The Graduates


Marianne Kaletzky


Andrew S.: Hi, you're tuned in to 90.7 FM KALX Berkeley. My name is Andrew Saintsing. This is The Graduates, the interview talk show where we speak with UC Berkeley graduate students about their work here on campus and around the world. Today, I'm joined by Marianne Kaletzky from the Department of Comparative Literature. Hi, Marianne. How are you doing today?

Marianne K.: I'm well. How are you?

Andrew S.: I'm doing well.

Marianne K.: Thanks for having me on your show.

Andrew S.: Yeah, it's great for you to be here. It's great to have you here. So, the reason I brought you on, I was looking through possible guests, and I found your information online. I saw that you had read a book that I have read and that I've never actually spoken to someone else who's read that book.

Marianne K.: It's a long book, so that's not that unusual.

Andrew S.: Right. So, the book is 2666 by Roberto Bolaño. I assume, probably lots of people listening won't have heard of that book either, so maybe you could describe it a little.

Marianne K.: Yeah, absolutely. So, I guess I can describe Bolaño a little bit. He's a Chilean writer who was an adult during the military coup in Chile, which put out a power their socialist government, brought Augusto Pinochet into power, a dictator who went about kind of systematically torturing a lot of people who had been involved in socialist and left wing movements. Bolaño was actually somebody who was rounded up by Pinochet. Eventually, he was freed, and then he became an exile living in different places outside Chile especially in his later life in Spain and kind of in some ways, self-consciously cultivated a mystique around himself that involved things like heroin addiction, this real image of the sort of tortured artist.

He has a number of novels that have been coming out in English in translation over the past 10 years. 2666 is the last one. It was actually published posthumously after his early death, and so it's an unfinished novel that was partly assembled by his editor. It's surprising that it was unfinished because it is, as you know, [crosstalk].

Andrew S.: Massive.

Marianne K.: Possibly, I think-

Andrew S.: Like 900 pages?

Marianne K.: Yeah, exactly. Almost a thousand pages in the English translation, so it's a sprawling book that's hard to describe. It's, in some senses, a mystery.

Andrew S.: Right. Actually, I've never understood the title of it. Do you know what the title means?

Marianne K.: The title is a mystery in itself, and there've been a lot of speculations as to what it might mean. It's kind of an apocalyptic novel, right? So, we can see it as looking forward to some year kind of associated with the number of the Beast, 666, right? Maybe this is the year of the future apocalypse, but it's never directly referenced in the book. So, that's one of the many kind of strange and kind of hallucinatory aspects of this book, is the title that's never explained.

Andrew S.: Right. Wow, so you gave like all that information about Roberto Bolaño, and I knew none of that when I read the book. When you a read a novel, do you find that you have to do all this research to contextualize it, to really get the most out of it or ...

Marianne K.: I mean, I think there are so many ways into a novel, and in general, I always say the best way in is your own way in. Maybe you'll tell me your own way in. For Bolaño, I had a specific approach, which is I actually hadn't read his work until I was actually in Chile in, what would that have been, 2006, and I was working at a newspaper. That was when his work was just starting to take off in English translation, and so people at this newspaper in the arts and letters section, which was where I worked, were obviously really excited that this Chilean writer was taking off in a kind of worldwide way. So, I knew the sort of culture and the idea and the image around him before I actually read the work. So, it was kind of reversed in that way from how I usually do it, which is usually, I pick up a book, and something about it speaks to me. I think that's how most of us are. I don't know what it was about 2666 for you.

Andrew S.: I think probably that title. I was just looking through books at a shelf. I was probably looking for ... Yeah, I had this phase where I was interested in reading more Latin American authors, and so I'd heard about Roberto Bolaño, and then I saw this book jacket. Looked really interesting. Like you said, it's complete mystery. So, I started reading it. It had, I don't know, this kind of atmosphere to it on the first couple of pages, right? It starts with that mystery, right, where the critics are like reading a book by a mysterious author. Maybe, I guess he kind of saw himself in that. Was it a German author?

Marianne K.: It's a German author. Yeah, with an Italian name, which is again, this kind of constant sense that you can't quite get a grasp on everything that's going on. So, yeah. He has a pseudonym, all kinds of strange kind of mysterious things around this author.

Andrew S.: Yeah, really interesting. There's a part in that book, I think it's towards the end. I always love this, like when you're reading a book, and the author kind of seems to be like justifying something about it, about what they've written. He basically just says you should read long books because it's where the author really can struggle with something. What do you think about that? Do you think long books are where we get kind of the most out of, or we get to see really what our author is trying to say or ... I also remember I read in the preface to Jorge Luis Borges, one of his Sword story collections, basically said you should be able to say whatever you want to say in five pages, right? So, I guess, I don't know. That's like two interesting philosophies.

Marianne K.: Well, yeah, absolutely. I think especially in the 20th century, we kind of see the novel especially going in two different directions. One of which is really condensed, the sort of Kafka mode where the language is pared down, and the book is often really short or someone like Coetzee, the South African writer who tends to write these, kind of just 100-page long books or the really sprawling novel.

For me, I've always the sprawling novel because of all the little rabbit holes you can go down. I'm writing a dissertation on distraction. I'm very much a partisan of distraction, and so yeah, things like Joyce's Ulysses, like 2666 where it's not all sort of sustained attention to one idea, but there are so many different kinds of modes of engagement and motifs that go away and come back.

What I think is so interesting in 2666 is there is really this one governing landscape, which is this desert border town called Santa Teresa, and it's really evoked, I don't know if you agree, but so vividly as this kind of apocalyptic desert landscape, and yet, the book goes to so many different literal geographic locations, right? Ukraine during the Second World War, and someone has a hallucination where they're traveling in China, I think, right? It really is able to go to so many places. I think it still coheres, but there are just so many avenues of exploration. I like that.

Andrew S.: Right, yeah. I guess we'll talk a little bit about your dissertation in a second, but so basically, you read 19th century, more English literature, but I try to read those like massive books by the postmodernists, by Americans like Thomas Pynchon and William Gaddis. Do you ever read those books looking for like kind of just distracted-

Marianne K.: Or Infinite Jest.

Andrew S.: Right.

Marianne K.: Yeah, I mean I think it's a really interesting question of kind of what happens to the distracted sensibility and postmodernism? Often, I think we see it being cultivated really self-consciously in a way that that's not there necessarily in the 19th century novel where something a little bit more complicated is going on, but yeah, I think certainly with something Infinite Jest where David Foster Wallace puts in his own footnotes, right, it's kind of staging this process where you can get distracted and look at the footnote and come back to the text, right? There's this sort of constant splitting of attention. I do find that interesting. I think for me, there's something about Infinite Jest that it's a bit too neatly brought together. Something like 2666, it's a lot messier. I actually, I like that more. There are more loose sentences.

Andrew S.: Ah, okay, cool. Can you just give us more of aN overview of your dissertation so that we know a little bit more about that?

Marianne K.: Yeah, absolutely. So, it's a dissertation about distraction, as I said, and it's really making two claims, right? One is a sort of cultural history claim, and one is a claim that has more to do with aesthetics, the discipline of kind of how we think about perception and especially how we think about our approach to works of art. 

So, the sort of cultural history claim is really about the way that attention gets made a virtue during the 19th century. Before that, it wasn't really, and it especially wasn't in the sense that 19th century thinkers and the Victorians make it a virtue, which is that attention is this form of self-control, right? It's a way that you block out unproductive thoughts and unproductive impressions in the world to focus on what really matters, which in general is your work. So, I give a history of that and of the way that attention is made into this form of self-discipline, and that actually excludes all kinds of interesting things, right, that you might notice when you're not disciplining yourself so much to focus on these sorts of bureaucratic tasks or problem solving, all the things that Victorians really like. So, one of the cases I'm making is about how distraction is marginalized, and it's made a problem in the Victorian era, and that's still how we think about it now, right? It's something that we need to resist and avoid, and that wasn't necessarily true before. 

Then, the second thing I'm doing is actually making a claim for why I think we shouldn't resist and avoid distraction because I think that so often, really creative thinking or critical thinking, thinking that sort of unsettles our previous paradigm, it comes about through moments of distraction, right, because the thing that actually will make us think differently is something that's so outside our current framework that we only sort of see it out of the corner of our eye, right? So, really there's something to be said, I think, for distraction as a mode of creativity or a spur to critical thinking, right? There's something to be said for not just getting rid of it or treating it like a negative phenomenon that we need to avoid.

Andrew S.: We tend to think of the internet distracting us and having all these stimuli coming at us as problematic, but maybe it's not?

Marianne K.: I think it's not necessarily, and I guess it depends. One of the things I do is to distinguish between different kinds of distraction, right? I think there's a kind of distraction that actually takes us outside ourselves, right? You're on BART, you're trying to write an email or whatever, and you know somebody is there, some dance crew that comes on the train or somebody is having a conversation about how their rent is going up. Those are all kinds of distractions that actually might attune us to a community and the public world and also, the distractions that come up in our own mind where we're going about writing a report, but we noticed that some things a little bit off and going down that route, like actually paying attention to that distraction could maybe lead us to a new way of thinking.

So, those kinds of distractions where we're sort of noticing something outside ourselves or something that we didn't expect, those are the ones I'm really kind of invested in. Something like our phones, I think it is distraction, but it's not unexpected in the same way that the break-dancing crew on BART is because if you think about the media on our phones, they're also carefully curated for our preexisting interests. So, in a certain way, I'm interested in the kind of distraction that interrupts our usual habits of thinking and of perception. I think a lot of what we see on our phones and on the internet actually reinforces those habits. So, there's maybe a different claim to be made for noticing things on BART or in the street that you don't expect and that aren't necessarily what you were trying to do than to be made for looking at your phone.

Andrew S.: I see. So, it's sort of a distinction between distraction we choose for ourselves and distraction that comes at us unexpectedly.

Marianne K.: Yeah, or distraction that's produced ... I mean, not to be too much of a Marxist, although we can talk about that too, but there's, I think, a distinction between distraction that's produced for corporate ends and distraction that comes about in other ways, either from our own thought or from people in the world around us.

Andrew S.: When you read a novel, you kind of have to think about how it relates to what your research is, right? So, I guess you're kind of perpetually distracted, right, when you're reading a novel?

Marianne K.: I mean, that, for me, is really a huge part of the question because what I noticed when I was reading all these treatises, especially these slightly more popular treatises in the New York Times that said there's a crisis of the attention span, right, this is the idea. There's a national crisis with the attention span. No one can pay attention. They would always recommend reading 19th century novels as a kind of workout of training your attention so that you wouldn't get distracted all the time, right? 

Yeah, exactly as you say, so much of those novels, in many cases, it's not just about kind of moving forward with one particular plot. There are these little things that you get caught in and not only are there sort of distracting details within the novel itself, but for me, the best moment, I think always, when I'm reading a 19th century novel if it's Tolstoy or something is the moment when they say something about how ... and that's the way it is when you're talking to someone who's had one too many drinks, and you have that moment where you almost put the book down or at least you look up from it, and you're like, "Oh, right. I remember that other day, I was talking to someone, and in fact, they had had one too many drinks, and it was that way." Right?

Andrew S.: Right.

Marianne K.: It's actually the kind of cognitive processes that it starts or maybe more interesting and more pleasurable than just this rigid focus on getting on the plot.

Andrew S.: Yeah, I've never understood this idea where people want to just be able to read a certain number of pages in a certain amount of time, right? It's like you have to just go with the flow of what you're reading, right? Like you said, this page might take a long time because there's so much that either maybe it's difficult to read what the author is saying, or it's just everything the author is saying is making you think about something else. Then, there's some parts of the text where it's just like, "All right, this is getting me from one part of the novel to another part." [crosstalk]

Marianne K.: Yeah. That flexibility is really nice about novels, yeah, that you can have parts where you engage more intensely and parts where you step back. That's what I find ... Because I work on this now, I kind of am interested in the ways people read now and attention and distraction in that context. So, I actually tried a speed reading program, and I found it really anxiogenic and horrible because I don't know if you tried one, so these words just flash before your eyes, and you can't go back, right? It's faster and faster, so, it's not like listening to an audiobook. It's much faster than that. The idea is that you'll just have to train yourself to take in the important essence of the text, but yeah, it's all the kind of fun of reflection and unexpected thought and involuntary memory as Proust would say. That's all lost when you're having these words flash before your eyes.

Andrew S.: Right. What do you think is the point of a novel in some ways, right, like what is the author trying to do, and what are you trying to do? So, clearly, you don't think it's just to quickly read through and just get the basic plot line, right?

Marianne K.: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I guess it's a big question.

Andrew S.: Right. Sorry to put that on you. 

Marianne K.: Yeah, I guess I can only answer because we're in this academic world, right, it's like we can only answer by referring to other people who've maybe actually had the fortitude to answer the question, but I guess, so there's this Russian thinker from the early 20th century named Viktor Shklovsky, and his whole theory of art is art de-familiarizes the world by which, he means that actually, you go around the world, and you see things and interact with them so many times that your interaction with them becomes kind of automatic, right? So, you see a door, and you don't actually notice anything about how this particular door looks, what color it's painted, the weird notches in the side because you just think of the purpose of it, which is you can open and close it.

So, actually, so much of what's rich about what we perceive is lost because of this process of automatization because we need to go about the world and the ways that we need to go about the world make it so that our perception is more and more automatic, and we don't really notice what's around us. So, for him, and I think I have to agree here, the purpose of art is it makes it more difficult to see the world, so you might have a door described in a weird way as like a panel of woods swinging on hinges, and so you kind of have to work to figure out what the thing is. Actually, in that way, art allows you to see the world again, right? It's been made invisible to you because everything is so habitual, but now, it's kind of returned to you in a new form. 

So, for me, I mean, I think there's a particular kind of literature that really does that. I think that that is interesting to me, right, that ability to see things in a new way because you've missed them so many times, you know, and so it's not necessarily that you're confronted with a whole new reality, but that you see your own reality anew because it's been represented in a particular way.

Andrew S.: Yeah, that kind of fits in well with the distraction idea, right?

Marianne K.: Yeah. Yeah, so it's good. So, I have a consistent maybe framework way of looking at the world, but yeah, I think so for me, that's maybe part of it, but I think people are making all kinds of different claims for novels now and for fiction in general. Some people want to claim that novels make you more ethical because they teach you to sympathize with other people. I guess other people like these New York Times people I was talking about want to claim that they give you this great attention span, and then you can do data entry for 15 hours. So, I think people are thinking about this question in different ways, but for me, I do think there's something about that, just being able to see your own world in a new way. That's exciting.

Andrew S.: Right. Then, kind of a related question but a little different, so, we started by talking about 2666, which is this massive novel, which probably not very many people will read. I don't exactly know how to frame this question, but what are your thoughts on these novels that these authors put so much of themselves into, but then very few people will literally read versus maybe like Hemingway or something where it's very accessible and not necessarily everyone gets everything out of it, but basically anyone could pick up Hemingway and read it?

Marianne K.: Yeah. I mean, this is really a question for me, not just with Bolaño but especially ... One of my dissertation chapters is on James Joyce and Ulysses, which is one of these books that's really famously, people say, not readable outside academia, right, or you need to take it in a class. I can't speak to how many people realistically will read Ulysses, just given the economic constraints that press on our lives and the fact that I understand that if you're working two jobs and you have kids, it may not be your first priority, but I do think it's wrong to say that Ulysses isn't accessible in the sense that an ordinary person can't pick it up and read it because I actually think one can. I think that a lot of ... I mean, this is a comment that's a bit critical of academia, but I think sometimes, we present this idea that just because having certain knowledge could help you understand and work better, it slips into the idea that you have to have all this knowledge to even approach it.

I think especially with something Ulysses, everyone who reads it including people who have a really deep academic background, enjoys an Irish history and the cannon of English literature, there are things that they miss or that they don't get. There are other things that they pick up on just because they happen to be attuned to that particular thing. So, I think with Joyce, with Bolaño, I do think people can pick up these books and make their own way through them, right, which doesn't necessarily mean having all the "right knowledge" but that they are stories. Actually, with both those novels, they're very vivid characters, and there are really kind of governing sort of drives and questions and tensions and desires that I think anyone can sort of grab onto.

Andrew S.: Right. I didn't mean that ... I hope I didn't imply that some people can't read these books. I have a science background, and so, I mean I personally feel like anyone could do science, but there's lots of people who see math or see science, and then I think their mind just goes blank, or they just don't want to do it, and they tell themselves they can't do it. I feel like that's kind of what happens with these bigger novels, right? They look at this big tome, and they're like, "Ah, I can't read this." Then, they just go for something shorter, more accessible in the sense that it won't take a lot of themselves to get something out of it.

Marianne K.: Yeah, absolutely. I think it's a really interesting question, and I don't know if you have thoughts about it in the sciences of where that sense is produced. I mean, I think it goes further back certainly than just academia, right? There's something about the way maybe that K through 12 education works in this country that people who don't feel set apart for a certain discipline then feel like they can't even approach that discipline.

Andrew S.: Right. I don't know if I've formulated enough thoughts on that to really say something about it, but yeah, I agree. I think it happens definitely in K through 12. You can tell like just my memories of going through school by middle school, there are people who are just saying, "Oh, I'm not good at math." So, I don't know when exactly that happens. I guess it's hard to tell. Is it something that educators could improve on, or is it something that people are going tell themselves anyway? Yeah, I don't know.

Marianne K.: Right. Yeah. Yeah, I mean, I think there is ... I'm always kind of want to blame current historical and economic conditions. I do think especially now, and you see it with our students, there is such a sense that jobs are scarce and resources are scarce, and you really need to find the one place that you can sort of maximize your potential, and so people don't want to waste their time doing things that they're not good at. 

Andrew S.: Right. 

Marianne K.: I do think that it's a lamentable situation, not only because I think you can get a lot out of disciplines you're not good at, but also sometimes, you have to get a fair way into something to know actually whether you have an aptitude for it or not. So, yeah, I don't know if it's that or exactly what, but I certainly ... I share your sense that in some ways, it's even a worse situation with people who feel like they, at some point, were set apart as not having a skill in math or science, and now, can't even approach knowledge produced in those disciplines.

Andrew S.: Right. Yeah, that's definitely something that needs to be worked on more. It's interesting. Actually, you brought up the job prospects idea and how that affects what subject matters people look into because not to make any comments about comparative literature, but that tends to be one of the categories that people say, "Oh, that's not going to set me up economically."

Marianne K.: I'd never heard that. No. Now, you're telling me. Too far in.

Andrew S.: Well, how did you power through that?

Marianne K.: Yeah, I was a really interesting case because I actually started in the sciences, which I hadn't told you before this moment, so this is a big reveal. Then, it wasn't that I stopped liking the sciences, but when I was in college, I had a couple of classes in literature that really did something to me, and so, I decided to be an English major. From there, it also wasn't a given that I would go to graduate school. I spent time outside that doing other things. I guess there's a way for me to talk about it at the level of graduate students and academics and you know what to say about job prospects there, and then also for undergrads when they kind of come and say, "I want to major in comparative literature, so, what should I do?"

So, I guess to talk about it with grad students and academics, it's in comparative literature and in many of the humanities fields and also in non-humanities fields, there is this sense of a dwindling, a shrinking job pool. A lot of that, especially in the humanities, is coming not because there just aren't jobs for people who study these fields. In fact, there are tons, especially in things like teaching writing or teaching intro literature classes, teaching foreign language classes, and so often, people will say, "You shouldn't have gone to grad school in that. You should have known that there were no positions." Actually, there are a lot of positions, but they're increasingly being switched over to temporary low paying positions, so, jobs that used to come with eventual tenure, with stable pay and benefits and time for research, now come with none of those things. That is part of this larger crisis in higher education where tuition is going up, and student debt is going up, but money spent on instruction is steadily going down. 

So, my answer in that regard is I think we really need to be fighting for better quality of instruction, which also means better jobs for ourselves and really for the restoration of public education as something that is affordable and accessible to students and that also provides living wages and good jobs and research potential and room to grow for the people who work in it. Sorry about that. 

Andrew S.: No problem.

Marianne K.: So, that's kind of what to say about job prospects for academics. For students, I think there's a kind of different thing too, you said, which is I do think that being a critical thinker, being someone who can sort of creatively see an issue from different sides, being someone who can communicate clearly, I think those are all skills that can go into lots of things that don't involve teaching high school English or getting a graduate degree in comparative literature. So, that's the kind of plug that I'll make for undergraduate majors.

Andrew S.: You just think writing in general just helps you in life, and you could take that and apply that to any job really?

Marianne K.: Yeah. I mean, I think writing is actually something that a lot of people are really scared of. It's kind of like math, right? 

Andrew S.: Right.

Marianne K.: It's one of these skills that is so basic, and we all have to do it all the time whether we're sending a text, or we need to cut a recipe in half, but when it's named as a task that we have to do specifically, a lot of people freeze up. It's like, "I have to write this report. I absolutely can't do it. I'm no good at writing." So, I think actually kind of becoming fluent and comfortable in communicating your thoughts in written form, I think, is a massively important skill. I think it feeds into a lot of jobs.

Andrew S.: Right. Do you struggle with that still when you write?

Marianne K.: With writer's block?

Andrew S.: Yeah.

Marianne K.: I mean, yeah. I think everybody does sometimes. So, there are a lot of of books that have been written on this. There's one called how to write your dissertation in 15 minutes a day, which does not do what it says on the tin. You can't actually write your dissertation in 15 minutes a day, but it gives a few things that you can do when you have writer's block like you keep a sort of more casual first person diary about what's going well and what's going badly in the writing. At least, that way, writing is also still a place where you can express your thoughts and not just this horrible task that looms in front of you,

Andrew S.: I guess, so, there's the initial block of getting started, but then whenever I write something, I'll look back and I'll be like, "Ugh, sounds terrible." Do you ever have that feeling?

Marianne K.: I think everybody has that feeling. Yeah, I mean you have to say it's version zero, right? Everyone has that. I know people who name their documents, it's kind of Dickens article, version horrible, things like Dickens article, version really bad. Then, eventually, it's Dickens article, slightly acceptable if I've had a glass of wine. Then, finally, it becomes Dickens article kind of okay. So, I don't know. I think sometimes, it helps just to acknowledge that you have that feeling.

Andrew S.: Right. You read all of these novels by great novelists. Do you think they ever felt satisfied with what they had written?

Marianne K.: I mean, it's really interesting, and it so much depends on who you work on. There's the story of John Milton who wrote Paradise Lost. He was blind, and so he had to dictate to his daughters that apparently every morning, he would just call them into his room, and he would say, "I have to be milked," where the idea was that he would just produce this poetry in such a kind of natural, unwillful, just free way that it was like he was a cow being milked, which is a weird image, but that for him, it just happened so naturally in a kind of metabolic process. For a lot of writers I work on, people, for instance, like Joyce, they really had a lot of problems while they were writing these texts. Yeah, I think it certainly helps to keep that in mind.

I think that there is not such a correlation between being good at something and having a really easy time getting into it as we sometimes assume. That maybe goes back to our questions about math and about writing. I think we have this idea that we like as a culture that has to do with genius, and it's that sort of Mozart image where you just sit down at the piano, and you had no lessons, but you're just composing already, right? I think with literature, there are certainly some people who are like that, but there's not a kind of stable correlation between who writes great literature and sort of how easily they do it. 

Andrew S.: That was really great to have this conversation. [crosstalk]

Marianne K.: Thank you so much. 

Andrew S.: Yeah. Thank you for being here.

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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.