot of it's a language thing. So we often use almost aggressive language when describing invasive species. They "take over" and they "out-compete" and they "push out." We sometimes also say that we're "combating" native species or you know, we're trying to "protect" our ecosystems, and those are all things that are really human human values.

Andrew S.: It's like we're going to war, yeah.

Emily K.: Yeah. Some people even say that there's a war on non-native species. So that's like a very clear example of when we let our human values or desires color the way we talk about science.

Andrew S.: Right.

Emily K.: So instead of just thinking about a cause and effect, you know, the effect of one species next to another, we're talking about, you know, detriments of having this species next to another. Sometimes that might be the effect, but if we talk about it like that from the outset, we're setting ourselves up to expect something "bad" to be happening when sometimes nothing is happening.

Andrew S.: So there's examples of like species that have "invaded," but they haven't disturbed the ecosystem they've invaded.

Emily K.: Yeah, I mean there a lot of evidence, and I can't come up with a good example off the top of my head, but sometimes when you think about weedy plants, you know, especially in like an urban environment. We already took out our native plant species. When we get weeds, they're not disrupting maybe what was already disrupted. It's just not going back to what it might have looked like before humans ended up in that place.

Andrew S.: Right. Okay. So that's an example where I guess the ecosystem that was there is completely gone now.

Emily K.: Mm-hmm.

Andrew S.: So can there ever be a species that invades an undisturbed ecosystem that doesn't disturb that ecosystem?

Emily K.: I mean, I imagine it could happen. I can't think of an example right now. There are a lot of, especially ecologists and like wildlife managers, asking these questions because we want to know, you know, are we spending money to get rid of something that either we can't get rid of or it's actually not doing the horrible things that we thought it might? So are we wasting resources? Are we wasting energy? Are we assigning values to things that really don't make a difference to us or the way that we see the ecosystem?

Andrew S.: Right. So I guess the main problem is there are some obvious examples where invasive species have come at, like rats on islands-

Emily K.: Rats on islands, zebra mussels in the Great Lakes. There's a lot of beavers where beavers shouldn't exist, which is kind of funny because lots of places in North America want their beavers back.

Andrew S.: Oh, interesting. I didn't know beavers were an invasive species or-

Emily K.: Yeah, beavers are invasive, or at least problematic, in parts of South America. They are eating forests that don't need beavers to regenerate. Whereas a lot of the southeastern part of the United States needs beavers and has no beavers.

Andrew S.: Interesting. Wow, so like there's the two issues there: you gotta get beavers out of the one place and then you've got to reestablish beavers and the other place.

Emily K.: Right.

Andrew S.: Do you look into that as well, and re-establishing?

Emily K.: No, but at least the species that I work on kind of flies under the radar in its native habitat and people are worried about it here, but yeah. In New Zealand, they don't really care about the mud snails.

Andrew S.: Oh yeah. So let's talk about the species you work on. So you work on a mud snail from New Zealand?

Emily K.: Right.

Andrew S.: Can you just describe it a little more?

Emily K.: Yeah, it's really, really tiny. You know, smaller than the eraser on the end of your pencil. They are freshwater snails. They are clones of each other, at least in places outside of New Zealand. Because they're clones, they can have incredibly large population sizes very, very quickly after being introduced to a new place. They have incredibly broad tolerance for types of environments that they might live in. Everything from the freshest of glacier melt water in rivers to salty estuary conditions, warm water, cold water. They just do their little snail thing.

Andrew S.: Is that kind of like an invasive species thing that you can survive in extreme regions?

Emily K.: Yeah. One hallmark of a lot of invasive species is that they, yeah, they're like weeds. They just hang out everywhere.

Andrew S.: Right, yeah. So they reproduce asexually-

Emily K.: Right.

Andrew S.: And so there's like no diversity in their population or ...?

Emily K.: Yeah, that's what we think about the western US. So a lot of other scientists that have worked on this in the last 30 or 40 years in the US have done a lot of work trying to understand if around the country we do have all the same strain or if they're different. They have pretty much decided that everything west of the Rockies is one clonal strain that started in Idaho. I was introduced originally to Idaho.

Andrew S.: So they can trace it back to a single snail in Idaho.

Emily K.: Yeah.

Andrew S.: Do they know like where in Idaho?

Emily K.: Yeah, there's like a pinpoint in the snake river, but that's because this snail has another kind of cool ability, that it is almost indigestible by fish. So the leading theory is that we were stocking imported fish from New Zealand in Idaho, and one of these snails was inside the gut of a fish. Because they pass through the fish mostly unharmed, it established in the river.

Andrew S.: Wow.

Emily K.: Yeah. There's-

Andrew S.: It can pass through the stomach unharmed.

Emily K.: Yes.

Andrew S.: Why, or how?

Emily K.: If you think about a snail shell, these guys have, or gals I suppose; they're all female, have like a really spiral shaped shell, and if you think of like a spiral-shaped seashell, but snails of lots of species have what's called an operculum. Basically it's a trap door that they use to cover the opening of the shell. So once they kind of close up and deploy this trap door, they are almost impenetrable.

Andrew S.: Dang.

Emily K.: Their biggest risk is, I mean chemical that might get into the shell, or drying out becomes the biggest risk at that point.

Andrew S.: So does anything eat these snails in New Zealand?

Emily K.: Yeah, some birds do eat them, but mostly what keeps them in check in New Zealand is that they have 13 different types of parasites, or there's 13 parasitic worms that could essentially castrate them and keep them from reproducing.

Andrew S.: Interesting.

Emily K.: Right, and we don't have those here.

Andrew S.: I guess it would be a bad idea to introduce a parasitic worm into the population-

Emily K.: Yeah. Usually that's another sticky subject and a dangerous game to play, but some researchers have tried in the lab, and it did work for a little while, but they think that the co-evolution between the parasite and the host is so fast that after about five years, it didn't work anymore.

Andrew S.: Yeah, and I assume people would test how the parasite interacts with natural populations before they-

Emily K.: Right, yeah. I don't know if they got that far, if they tried their lab studies and decided it wasn't working well enough and to even go beyond that, but there are some other types of animals that can eat them. Some fish have like almost like, what's this, kind of like a gizzard in a chicken or something that would grind, but there aren't that many fish of that kind around here, and the best is critically endangered. It's called the tidewater goby. There's like, they're mostly up in Humboldt Bay and there's a couple out on the Golden Gate National Seashore, but they're not going to help us in the inland waters, and some crayfish, but because crayfish, again, can crush with their kind of chelipeds, but there's not enough of those things to kind of combat the problem we have now.

Andrew S.: Do you think if we had this problem just overrun our streams and lakes that then we would see increases in populations of these crawdads and fishes with like gizzards?

Emily K.: You know, I don't know. The snails are not particularly nutritious. They're mostly water. So, I imagine that it would probably be frustrating to be a crawfish trying to eat enough of these snails, or crushing up shells to get somewhere good enough nutrition.

Andrew S.: So the snail is bad news.

Emily K.: Yeah, in some places. In some of the older populations in Idaho and Wyoming, there have been lots of studies about how they eat most of the algae that is produced in the river, which doesn't allow anything else to eat that algae, you know, other invertebrates that become fish food, essentially. It can take up all this space that all these other little invertebrates might be crawling on because they essentially can form mats over rock surfaces, but here in California, we have some really large populations, but we haven't seen these declines in other types of organisms yet.

Andrew S.: So that's good.

Emily K.: Yeah.

Andrew S.: Is it just a matter of time or is it just that there's something in the California ecosystems that's-

Emily K.: Yeah, we're not really sure. So, part of my work has been trying to understand seasonal population size and trying to understand what else we see in creeks with these snails. So far, I haven't looked very comprehensively; it's been mostly observational, like, "What do I see when I'm in the creek?", and I see other things, and I sometimes see other native snails. So the worst case scenario, it doesn't seem to be happening here, and they're mostly in urban creeks, which as an example I gave before, are kind of already not the same ecosystem they might've been without human involvement.

Andrew S.: Right.

Emily K.: So lots of storm drains go into to our Bay Area, creeks. They've been kind of channelized, so many folks have probably driven over what looks like a creek or a river, but it's encased in concrete and sometimes they're very deep and there's not very much water at the bottom. Litter becomes a problem. All those things kind of changed the landscape already, so it's unclear if the same thing would happen in a really natural system where this snail had been introduced versus the urban systems where we see them most.

Andrew S.: Right. So are they in Strawberry Creek here on campus?

Emily K.: I have not found them on campus, but they are in Strawberry Creek, you know,, like about a mile or so away from campus at this [inaudible 00:14:58]. I think it's called Strawberry Creek Park actually, down off of Allston. So I have found them there. They are in the creek, but exactly how much of the creek is hard to tell because Strawberry Creek is mostly above ground here on campus and spends most of the rest of its journey out towards the Bay underground in tunnels. So the park is one of the other places where the stream is open to the air, and someone could get into observe what's in it, but there aren't very many places along the creek where you could do that south or west of campus.

Andrew S.: In creeks that are below ground, is there much life going on there?

Emily K.: That's something I don't know the answer to. I'm sure there are a lot of folks who do know, but because I've only gotten in where I can get in right now and I haven't thought about it, but I would imagine there's not a whole lot going on if it's not close to one of the ends of these tunnels, mostly because the aquatic food webs are based on algae which need light to grow. So, unless some of these almost cave-like sections of the creek are having bacterial-based food webs, I don't know if we would find much and out there.

Andrew S.: So that's like a thing, like a barrier maybe for these mud snails?

Emily K.: Yeah, they could be washed through though. So a lot of animals could move, you know, through some sort of tunnel or piping system to traverse the length of the creek and we would only see them in one place at where it's open.

Andrew S.: Right.

This is just a reminder that you tended to the graduates. I'm Andrew Saintsing and today I'm speaking with Emily King.

Have you always been interested in studying invasive species or this particular snail? I mean, how did you get on this topic?

Emily K.: I've always been interested in aquatic systems. My background and my undergraduate work is all in marine science, and I think the best way to describe myself as a scientist is a physiologist, an environmental physiologists. So that means that all of my interest is about how animals live where they are, how they deal with the challenges of living in that kind of an environment, whether it's places that change in temperature or the amounts of oxygen in the water. When I got to Berkeley I knew that just kind of some resource limitations were going to make it really hard for me to study ocean critters, and I was thinking about other types of aquatic systems, and I kind of happened on this snail by accident.

I was working with an undergraduate who was telling me about some aquatic snail that was invading rivers. So I got online and I was looking at invasive snails in California, and this one is newsworthy. I suppose. There's lots of writing, especially from fish and wildlife agencies, to talk about how it's spreading all over the state and we'd like to stop it. So once I was like, "What is this thing that's everywhere?", that was really interesting to me, and when I learned that fish can't eat it, it survives in salt water and in freshwater I was like, "Oh I have to study this." It seems like almost like a little super-powered animal that nobody knows how to get rid of.

I'm not necessarily interested in how to get rid of it, but why does it survive in all the places that it does is an interesting question. From a management perspective, how do we manage our lands and creeks, but also from like an evolutionary perspective, like how does something evolve in one place that potentially is very, very different from all the places that it ends up and it does just fine? So that's another question that kind of fits really well with what a lot of my colleagues in integrative biology look at.

Andrew S.: Right. So that's what you would say, like management is the answer for why other people should be interested in this-

Emily K.: Right.

Andrew S.: But you're more interested in this idea that animals can live in these extreme environments, but not all animals, and what's the difference between the animals that can live in the extreme environments.

Emily K.: Yeah, and especially without a lot of genetic diversity.

Andrew S.: Yeah.

Emily K.: So one strain of snail lives in geothermal fed streams in Yellowstone and also the Columbia River estuary and high mountain streams in the eastern Sierra, but also just right here in Berkeley. So those environments are very different in temperature and salinity, in other nutrients that are in the water, and that's just mind boggling to me.

Andrew S.: Yeah. People have sort of sequenced the genes of the snails collected from these different environments.

Emily K.: Mm-hmm, and they seem to be pretty similar. Yeah, no large scale patterns at all.

Andrew S.: That's crazy. Okay. So you were interested in aquatic systems to start with. So in undergrad, you studied marine science.

Emily K.: Mm-hmm.

Andrew S.: So did you think that you would be studying the ocean? You said that you were kind of thinking you would study the ocean. How do you feel about moving from the ocean to freshwater?

Emily K.: I think that it's been a real process of discovery for me. I grew up in this area, I'm working in creeks that I have seen my whole life, and I never considered really what was in them and should we be protecting them. I walked next to them and I drove over them and that was the end, and I think a lot of folks get really excited about marine science because of the diversity of animals. Those animals tend to be really exciting to the public, but there's also really exciting things happening in our backyards, and I think I'm really, really building an appreciation for freshwater systems, and I think it's really fun. Part of why I wanted to be a scientist is to keep discovering things, and even if this process of discovery is to kind of fuel my own enjoyment, I'll take it.

Andrew S.: Yeah. So the PhD is the first time you studied freshwater, though.

Emily K.: Yeah.

Andrew S.: As an undergrad, you did research on marine systems?

Emily K.: Yeah, yeah. I did mostly fish and crab research as an undergrad and those systems are also, you know, really cool, and I worked on a lot of fish species that people eat, so those were exciting species to study-

Andrew S.: Because you got to eat the-

Emily K.: You know, I never did. I didn't, but you know, other folks. You know, I was eating, I was not eating, I was studying fish species that other folks might buy in a grocery store, so thinking about how we could protect fish species for their own intrinsic value to the environment, but also first for human consumption was really interesting and exciting.

Andrew S.: Did you go straight from undergrad into grad school into your PhD program here or ...?

Emily K.: Yeah, I did. So I mentioned really briefly working on crabs, and I did that with one of my PhD advisors, Dr Jonathon Stillman, when I was in undergrad, and I was really just interested in how their lab thought about physiology and environmental change and how that affects organisms. So their lab is very focused on climate change and how shifts in temperature especially will change the distribution of these crabs and potentially make it very hard for them to survive, in the places that they're already living, but thinking about, again, why animals are distributed where they are. How do they do it now, and can they do it in the future, I think is a problem that's really pressing in science.

Andrew S.: So what did you actually do with the crabs?

Emily K.: My project was about trying to understand if stress experienced by competition between species of crabs or different individuals can be seen at the cellular level. So in this system, if you imagine kind of a rocky beach that are common in northern California, in a lot of places, under these big boulders are these tiny crabs called porcelain crabs, and we have lots of different species in California, but they live in these kind of stripes along the beach from where it's wettest the longest to where it stays dry or when the tide goes out. So there is two or sometimes three species depending on where you are, and they don't really interact with each other much but at the edges of these boundaries. With climate change, with rising ocean temperatures and rising air temperatures, we think that the ones that are normally driest the longest at high tide were going to get too hot and they're going to have to migrate down the shore towards the water, but as they do that, they're likely to run into the species that borders them.

So my work was trying to understand, "Okay, when you put these two species together, what happens? Do they coexist? Do they fight? Do they push each other out? Are they just going to keep pushing down the shore until they're underwater all the time? And, is that process going to be stressful? So I had some behavioral components. I essentially had little crab boxing rings to see=

Andrew S.: Nice. That sounds fun.

Emily K.: It was cold, it was cold, and lots of watching crabs do nothing, but when they did, they do get very territorial. This particular species of crab is a filter feeder, so they have almost fan-like mouth parts that they sweep through the water in front of their face to gather up particles that they then put into their mouth. So with too many crabs densely packed, they don't have room for these mouth parts to do that.

So they have kind of buff little crab arm claws that are really good for pushing each other out of the way. I was essentially tallying how many times did different groupings of crabs just push each other out of the way, trying to maintain this space. Then we wanted to know, "Do we see differences in the expression of genes associated with stress after these kind of battles?", I suppose. Unfortunately we didn't see a direct correlation, but that's still something that's really highly, [inaudible] under a lot of investigation right now. Lots of scientists in lots of different kind of species groups are trying to understand, you know, "Can we see markers of this type of stress because pushing away your neighbor all the time has got to be stressful, but do we see it on the cellular level?" We're not sure yet. We might see effects in other levels. So that's how I met one of my PhD advisors, and he got me here at Berkeley.

Andrew S.: Nice. So you said that your research there was mostly watching crabs.

Emily K.: It was a lot of watching crabs and a lot of DNA sequencing.

Andrew S.: Would you say that on a day-to-day basis, the actual things that you do to gather data are not the most interesting?

Emily K.: You know, when the grabs were moving, it was really fun to watch. I do a lot of behavioral- adjacent experiments; right now, I watch snails climbing tubes, so there's a lot of folks, I imagine, would think that that is the most boring thing I could spend my time doing, but I don't. I like to think about why animals might be doing what they're doing and under what conditions will they change those behaviors. So yeah, so I think it's fun. I imagine some folks don't.

Andrew S.: So it's fun because you know why you're looking at it today.

Emily K.: Right, right. Yeah, so it's not always the most fun story to tell at a party. Like, "Hey, I just spent three hours watching snails climb in a tube," but you have to put it in context for folks to understand why that might be interesting.

Andrew S.: For sure. Did you know before you got to undergrad that you wanted to be a scientist?

Emily K.: Yeah. I was interested in science from a very young age, especially marine science. I think if you had told my 10 year old self that I was studying things in creeks and rivers, my 10 year old self would be almost appalled, but I was an avid fan of the film Free Willy, and I thought I was going to study orcas from a very, very young age. I watched the VHS tape so many times that I think I burnt it out or I broke it, and my parents desperately needed to find another one, so they've known for a long time that animals really excited me. So I spent a lot of time at the beach as a kid trying to understand what the different types of animals are, why they do what they do.

So that kind of sustained me through my childhood into adulthood. Science has always been important to me.

Andrew S.: And you're thinking that it's going to be like your career as you move forward. Are you thinking about being an academic scientist afterwards?

Emily K.: I've thought about it. I can't say that I know my path is after finishing my program here, but I know that it'll involve science, but it'll probably also be heavily involving mentorship. I've learned a lot about being a mentor and being mentored here, and I work with a lot of students, so I found a lot of enjoyment in doing that and helping other folks navigate academia, navigate science and research, and that has been really fulfilling too. So, being in a space where there are scientists and lots of scientific ideas is important to me, but also helping other folks flourish in science is really important to me.

Andrew S.: What sort of programs are there to help people flourish in science here?

Emily K.: Yeah, I am the research coordinator for the Biology Scholars program, and we're a program that supports students in stem. Generally, most of the students that we work with come from underrepresented backgrounds, and that includes both ethnic or gender, like gender expression and socioeconomic groups. We spend our time helping them, yeah, navigate Cal, navigate their route towards their chosen career path in STEM. I'm just kind of being supportive, right? We want to take students that have these aspirations and give them just the support to continue doing the great things that they were already planning to do.

Andrew S.: Great, and you do a BASIS as well, right?

Emily K.: Yeah, yeah. So BASIS is Bay Area Scientists in Schools, and it's mostly graduate students and some post-docs, and some actually professional scientists from other groups around the Bay area, but we do science lessons in elementary schools. So yeah, there's lots of different lessons and lots of topic areas, and for K through five. We spend an hour at a time in a classroom doing science with young kids because most kids have never met a scientist. They might think science is not for them cause if they have seen scientists, maybe that person doesn't look like them, they don't talk like them. We want to show students that science could be for them and that it's fun, and that you can answer all kinds of cool questions but it also helps teachers.

Many primary school teachers are not formally trained to a very high level in science. They're all trained in science because they do teach it, but they sometimes aren't very comfortable teaching science as they spend a lot of time focusing on some other subjects. So in addition to helping students feel more comfortable with science, we want to help teachers feel more comfortable teaching science. So some of us write our own lessons to grade level. That's something I've done. In my lesson plans, I can help teachers do the same activity that I did with his or her students, or their students. They could do it again the next year if another volunteer isn't available to come. So yeah, we do it the first time and they can see how it went, and then they can kind of replicate it and feeling more comfortable about doing so.

Andrew S.: This is just a reminder that I've been speaking with Emily King. We've talked about her work on invasive snails and how she got here to Berkeley, but is there anything else you'd like to say?

Emily K.: Yeah. I would just encourage folks to check out their local streams. Lots of streams are accessible at public parks. Go appreciate them and then help other folks appreciate them by reminding everyone that they're important. They're often where some of our drinking water comes from and they are full of lots of cool animals, but when you do that and make sure you clean off your shoes, because the snails that I mentioned get tracked around mostly by people's footwear. So if you go between streams, you want to make sure that you've cleaned off the bottom of your shoes and you don't have any hitchhikers.

Andrew S.: Good advice for everyone. Keep a clean shoe.

I'm Andrew Saintsing. This has been The Graduates. Tune in in two weeks for the next episode.

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Kelly Ziemer

Keywords: self-transcendence, self-love, positive emotions, therapy, intervention, depressionAndrew Saintsing: Hi, you’re tuned into 90.7 FM KALX Berkeley. I'm AndrewSaintsing, and this is The Graduates, the interview talk show where we speak to UC Berkeley graduate students about their work here on campus and around the world. Today I'm joined by KellyZiemerfrom the School of Social Welfare. Welcome to the show, Kelly.Kelly Ziemer: Oh, thanks for having me, Andrew.Saintsing: It's so great to have you here.Ziemer: Thank you. Fun to geek out about research always.Saintsing: Nice, that's what we're all about on this show.Ziemer: Yes.Saintsing: So, you study positive emotions, right?Ziemer: Yes, I think specifically positive emotions that really intrigued me – there are subsets of positive emotions, and they are called self-transcendent emotions, and it's this idea that when you - I'll give you an example in a second – but the idea that when you experience a particular emotion it actually like takes you out of yourself with the ability to connect you to other people.Saintsing: Okay, yeah.Ziemer: So, you transcend yourself essentially, right? With the purpose of connecting you with others, so like creating social connections.Saintsing: So, like what kind of emotion would that be?Ziemer: Yeah, so ones that are talked about frequently are emotion of like gratitude for example. Awe is one of my favorite emotions and actually what really started my interest in positive emotions. So, Dacher Keltner here in Psychology studies awe. The research has been I think maybe 10 years now, 10 to 15 years on, and so, rather in its infancy still. But, awe is really this experience of when you are presented with this like mind-blowing stimulus that you can’t really even comprehend, and a lot of people, they realize they're in awe when they're like, wow. Like wow is like this vocal reaction, right? So, a lot of our research comes out of nature, so like the Grand Canyon for example, or like beauty, music, and so, it's this idea that you then feel relatively small in this like greater vastness, but there's something kind of bigger than you out there, right?Saintsing: Yes.Ziemer: And, awe could be negative, too, right? It could be, it could be like a tornado. It could be a person, that you're like, how did that happen? How did they get into power? I’m in Berkeley, so I think I'm safe to say that here.Saintsing: Yeah, I think you’re safe to say that anywhere. Well, maybe not. So, so there's this like speechlessness about awe that's like really yeah. Is that kind of fundamental to the self-transcendence, or…Ziemer: No, not specifically more self-transcendence is like you are really kind of taken out of yourself so you're focusing on yourself less. It's kind of like this – sometime, I mean oftentimes self-transcendence is spoken around like a spiritual religious context, but it really is this idea that we're connecting with someone else so in like in cooperation or caretaking. Like compassion for example is a self-transcendent emotion. Some emotion researchers would say that these are.Saintsing: So, it's self-transcendent because you're –Ziemer: Go aheadSaintsing: With awe, you're connecting with someone else because you both have this like awestruck reaction with something, and you can relate more because it seems like you're reacting to some – I mean aside from maybe when you're in awe of a person in particular – but it seems like you're in awe of some spectacular vision, or…Ziemer: Yes, and you could be by yourself, right?Saintsing: Yeah.Ziemer: You could be by yourself in the Grand Canyon, but because you kind of recognize that you're the smaller sense of self, that you, that there's something greater than then you out there, that it then leads you – and I think perhaps and maybe I'm even overstating here, but I don't know if they fully understand the mechanisms of why it leads to social connection, but just they call it in research literature they call it pro-social, so the ability to like be in awe allows you to be more altruistic, more generous, to want to help out other people because you realize that you're not alone essentially. But, there is a bigger thing out there than you, this like collective value.Saintsing: Oh, yeah. That's really interesting is that that kind of, you know, thinking about religion, right? Where you have – I think all religions but I guess I'm not sure – it would have this belief in God would generally inspire awe in someone believed in that. And so, is that kind of the basis of religion having this community like tapping into this community building sense of awe?Ziemer: Yeah, yeah, definitely. The origins of awe – I couldn't – when scholars write about awe they oftentimes reference, like, reverence to God. It's kind of mind-blowing concept, and you feel like there's something greater than you out there, so to speak. But, then you're coming together as a community, yeah, but around this belief,Saintsing: Right. So, there's more emotions than just awe that would through self-transcendence allow this community-building?Ziemer: Yeah, yeah, so oftentimes folks also speak about gratitude that way. They speak about self-compassion. Now mind you there's a lot of disagreement amongst the emotional world, so I don't even want to get into like the semantics. What I think is important to share, though, most specifically to my interests is, I think, some would say that love is also this self-transcendent trait. So, my own research interests over the past few years have really evolved into this idea of self-love and it's been an interesting journey for sure. As I started talking about self-love with folks over the past, I don't know, eight months or so from a research perspective because there's such a gradient, a spectrum so to speak of how people see self-love. So, if I go back to the self-transcendent nature, how I see self-love is self-love really has this ability to take us out of ourselves to then connect to others so we're focusing on ourselves like filling up our own love tank so to speak with the ability to then show up for others more and to connect more because if I'm feeling really good in myself and I'm taking care of myself that means I have more bandwidth to show up for other people as opposed to if my love tank is empty if my self-love is low then I'm doing things perhaps with expectations of receiving in return. When that's not happening, I'm feeling resentful and all that is very like negative low vibration feeling within ourselves, and ultimately, it's not the type of connection that we're searching for, right? To me self-love – and I'll say that if I can to give you a definition of self-love – one of the folks I've seen written about it the most, who wrote about the most is a psychologist and philosopher Erich Fromm, and he wrote a book called The Art of Loving, I believe. It was like in the five different types of love, I believe. It's like it's a hundred-page book, and it's really easy to read, and it talks about like five different types of love, like a love for God, a love from your parents. It talks about like a brotherly love – and that’s more like a friendship kind of feeling – but he also talks about this love for self, and it's this idea of caring for, respecting of yourself and your actions in the way that you're going about your life, and it's this stagnant – for me, I think it really is a stagnant way of being, so when there are adversities and when we have to be resilient, right, self-love is so important, but even when things are going great, right, like self-love is still a constant thing, and it's, I think, it's actually tied to other emotions that when we are in a state of self-love we actually experience calm and joy, and we're able to be more aware for these other opportunities to opt in to connection, right?Saintsing: Yeah.Ziemer: But I think – if I can just say – I think there's a myth I'd really like to bust actually about self-love, which is I think oftentimes there is this, there's this idea that emerged I think in the 80s maybe, or the 90s – I'm blanking on my timeframe right now – came out of the self-help movement which is, which was to say that like before, before you can love anyone else or anyone can really love you that you have to love yourself first, right? So, which for me I find problematic in a lot of ways. I feel like it doesn't really encapsulate the full story. I think that when we are really loving ourselves, sure I think perhaps we're choosing better partners or choosing better relationships that are healing and wonderful for us, right? But, I think – and I see this in this self-love movement right now – that kind of happens in pop culture that puts such an onus or a burden on people to really like, there's almost a perfectionism tendency of, like, I need to get to self-love. Otherwise I'm not good enough, and yeah, and this idea of like not being good enough, that's truly not self-love anyway, right? It really is a self-accepting piece, and so, I think the second part of this, also this myth I want to bust, is that, you know, we are wired for social connection, right? There are researchers, and Brené Brown has talked about this. Matthew Lieberman talks about this, and like an actual brain part of our brain literally is like wired to connect, and so, if I go back to this idea of self-love that, when we are opting into relationships and connection with people, that it can the reciprocal nature can be so healing within ourselves that we don't have to first achieve this like unachievable self-love before we can get into relationships with other people, okay? So, did I explain myself okay there?Saintsing: Yeah, you, so you're saying that self-love has this requirement that you accept yourself as you are, right? Which I guess is true of any sort of love, right?Ziemer: Yeah.Saintsing: Whether it’s directed inward or outward, right, there's this acceptance to it.Ziemer: Lovely, yeah.Saintsing: And so, you're saying that people tend to view self-love as something that they earn from themselves.Ziemer: Yeah, yeah, I think that's a great. Right. There's this like earning quality, and I think that's really well said. That it's like, to earn implies I have to do, to do, to obtain, obtain, obtain as opposed to like self-love just is because I exist, because you exist right here right now, right? And, that's my like mindfulness piece kind of tapping in there a little bit, but it just is.Saintsing: Yeah.Ziemer: It's, it's been interesting when I talk to – so my own research interest about like what am I actually studying for my PhD, because I'm a social worker, I'm also very much interested in like interventions like what can we do alongside our clients, alongside our community. What can we do in tandem with them to kind of get them this outcome that they're looking for. So, perhaps it's like feeling better about themselves if they're experiencing depression for example, right?Saintsing: Right.Ziemer: And, with self-love I started thinking about, is there a self-love intervention that would be really interesting to try out and study in some way from this like scientifically rigorous procedure for a scientific research method, right? And, when I started talking to people about, there's a common one that is spoken about in self-help, and I've also found it prevalent in addiction communities in like rehab, for example, where you look at yourself in the mirror you make, you literally make eye contact with yourself in the mirror, and you say something positive about yourself. So, I prefer that it's not statements related to like your physical appearance because I do think that it could take like a narcissistic trend, but we're really thinking about like a self-affirming statement, like I'm a good friend or even – I think and really I'm such a fan of this is – really just telling yourself that you love yourself. So, saying like I love you in the mirror while you're making eye contact with yourself. To me, to love, to love somebody else is to say like, I see you, and so self-love, you're really like, okay I see you, you know? Like, you're not that bad. Like, you're actually pretty great, and I will tell you that when I've talked to so many people about this, adolescents, I've spoken to clients of mine who are coming to see me wanting to feel better from depression, I've spoken to scholars about this, and so many people, I get two reactions. One is like absolute repulsion about absolutely not. I will not look at myself in the mirror. Like, this is, why would I ever do that, and two, I think going back to this idea that you were talking about. It's almost like confusion about well like why would I even think about myself. Why would I love myself as like this other entity, but I'm so focused on, you know, loving everybody else. That really to love is to love others, right? Like in scholarly research, we talk about one of the definitions of love is like being a trusted caregiver to others. I mean that's a very amended definition, but love is always this other-oriented emotion, and so, self-love, it's like, like why would I, why would I even do that.Saintsing: It's kind of like awe in some senses. In awe you sort of see something spectacular that makes you see how small you are or how much more there is.Ziemer: Yeah.Saintsing: And, in this self-love you have to see yourself as just another person instead of like where love is flowing from, right? But, self-love kind of like makes you realize you're not like the center of the universe or something. That you're, that you're just another person, and that like, that, that makes you more able, as you said in the self-transcendence, to connect with other people, I guess.Ziemer: I think this is actually why I feel so strongly about self-love is because I think this exact idea that you're talking about is folks who are experiencing depression or addiction, for example right? So, I'm actually, I'm funded. My dissertation is funded through the NIAAA, which is alcohol abuse and I work specifically with the funder here in the Bay Area that alcohol research group. So, oftentimes when we're experiencing addiction or depression we become so tunnel vision in our own mind about what's wrong with ourselves, how things aren't working for me and when we're in depression and addiction, often social isolation is happening it's very difficult to connect to others. And so, I'm such a believer that self-love could have the potential, and this is where I'm curious, right? Like, so from, you know, I'm hearing like my mentors and my advisors’ thoughts in my head right now about, you know, sometimes in the scientific world it can almost be a negative to be a believer, right? That, I think like self-love is a super power. But, I really need to employ my like scientifically rigorous, you know, unbiased view so to speak. Let's be curious about this. Could self-love actually be a superpower? As opposed to like approaching this self-love as a superpower, right? So, I should – let me reel it back for a second to say that, however, yes I do feel like, coming back to this point of awe, that, that self-love definitely, I would hypothesize, leads to feelings of awe because of this ability to connect us to other people, and that it gets us out of our own head. I think my greater vision for my research is to think like how can we employ self-love. It's free. It’s accessible, which I like, right, because a lot of these other therapies, cognitive behavioral therapy. Although I'm a believer, you see there's an access issue. If you go to a private practitioner in New York City, it's $200. I think San Francisco, it's 150, 200. So, my greater vision really would be for people to be able to really continue to cultivate this self-love within themselves.Saintsing: More specifically, what, what would you say your research for your PhD actually entails?Ziemer: Yeah, so yeah, thanks to that questions. I think self-love first. I was just kind of thinking of self-love, I think of, is this like umbrella term, this idea that if self-love is an umbrella and the prongs. There are many different prongs. So, to me it's this idea of like self-compassion, which is like when we're judging ourselves, criticizing ourselves, we’re able to accept ourselves, you know, amidst that. Self-care, which is like the respecting, doing things, really acting caring towards ourselves. This self-esteem idea, right, that we feel competent about ourselves. So, so the reason that I say this kind of umbrella term is because there's little research out there right now that that actually includes self-love, certainly how I know it to be true in these in therapeutic communities, for example. So, I'm so fascinated by, I'll say, phenomena of self-love in popular science in like the Psychology Today blogs, on social media. Like, if you go to Instagram and you type in #selflove, you get 32 million posts on Instagram. Google, you Google self-love, you get three billion returns. So, something is happening out there. What is it? So, I think what the, to me, the intriguing pieces. So, before I can go ahead and develop an intervention, right, even though I really want to jump to that phase, we know that a PhD that you have to take little bits by bits, right? That is actually talking about a career-long pursuit. So, it really, my own research really is conceptualizing this idea of self-love in these lay theory views. So, when I say lay theory I don't mean like scholars who have already written about self-love. I mean people who are on Instagram, and they're posting about self-love, so right now I'm in the process of thinking about perhaps analyzing Instagram posts to see how people, what sort of images people are posting when they're doing #selflove, and specifically within the context of like addiction and sobriety and recovery and that, so where these two worlds of like self-love and addiction intersects and how are people and these lay communities, you know, these therapists, everyday people, how are they talking about self-love? I'm really curious to kind of dig through that because I see, I do see some posts that could be it seen as narcissism, right? Right? I see posts that are very much moving away from this like self-care realm. So, so self-care really is rooted in this like black feminist queer theory, Audrey Lorde. This idea that like you're taking care of yourself so that you can show up for the collective, and this really activist mentality to now this transition of like #selfcareday Starbucks ad with your Frappuccino, whatever. On the beach, #selfcare, right? This is like commoditization, right, of self-care, and people there's you know, so there's, there's like #selfcare, #selflove, but what are we really talking about here? And, I'm so curious to kind of capture some of that, to also include therapists’ voices, people in recovery to kind of see like, what, what is this idea of, of self-love to them?Saintsing: Okay, so you draw on psychology, sociology, lots of different research techniques.Ziemer: Yeah, behavioral health.Saintsing: Yeah, so would you say that's generally true? People who are getting PhDs in the School of Social Welfare, that this is really interdisciplinary?Ziemer: Yeah, what a lovely question. Yes, thank you for saying that. This is why I love social work so much by the way. I really love the social work profession because I do feel like you know in this applied profession we really are always working in these interdisciplinary environments, right? If you're like a clinician working in a hospital you're working with doctors and nurses and psychiatrists for example, right?Saintsing: Right.Ziemer: And so, I think the beauty of this PhD at Berkeley in the Social Welfare Department has so much been about the freedom to connect with other professors and other departments. It's, so in public health for example I've connected with some professors there or some psychology whether it's emotions research or like adolescent development psychopathology for example. So, and I have, yeah, I have you know lovely people in my cohort who are bridging the gap with like anthropology, criminology, for example, so yeah, education. It's really, it's cool.Saintsing: And, you knew that you wanted to be a social worker right out of college?Ziemer: I took a very interesting path. I think I always knew, like in high school, I always was intrigued by the psychology profession, and yeah, I was, I was thought, you know, I'm so drawn to like authenticity and people's lives. Like, what's really happening, you know? I always was drawn to that, but when I was in college, I went to the University of Wisconsin, and they had a great business school, and so, I got a business degree, and I actually, my family, I come from, you know, a long line of people who are in the business world. My dad had been in sales for so long. My brother’s in sales now. My mom was, you know, this is like badass. I don't know if I'm allowed to say that. Badass in the corporate world. So, it was always kind of an influence for me, and I did, I was a consultant, an IT consultant, but I realized, like, yeah, I need to, I felt like there was something, my soul was dying. I really wanted to pursue something that I was so excited and curious about, so yeah, about eight years ago I got my Masters in Social Work. I started my MSW program in New York City. That coincided too with some things that were happening in my family, and it just felt like the right time to like leave the corporate world and dive into the Social Work arena.Saintsing: And then, you, you got your masters, and then you worked a little while as a social worker, right?Ziemer: Yeah, so I I did my MSW. It’s a two-year program, and then I was working in New York City for three years at an after school, like a high school Support Program. It was an after-school program, and it was, I mean, I learned so much. It was incredible. I have such love. It's, the program is to reach youth and it's a working at a public high school in Brooklyn, and I think there, maybe, I don't know, our team was maybe ten people or something, and I have such love to this day for these people that I worked with. I mean the environment was so fun. Like, you – we were, we were working with teenagers, teenagers who didn't have a lot of resources at their disposal. I mean this is like a New York City public-funded high school. It's what, the school's we were working with were like C grades, so the way that New York City rates their schools like ABC, so we were a C school, and that means people that I worked with, the strategies they were using were so creative to get these young people what they needed while also providing such a safe space for these young people to learn about themselves. And so, I was actually, I was doing therapy with kids who are high-risk, so who were at risk for suicide, who were just really having a hard time academically or at home and whatnot, but it was such a fun environment. I mean people were so authentic, and I mean, I don't know your experience with young people, but young people, they can sense when you BS. And so, you really have no other choice but to show up authentically, right? And it was such a gift really to work there.Saintsing: So, that was a great experience, and what I guess drove you… I – most people in social work, or if you're a professional, I guess, you mostly just need the masters, and then, you could do the work. What drove you onward to the doctorate?Ziemer: Yeah, yeah, so, so I think there were two things. So, one was I would run, every Monday afternoon, I'd run a girl's group. So, like 16-, 17-year-olds. They would come, and we would talk about all the things. Whatever they wanted to talk about, and I was finding a lot of the girls were expressing such anger, and this anger of just like what was just happening in life but then you know the microcosm of like the school environment and Facebook and people calling each other out and you know subliminal subs that were being thrown on Facebook for example, that would then transfer to the school day the next day. And, there would be fights, and girls would get suspended, and so, when I started talking to them about anger and what anger did for them and getting to fight, it really, getting into a fight is a release, right? Like, your adrenaline’s so high and you punch someone out or you do something like, you feel better but it's instantaneous because any of these long-term consequences of getting suspended, your parents finding out, what not, right? Right, so I'd say to them like, yeah what are strategies? How can I – literally I was like what are some strategies that we can use in order to kind of sort through all the different feelings that anger brings? Because ultimately anger is powerlessness, like we get angry when we feel powerless, and so, I started investigating mindfulness. Mindfulness was really just becoming a thing. This was like 2014. At least that was when I first started hearing about it, and so, I would try to understand like, what is this mindfulness? How do I use it? So, mindfulness really is, a definition from Jon Kabat-Zinn in the simplest form that I like, is this idea of non-judgmentally noticing, so like noticing that I got really pissed when someone posted something on Facebook about me that may not be true and like then taking the breath in the pause before I respond, before I respond something nasty to someone on Facebook or want to punch them out the next day for example, right? When you're talking to adolescents, this pause is very difficult because you're also talking about like an age in development where you have impulsivity, and like they're trying to figure out who they are? So, I started diving into this mindfulness. I thought like this could really work, but I was so, mindfulness research was so new at the time. I think it really hit its peak around like 2016 in terms of like the amount of journals are published on it like exponentially increased. So, I knew that, how mindfulness is being talked about in terms of the population, I was working with, so people who were coming from primarily like black and brown communities, lower socioeconomic having toxic stress, mindfulness felt very like white, waspy, affluent. Part one. Part two was I couldn't figure out what are these mindfulness techniques and how can we actually apply them to adolescence. So, I am getting interested in that and started reading all that I could and figured I really wanted to work on interventions for adolescents that were geared around mindfulness to these specific populations I talked about where I felt like there was such a lack of evidence at that point for these groups, so that was part one. Part two: around the same time, I read an op-ed piece in The New York Times written by Dr. Keltner here in psychology, and it was, what is – something like, What is the Emotion of Awe, and I thought that sounds like, what is awe? And, how should I get to know this person? Who is this person? Which then started, for me, like a flurry of googling UC Berkeley, and I knew I wasn't going to be do PhD in Psych, but I found a professor here, Valerie Shapiro, who's my advisor and has been so lovely navigating this PhD world with me. She's a prevention and implementation science researcher here in School of Social Welfare, and she had a study examining social emotional learning programs here in elementary schools in California, so like teaching little kids about empathy for example. So, I thought, oh that's like emotion, and it has to do with like kids and in schools. Like, even though my interests aren't completely aligned, let me reach out to her and see if I could work with her. So, that's kind of how I came to study. My two main areas really have been mindfulness and then positive emotions, specifically now self-love but in this greater context of you know these social problems, like social isolation, depression, addiction and yeah.Saintsing: So, unfortunately, it's been a lot of fun, but we're coming up towards our time limit. Usually at the end of the interview we'll take a minute to offer guests a chance to address the audience about anything that they'd like to talk about. Oftentimes, people talk about like social issues or some things specific to their research.Ziemer: I think, well one thing I want to say for sure is that I think I just want to do a shout out of gratitude as I've been really developing this idea of self-love, I have been working with an undergrad in the Social Welfare Department, Joyce, who's really has helped me kind of start thinking about all this like self-care and self-compassion and where all these terms kind of intersect and cataloging these different Instagram posts to figure out like, yeah, what, what really is self-love and how people are talking about it. So, I wanted to do a shout out to her, and then, I think, you know, lastly, I guess I would say that I think for me I think it's such an important point to hit home is that for me self-love really isn't a selfishness, but it really is, and it's not this like me-focused thing, but it really is in this idea of continuing to like connect and show up as our authentic selves with others, so I think it has some serious healing power behind it. So, we'll see. Yeah, more will be revealed.Saintsing: We all look forward to the results of your research. Thank you so much. Today I've been speaking with KellyZiemerfrom the School of Social Welfare. We've been speaking about her research on positive emotions and the potential therapeutic benefits of self-love. Thank you so much for being on the show, Kelly.Ziemer: Oh, thank you for having me. This is lovely.Saintsing: Tune in in two weeks for the next episode of The Graduates.

Sara ElShafie

Keywords: climate change, global change biology, reptiles, science communication, narrativeAndrew Saintsing: Hi, you're tuned into 90.7 FM KALX Berkeley. I'm AndrewSaintsing, and this is The Graduates, the interview talk show where we speak to UC Berkeley graduate students about their work here on campus and around the world. Today I'm joined by SaraElShafiefrom the Department of Integrative Biology. Welcome to the show, Sara.Sara ElShafie: Thanks for having me.Saintsing: It's so great to have you here. So, Sarah, you're a paleontologist. Is that correct?ElShafie: Yes, I'm a paleontologist. I always introduce myself as a global change biologist, which just means that I study how climate change and environmental change impact life over time, and paleontology is part of it.Saintsing: Right. So, would you say you're first and foremost a global change biologist?ElShafie: Yeah, just because I don't only work on fossils. I also look at stuff that's around today in order to understand how climate change and stuff impacted life in the past and also what that tells us about where we're headed now and in the future.Saintsing: Okay, cool. So, you're looking at like our current climate change?ElShafie: Yes.Saintsing: Yeah, but also, so the climate has changed a lot in the past, you'd say.ElShafie: Yes, and, and there have been really dramatic events of climate change before, some of which kind of mirror what's going on today, so I look at how those past climate change events impacted life that lived millions of years ago in order to try to better understand what we might expect from climate change today and how it will impact animals that are currently around and also people.Saintsing: What were kind of the outcomes of past climate changes? Is it looking bad for us?ElShafie: Well, in terms of like how climate change now is going to affect society, yeah there are a lot of concerning ramifications that we're already seeing. In terms of how it's affected life in the past, it has all kinds of effects. It can affect where things can live. It can affect what they eat or what's available for them to eat. It can affect how big they get. So, I kind of look at all of those factors in a big picture.Saintsing: You look at all animals, all plants, all organisms? Or, are you looking at specific things?ElShafie: Specifically, I focus on reptiles because reptiles are especially susceptible to changes in climate and changes in their environment because they can't generate their own body heat metabolically the way you and I canSaintsing: Right.ElShafie: Most of them can't and I look at lizards and, and crocodiles and their relatives specifically because they're really abundant in the fossil record, and they have a lot in common with lizards and crocodiles that are around today, so I can use the lizards and crocodiles that are around today to understand the ones that are in the fossil record.Saintsing: Okay, and so, you are looking at how their bodies change over time basically? You're looking at how big the fossils are at certain periods compared to other periods, before and after climate change and how big they are compared to today?ElShafie: Yeah, pretty much body size is the main metric that I use, the main kind of factor that is influenced by climate change because I can use the partial skeletons that I find of lizards and crocodiles in the fossil record to figure out how big they were in the past at any given point before, during, or after a major climate change event. And, I can use lizards and crocodiles that are around today to try to estimate how big they were in the past using only a piece of a skull or a piece of a limb, for example, because it's actually very rare to find whole skeletons in the fossil record of these things.Saintsing: Right. That must be really frustrating.ElShafie: Yeah, well, it also means that I get to I have an excuse to study lots of stuff that's around today in order to understand the fossils, so it gives me a more holistic research experience which I enjoy.Saintsing: So, do you actually get to study living animals? Or, do you mostly look at the bones of the living animals?ElShafie: I do. I study living animals, the living lizards and crocodilians, to understand their body proportions and how I can estimate like the whole length of the animal from just one element, like one piece of the skull or the jaw or the arm bone or something and also to understand how the animals live today and is there any relationship between their morphology, how they look, how their bones look, and what part of a habitat they might live in or what they might be eating or what their physiology might be like.Saintsing: Okay.ElShafie: So yeah studying the living animals is really important for understanding the fossil animals.Saintsing: Right, and so you study specifically reptiles and crocodiles? So you say you studying global change across time, but is there specific period you're interested in, or are you just comparing all the different periods?ElShafie: Yeah, so specifically I look at a period of time, geologic time called the Paleogene which was from about 66 million years ago to about 23-ish million years ago. So, this is right after dinosaurs went extinct up until about 23 million years ago, at which point we had ice at the poles again. We actually didn't have ice at the poles earlier right after the dinosaurs went extinct, and so, during that whole timespan, climate change was happening. The world started off pretty warm, and then it got super-hot relatively quickly right around fifty-six million years ago when there is this incident called the Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum. So, within a relatively short span of time, a few hundred thousand years or so, the world got really, really hot really fast. Like it increased five degrees Celsius or so, and that's actually even hotter than the warming that we've experienced just in the last century or two, but the rate was actually not even quite as fast as what we're experiencing now, so it is a really powerful analogous event to look at and to better understand what we can expect with the rapid climate change that we're experiencing today. So, it got super, super-hot and around that time the world looked very, very different. Like, there was no ice at the poles at all and the interior of North America actually looked like a jungle if you can picture Utah which is now a desert looking like the Amazon. That's how different it was, which is really crazy to think about. So, to find fossils of crocodiles and these huge lizards and like the first primates and crazy horses and all kinds of stuff in the deserts of Utah and Wyoming and Colorado, and, and it seems it's all from a jungle that looked more like what South America looks like today, which is really awesome, and then over time it kind of dried out and got more arid and more grassy after that.Saintsing: Thinking about what I've grown up thinking about, you know, the extinction of dinosaurs, right? You get this picture in your head that the asteroid hits and then things get really cold.ElShafie: Mm-hmm.Saintsing: There was this drop in temperature that led to the dinosaur extinction still?ElShafie: Yeah, I think it got cold for a while. Right after the asteroid hit event it like, you know, blocked out a lot of sunlight and stuff, but then after that, you know, about 10 million years or so or not even that long. Then the world had largely recovered, but it also looked very different.Saintsing: So, it was an overall pretty warm climate?ElShafie: Yeah, it's – the earth has gone through a lot of changes over millions of years, and it's cool to look at those changes on a timescale of millions of years rather than just, you know, a few hundred years or even thousand years because, since climate is changing so rapidly today, and it's, it's different than anything that humans have experienced in human history. We really have no analog for it in our own history, so looking at much older events in the past and the rate that that happened and the changes that happened and at what pace they happened helps us try to anticipate what we can expect in the future.Saintsing: Right, so what brought about – why did the ice appear again at the poles?ElShafie: At that point Antarctica became isolated, and it was isolated by a current that still flows now around Antarctica. I think it's called the circumpolar current or something, but it keeps, it basically keeps Antarctica refrigerated and that's part of what contributed to it.Saintsing: Just having Antarctica in the place that it's in was enough to give us the climate we have today?ElShafie: Well, yeah. Cuz it's almost like having two giant freezers at each pole of the globe so to speak, and, that you know, they don't exist in isolation either. The ocean currents travel all over the world. They pass by the Arctic or the Antarctic and they bring cold water and that affects the like nutrients and upwelling in other parts of the world including the California coast, and it, you know, it affects how climate and temperature play out over the entire Earth. So, yeah, it's all connected.Saintsing: Yeah, I guess we're dealing with how connected we are right now, right?ElShafie: Mm-hmm. Exactly.Saintsing: So as a climate change scientist – or a global change scientist but you, you know, you're really interested in climate change, I guess. A lot of your work is focused on informing the public on climate change and about science in general. I know you've done a lot of work on improving science communication as a student here, right? Or, at least studying it to understand how it can be improved. So, yeah, can you tell us a little bit more about the work you're doing on that front?ElShafie: Absolutely, yeah, science communication and outreach has always been a big passion of mine and that really started in college, and by the time I got into my master's degree, I realized that I not only wanted that to be a big focus of my career, I actually wanted it to be my primary career direction, in fact. So, I actually came to Berkeley with the intention of pursuing a career in science outreach leadership and science communication, and I knew that I wanted that to be a big part of my activity while pursuing my dissertation here in integrative biology because I also wanted to get the highest scientific training. So, while I've been here working on my dissertation I've also been doing a lot of work in science communication which started as just an attempt to improve my own skills because I realized a couple years into my program here that I myself was really struggling to explain my research to my own family members…Saintsing: Right.ElShafie: In a way that was at all meaningful to them. It really bothered me that I was struggling with that, so I decided to work on it, and I realized that I wasn't the only one that seemed to be having that challenge, and probably a lot of my peers could benefit from it as well, so I got really interested in storytelling, in story development because I figured, well everybody likes stories, so if I can talk about my science in that context, you know, and using storytelling, good storytelling then maybe I would get somewhere. And, I've always been a huge film buff and especially a huge fan of Pixar movies, and I knew that Pixar Animation Studios was actually only a couple miles from our campus. Pixar is in Emeryville, which was just south of Berkley, and so, I just decided to email them one day and actually got a response from a couple story artists who were really interested, and I invited them to come chat with grad students at our UC Museum of Paleontology. We’re based in integrative biology. And, it was going to be just a kind of pilot seminar conversation, let's just see where this goes with some grads, and it's turned into everyone from undergrads to emeritus faculty crammed into our little seminar room to hear from this story artist who was just talking about bread-and-butter stuff of the kind of strategies that they use to develop stories for their films at Pixar. And then, we had a conversation about how some of those strategies might apply to how we can talk to the public about science in a more effective and engaging way, and that was about three and a half years ago now, and since then, you know, that one seminar totally changed how I was thinking about science communication, and everybody else who was in the room responded really positively to it and remarked how useful it was, so that sparked an ongoing conversation and more and more artists at Pixar got involved volunteering their time, and now it's become this whole workshop series called Science through Story that I've been running for about three and a half years now. It started here at Berkeley on campus and has since, we've gone to other campuses, conferences, museums, organizations. So, yeah it's been a really, really fun experience and very helpful.Saintsing: Yeah, that sounds really incredible. So, you, you've taken this on the road. Is it still mostly Pixar is the main partner involved, or do you have like other studios, other artists involved?ElShafie: I've worked with other artists at this point, and the workshops, it's not a formal program of Pixar. Pixar doesn't sponsor it or anything financially. They've just been very generous in allowing their, some of the artists that work at the studio, anybody who wants to be involved to volunteer their time. So, several artists have come and run workshops with me here at Berkeley and at a few other campuses and conferences, and I meet with artists there periodically to learn from them about the creative process they use and how they approach story development, and then I adapt that into strategies that scientists and science educators can use to talk about science and an engaging way, using storytelling techniques, so Pixar people from Pixar have been involved. I've also worked with an artist who works at Industrial Light and Magic and a couple artists from DreamWorks Animation as well as an artist who was working at Double Fine productions and a guy who's a gentleman who started his own graphic design firm. Improv people, all kinds of artists through these workshops, and also we ran actually a full-day symposium called Science through Narrative: Engaging Broad Audiences, and that took place at a major biology conference, the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology last year in 2018, when the meeting was here in San Francisco. We had a full day symposium on this topic, on science storytelling with speakers from both the scientific community and from different artistic disciplines all weighing in from their different perspectives and experiences on how to engage the audiences with science through storytelling and in different avenues, different media, different disciplines. It was really, really awesome because, to my knowledge, I think that's the first time that scientists and artists have spoken together on the same platform at a major biology conference, and we also had a lot of early career presenters involved as part of that, and out of that symposium we not only had the event itself but we also ended up publishing a whole volume of papers in a peer-reviewed biology journal, Integrative and Comparative Biology, which are now available online, and these are all peer-reviewed papers in a biology journal, but they are all written to be accessible to any reader even a high school student. Actually, we had some high school students in the past read it for some workshops that I've done at high schools in the area. We use papers from that symposium with REU, research experiences for undergraduates, program just this past summer. So, anybody can read them and get something out of it, and I, my own paper that I contributed to that volume is just called Making Science Engaging for Broad Audiences through Stories, something like that, and I wrote that paper for myself three years ago for any grad student or any student who wants to start doing more science communication or wants to get involved with science outreach and doesn't know where to start. If you're looking for a place to start, if that, if that sounds like you, then I encourage you to check out these papers because it's not just, you know, it's grad students, its scientists, its animators, it's video game developers, it's people who work in Hollywood, it’s people who work with data visualization. All kinds of voices weighing in on this, and, and they're really a fun read.Saintsing: That sounds like a really great resource.ElShafie: Yeah.Saintsing: I hope everyone takes the time to check that out. You started by talking to people at Pixar, and that was like obviously, Pixar's really close to Berkeley, and so that's sort of a matter of like convenience, right? But also, I just noticed that a lot of the people that you mentioned kind of are involved in special effects or animation or things like that? Is there a reason why that's more relatable to science, or is that just a matter of, like, you went down this avenue of talking to animators or people who are involved in animation and then that snowballed into more and more people who were involved in that side of the story developing process?ElShafie: It's a good question. Honestly, I think that scientists can learn something valuable from any type of artist, no matter what discipline because artists and scientists actually have a lot in common in terms of how we approach problems and, and what we're all trying to produce might seem very different, but ultimately the approach that we take is very similar. Both scientists and artists have to use their observation skills. That's very, very important for both conducting science and for doing art. It's all about observation. Both of us are trying to distill complexity out of a whole bunch of material that we could use, and we're trying to distill the most cogent, most cohesive, most compelling version of that story, of that study as we're presenting it, of that thing that we're trying to capture in some, some visual form or a musical form. So, it's distilling complexity. It's using the power of observation, and in terms of the artists that I ended up working with, that was just, it kind of was a combination of who I happen to meet through my networking, people that were introduced to me by colleagues that expressed interest, and we were really wonderfully fortunate that we got such a great variety of people involved. And, that was also part of it that we, you know, if we already had someone who is an animator, then we tried to get other disciplines that we didn't yet have represented for that symposium in particular. So, that was kind of how we went about it, but I would encourage scientists to talk to any and all kinds of artists because you can learn something valuable from anybody and any and all kinds of scientists.Saintsing: This is just a reminder that you’re tuned into The Graduates. Today I'm speaking with SaraElShafiefrom the Department of Integrative Biology. So, you mentioned that you came to Berkeley with the intent of being a science communicator?ElShafie: Yeah.Saintsing: Of pursuing some kind of leadership position in science outreach?ElShafie: When I came to Berkeley my, my long-term goal was to become like the director of a major science museum or science outreach nonprofit, something along those lines, and I knew that to do that I would, it would be really helpful if I had a PhD in science. People in those positions tend to be either previous professors or curators at museums or past CEOs or university presidents and I wasn't interested in the latter two so much, but I really wanted I wanted to learn more science. I wanted to get the highest scientific training, so that's why I came here to do my PhD because I was very upfront about my career aspirations in my interviews for PhD programs and when I came to Berkeley, they were just totally supportive of that. My advisor was very supportive, the people at the UC Museum of Paleontology that I spoke with were very supportive. So, I, that's why I came here and also because being in the Department of Integrative Biology, which has this wonderful resource, the Berkeley Natural History Museums. We have a paleontology museum; a zoology museum, the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology; plus an herbarium, the Jepson Herbarium; and the Essig Museum of Entomology with all the insects. We have all of those in-house, right in our own department, and, and all those museums, especially UCMP, is very, very active with science outreach. So, I realized that by coming to Integrative Biology at Berkeley, I could not only be doing my dissertation, which, Integrative Biology was perfect because I wanted to do research that integrated several different fields together, but also, I could be learning from these museum educators and people who do a lot of science outreach and community outreach. So, it was kind of like getting training in both areas at the same time.Saintsing: Right, so you graduated from undergrad knowing that you wanted to do science communication then, or was that more of a kind of developing process?ElShafie: I would say it was an ongoing process. I did my undergraduate work at the University of Chicago. I'm from Chicago originally, and, and I had a great experience at U Chicago. I was working in, at the UC, a new Chicago fossil lab there for years as an undergrad, and I did some research for a thesis and everything, but through that fossil lab, I also had the opportunity to participate in a lot of science outreach with Chicago Public Schools after school and summer science programs, and I really enjoyed that and I loved seeing the transformation that the students would go through just coming in not really sure if science is for them and then leaving much more empowered in general. Not just in seeing themselves as scientists. So, I knew that I wanted that type of work to be a big part of my career as I was graduating undergrad, and then when I went into my master's program which was at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, coming in I knew that I wanted to pursue more scientific research and get my graduate degree, but one semester in I realized I think I actually want the outreach to be my main focus. I was really jazzed about the research I was doing. I was really enjoying it, but I was starting to realize that my primary passion was not just doing the science but actually sharing the science with other people who might not have access to it yet or might not be familiar with it or see themselves as, as scientists or understand the role that science plays in their lives. That was really my, my main focus that I wanted to take, but I also know I wanted the scientific training so I finished my masters in Nebraska, and fortunately my, my master's advisor in Nebraska was very supportive of that realization in that aspiration, and he basically said, hey if you want to be the bridge between science and the public, awesome. We need more people like that. Get your masters in science first because that'll open more doors to you down the road, but while you're here start exploring and figure out what that career path might look like for you. And, I was doing a lot of my data collection for my master's thesis in collections at natural history museums around the country, and through that, I was kind of reminded how much I love working with museums and loved being in museums and because that was a big part of my childhood growing up in Chicago which has great museums and zoos and aquaria and such. So, I knew that I wanted to work with museums and an informal education in some capacity and kind of by the time I finished my Master's, I had realized, yeah, I think I want to pursue a leadership position with a museum or some science outreach program because there seems to be a really big demand for people who can fill those positions, people who can wear the science hat but also have a lot of outreach, education, communication experience and also who understand how to manage a team and manage a budget.Saintsing: So, you would say that as a child it was probably your experiences going to museums that sparked this whole career interest in science and in science communication?ElShafie: Definitely, I would always be begging my parents to take me to the Field Museum or the Shedd Aquarium or the Brookfield Zoo or the Museum of Science and Industry. Growing up in Chicago those were like my favorite places to hang out, and, and in addition, I would visit my parents or my grandparents down in the Florida Keys every winter. They would spend the winters down there, and my grandfather was a fisherman, and he used to take me out on his fishing boat, and I would snorkel off of his boat and we would see dolphins jumping around, and I just, I think that's, that's the earliest memory that I have as a child, when I was like six and he took us out on Christmas Day and all these, this whole pod of dolphins came and jumped all around us and it was just the most magical thing I've ever had in my six-year-old memory. That's when I really fell in love with nature and animals, and I've been hooked ever since, and, and the specific focus has kind of changed over the course of my life from marine biology for a long time to paleontology to herpetology now, working with reptiles and, and kind of global change more broadly. And then, science communication and science outreach I think has always been part of my interest because I love to share my passion for nature with other people, and so, now it's kind of it's all come together now, working on my PhD and even tying in my interest in film, working with film artists and different kinds of artists as part of the science communication work. So, it's been a lot of fun.Saintsing: All right, I was gonna ask, so as a kid you really liked talking about science?ElShafie: Yeah.Saintsing: So, you're probably just telling everybody non-stop about all the cool scientific things you were learning?ElShafie: Oh, sure. Anybody who wanted or didn't want to know about dolphins and sharks and lizards and whatever I was reading about at the time. Yeah, I love that stuff.Saintsing: But then, you mentioned earlier, part of the reason why you started getting more interested in, at least the, what you wrote the article that you published with the symposium, that was partially to help you understand how to communicate science in some ways.ElShafie: Yeah, absolutely.Saintsing: So, would you say that maybe it's harder to communicate the science that you're actually doing than just to share scientific facts you're learning?ElShafie: Definitely. You've hit the nail on the head. I think it's, it's really fun and easy to just like share cool facts about animals because animals are very cool and there's lots of cool facts that you can share about them just you know in, in conversation, but when you're doing scientific research, especially, you know, long term in-depth scientific research, the specific questions of which might be a little bit more removed from people's everyday experience, it is a lot harder to figure out how to share that in an engaging way with other people you know. When I started my program here, if you asked me what's your research about, I would have jumped immediately into a detailed, jargon-laden explanation of how I study these lizards that lived 45 million years ago, and, and their body size got much bigger as the mean annual paleo temperature got a lot hotter in the Eocene and, and etc. And, you know, when I used to give that explanation to my family members, who are like farmers in rural Maryland, or my family members in Egypt on my dad's side, they would nod politely and, and be excited for me because I was clearly excited about it, but they couldn't relate to it at all because I wasn't connecting it to anything that they could relate to. So, now when people ask me what do you study I just start with, I study how climate change impacts animals over time. That's it.Saintsing: Right.ElShafie: And then, if they're really that interested, then maybe I would get into that I also use fossils, and if they're more interested, then maybe we get to the point of: I study reptiles and some of the details that we discussed earlier. But, it's, you know, it's, you almost have to unlearn a little bit of how you're trained to talk about your science as a graduate student. I think that's why it's really important for science communication training to be part of any graduate training program, no matter what your field is, especially if you're, if you're in a STEM field, if you're training to be some kind of scientist because it's when we write our, you know, technical papers we have to talk about science in a particular way, but even there having some story structure can really help the paper flow, but when you're talking about science with broader audiences, especially non-specialist audiences or even scientists outside of your own field, it really helps if you can start at a more general level where everybody can, can clue in and, and relate to what you're saying and then you get into more detail from there as, as needed. But, you don't even need to go to that level of detail in most cases. People just want the general sense of what you're doing. I think the most important thing to keep in mind is who is your audience, who are you talking to, and what is your goal for that audience, what do you want them to take away from your interaction with them, and that might be something specific like, I want them to understand what's really cool about this method I'm using. It might be more general like I simply want this person to understand that I'm a human being who cares about the same things that they do.Saintsing: Right, we're coming up at the end of our interview. Typically at the end of the interview we just offer our guests a moment to speak on any issue they'd like to speak about, about social issues or about their topic, their research area in science, or really anything you'd like to address to the listeners.ElShafie: Sure. Appreciate it. I would love to say to anybody listening who is not currently in a science graduate degree program but if you're interested in science in any capacity then I hope that you pursue that interest in some form, whether it's pursuing a degree in science or even just learning about whatever scientific field you're interested in, and, and I encourage you to bring your other interests into that as well. I think the, the best scientists I know who are the most creative about how they approach their science are those who are interested in lots of different things, and, and, and vice versa. So, I think combining interests in lots of different fields is actually a really, it's, it's a great way to enrich your work no matter what you do, and, and scientists want to meet you, and scientists want to talk to you no matter what it is you do. We love, we love talking about science, but we also love learning about other things other than science because that just enriches our perspective about how we approach science. So, if you're an artist, if you're an educator, if you're a farmer, if you are whoever you are no matter what you do, please come chat with us because we'd love to meet you, and if you're a scientist listening, I really encourage you to step outside of academia as often as you can, especially if you're a graduate student or postdoc, you know. Don't wait until you finish your degree or until you get your career up and running. It already is running, and I think the more you meet and interact with people outside of science, the better scientist you will be because it will, you learn how other people think and that's really important for science communication, but it also just enriches your perspective and enhances your appreciation for what you do, and it's also a lot of fun, and especially if you have interests outside of science whether it's a hobby or another field or whatever it is, don't wait to dabble in that. Get involved with it. Take a class. Read a book. Join a group. Whatever it is, get involved with that now because being involved in lots of different things and expanding your horizons while you're in grad school is really great for your mental and emotional health, and, and it also just gives you a broader sense of how you can use your scientific training in the world, whether you want to pursue academia or potentially something else.Saintsing: Right, open dialogue with people who don't study the same thing as you, who are coming from different backgrounds, that would be good not just for scientists but for everyone, right?ElShafie: Mm-hmm.Saintsing: Yeah, but yeah especially for scientists. That's a great message, Sara. Thank you so much for being on the show. It was really great.ElShafie: It was a lot of fun talking to you today. Thank you so much for having me.Saintsing: I've been speaking with SaraElShafiefrom the Department of Integrative Biology. We were speaking about her interest in global climate change and how she communicates her science to the public. Tune in and two weeks for the next episode of The Graduates.