The Graduates

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Rosalie Lawrence

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Andrew Saintsing: You're tuned in at 90.7 FM KALX Berkeley. I'm Andrew Saintsing, and this is The Graduates, the interview talk show where we speak to UC Berkeley graduate students about their work here on campus and around the world. Today I'm joined by Rosalie Lawrence from the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology. Welcome to the show, Rosalie. 


Rosalie Lawrence: Thanks for having me. 


Saintsing: It's great to have you here. Do you want to tell us a little bit about what you do here on campus? 


Lawrence: Yeah, I'm working in the Roberto Zoncu Lab where we're really interested in how cells in our body make decisions. And so the process that we study is actually the decision that every cell in our body makes of whether to grow or not to grow, and different cells in our body will make different decisions depending on where they are and what the environmental conditions are. So, some tissues in our body are constantly growing and dividing, and some cells in our body are actually very long-lived, and so, it's important to kind of understand how this process is regulated because, when it's disrupted, this causes runaway cell growth which is a key characteristic of cancer and other diseases. So, sort of me personally, what I study is understanding how the molecules within each of our cells are actually carrying out these decisions and how these processes can be tuned appropriately so that cells in our body are dividing when they should be and not dividing when they shouldn't be, as in the case of cancer. 


Saintsing: Okay, so you talked about cells and molecules making decisions. I mean usually we think about things needing brains, right, to make decisions. So, how are - how is this happening? 


Lawrence: Yeah, so this is really fascinating to me. Really thinking about how on the molecular scale or the cellular scale the way decisions happen is actually protein molecules bind to one another. So, they're diffusing around in space, one protein molecule may recognize a specific shape of another protein molecule bind to it, and then, for example, it may make a chemical modification, for example, phosphorylation where it adds a phosphate chemical moiety to another protein. And so, really kind of bits of information, if we're thinking about - maybe thinking about cells making decisions sort of being like an electric grid, are really encoded by protein-protein interactions. And a moiety, that's just like a chemical group. It means a collection of atoms. 


Saintsing: So what kinds of molecules are leading the cells to make decisions? Like, what kinds of molecules are you looking at?


Lawrence: Yeah, so our lab actually studies one particular protein called the mechanistic target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1), which is kind of a mouthful, but this is one protein that actually interacts with a lot of different downstream proteins, so we call it a master regulator of the cell. So, when this protein becomes activated it then has the ability to turn on many different cellular programs that result in cell growth. So, this is things like amino acid synthesis, lipid synthesis. So, this one protein molecule acts as a master regulator that when activated can turn on a variety of different cell processes to ultimately result in cell growth. 


Saintsing: How does it work? 


Lawrence: Yeah, so the really fascinating discovery that was made in this pathway about ten years ago is actually that this protein becomes activated specifically when it gets recruited to a very particular location in the cell. So, many of us probably learned about cellular organelles when we were in high school biology. So, you may have learned about the mitochondria – 


Together: The powerhouse of the cell.


Lawrence: So exactly, people remember that one, but we're gonna – the one we're really interested in, actually it's called the lysosome. Do you remember anything about the lysosome?


Saintsing: They’re the stomachs of the cell, right? 


Lawrence: Yeah, so we all learned about how the lysosome is maybe a stomach or maybe the trashcan. That's right. You know, we don't really like that terminology, but we think of the lysosome as really the place in the cell where things are broken down, where you're digesting cellular components to bring them back to their building blocks, but the really interesting discovery is actually that the lysosome is not just a trashcan. It's actually a signaling hub. It's the place where it's sort of the control center of the cell, where actually this protein that I was mentioning, the mTORC1 protein, gets recruited to the lysosome. So, it goes to the lysosome, and once it's at the lysosome it can actually read out the status, the nutrient status of the cell. So, because all of the components of the cell are broken down in the lysosome, that means that all the building blocks that are going to be used later for new building projects are all there, and so, this protein becomes activated when it's physically recruited to the lysosome. And understanding that process of how it's actually recruited there is what I've been working on in my PhD.


Saintsing: Do you have any information on that front to tell us? How does it - how does it work? 


Lawrence: Yeah, so I guess that’s what's been really fascinating about understanding this is that mTORC1 is recruited to the lysosome when there are nutrients present. So, if the cell is in kind of a starved state, there's not a lot around, it's not a good time to grow, this molecule is kind of floating around in the cell not on the lysosome. And then, when these nutrients are present, it becomes recruited to the lysosome and begins saying, “Okay, we can wake up and start growing now and turning on all of these programs.” What's really fascinating is that actually what I have sort of studied is the fact that, rather than this protein just getting recruited to the lysosome and staying there and saying okay we have nutrients we're just gonna grow forever now, we've turned the pathway on all of our growth programs are on, actually this binding to the lysosome is very short-lived. And so, the cell has sort of inbuilt this system to put a brake on this growth program. So, as soon as the molecule is recruited to the lysosome, it doesn't stick there very well. It's a very low affinity interaction, so it's constantly coming on and off, and that is a mechanism that the cell has to sort of protect against the possibility of having too much growth. So, it means that the system is always having to receive a positive input to stay on rather than turning it on once and having it stay on forever.


Saintsing: So, the cell is programmed to always think that it's hungry, it needs more?


Lawrence: Basically, yeah. So, if you had a system where if this molecule goes there once and stays there forever, then it would be like, it's - it always thinks that it's hungry, right? But, because it’s constantly falling off, it's always kinda - it always needs to receive a new input to say, “Yes, we're still hungry now. Yes, we're still hungry now.” Instead of just turning it on once and leaving it on. 


Saintsing: I see. Wait – actually, just to clarify, so the mTORC1 tells the cell that it has enough nutrients to grow, right? So, when there are nutrients in the cell, there are some other proteins that recruit mTORC1 to the lysosome where it becomes activated and turns on all of these building processes, right? And then, okay so, in a high nutrient environment the cell would recruit mTORC1 and grow. 


Lawrence: Mhmmm.


Saintsing: By grow, do you mean just grow in size, or do you mean, like grow and divide, produce more cells?


Lawrence: Yeah, so mTORC1 specifically is really about causing cells to grow in size. However, there are other pathways in the cell that activate division programs once the cells have reached a certain size. It's really mTORC1 is causing cells to grow, which then generally causes them to divide in most cases. 


Saintsing: And, by grow you just mean like the area?


Lawrence: Yeah, they're literally - like the volume is increasing. 


Saintsing: Yeah, so you said that this pathway is really important to diseases like cancer. How is that?


Lawrence: Yeah, so this protein molecule in this pathway is one of the most frequently mutated pathways in cancer, and some of the work that I did was actually showing that there are specific mutations identified in cancer patients that actually cause mTORC1 to get stuck on the lysosome. So, this is one way to kind of show that this process that's actively putting a brake on the system and kicking mTORC1 off under normal conditions, when that is disrupted and you have these mutations that cause a system to stay always on the lysosome and always on, this is often found in cancer patients. And this suggests that it's one way that the system can get misregulated. Although it's important to realize that cancer is a very complex set of diseases, and generally there are many different mutations that occur before cancer truly develops, but this is kind of one of the, one of the risk factors or one of the components of the disease. 


Saintsing: Have you looked into some cancer treatments based around this?


Lawrence: My - the professor that I work with actually recently started a company that is interested in using small molecules to disrupt this interaction. So, you know this is - it's still a very exploratory startup company, but it's definitely being able to understand really physically how these decisions go down allows us to actually, with a lot of precision, design therapies to target the specific event that becomes misregulated. 


Saintsing: So, in cancer there are a variety of things that are going on, but, in this particular case if this were involved in the cancer pathway, then the mTORC1 would be permanently bound to the lysosome, and the lysosome and the cell would think, “Okay, I'll just keep growing.” But, I mean, even if there's not enough nutrients for it to grow. So, does the cancer cell just kind of grow? 


Lawrence: Right. Right. So, this is - this is kind of the place where you can see how it's important for there to be multiple different mutations happening at the same time. So, you know in this case you would definitely need to have some other mutation happening that is providing some nutrients source for the cell, and that can happen by changing, for example, glucose metabolism, changing the way that our body stores nutrients so that there's more of it in the blood in a way that's circulating and available to the cancer cell rather than being say stored in a fatty tissue. So, generally you need to have multiple different mutations, so things like regulating how the - you know the growth decision is regulated, regulating how nutrients are distributed so there's actually enough nutrients for growth. There’re often mutations in the processes that allow cells to migrate because generally we call something cancerous once it's actually metastasized and the cell is moving to new places in the body. So, you know cancer is really sort of death by a thousand cuts. There need to be, you know, many different things going wrong to really get to the point of cancer.


Saintsing: I see. So, how do you actually study this? What kind of organism first of all do you use?


Lawrence: Yeah, I work with human tissue culture cells. So, these are cells that were at one point isolated from a living person and can then essentially grow indefinitely in test tubes. So, these have, actually we call them, have been transformed so they are different from cells in our body, and that some of these breaks on the system that prevent cell growth have been bypassed. And so, they'll sort of grow indefinitely in culture. It's very useful to us to be able to grow them in the lab.


Saintsing: So, is everybody in the lab working on cells from the same person?


Lawrence: We have actually several different cell lines that we work on in the lab, but there are examples. For example, the HeLa cell line many people have heard of is a cell line derived from one person, Henrietta Lacks, which is used in probably thousands - hundreds of thousands of labs around the world. I don't typically work with that cell line, but we have maybe five to ten different cell lines in the lab, and in theory they were all derived from a single person.


Saintsing: Cool. Do you - what do you do like actually do? 


Lawrence: So, I really originally fell in love with microscopes and imaging, so what I can do is actually add a fluorescent tag to mTORC1, to this molecule and actually look with a microscope within the cell and watch the molecule move around in time. So, I really enjoy - I really enjoy that stuff, like getting to look at cells and watch these processes happen. And then, I also do a lot of biochemistry, which means that I purify the individual protein molecules and I can really understand how the pathway works by purifying the individual components and then putting them back together and seeing if I can recapitulate the behavior that I saw in a living cell. So, the way that we think about it is: what you cannot build you do not understand. So, if you really want to understand how a complex signaling network is built, if you can reconstitute it from its pieces, that's a good sign. So, I'm not gonna say we're all the way there yet, but I've - we've learned a lot of things by purifying the proteins and working with them in test tubes as well. 


Saintsing: So, you get all the proteins and then like throw them together in a test tube?


Lawrence: Yeah it depends. I often use methods like fluorimetry. So, I actually put my proteins in a fancy quartz cuvette and then I can measure actually spectroscopic properties of the protein that tell me something about what state it's in. So, actually proteins in our body have an intrinsic fluorescence and so we can take advantage of that to learn to learn things about their conformation or what state they're in. 


Saintsing: Okay, so every protein is unique because of its - the way it shines?


Lawrence: Uh, not so much. So, this is part of why it's important to purify a protein so you have only one. So, I would say, okay all proteins in our body for example absorb at 280 nanometers. This is just you know kind of a property of proteins. So, I could monitor this protein signal at 280, and I can know that it's due to a particular protein if I only have one protein in the tube. Then there are other things we can do, like add specific tags to proteins of interest so that we then are maybe reading at different wavelengths and know that it's specific to that one tag.


Saintsing: Okay, I see. This is just a reminder that you're tuned into The Graduates. I'm Andrew Saintsing, and I'm speaking with Rosalie Lawrence. So, Rosalie, you actually don't spend all your time in the lab, right?


Lawrence: Yes.


Saintsing: You're a scientist, but you like to get out and do some stuff, right? You were actually telling me that you like to run in triathlons.


Lawrence: Yeah, so I've actually always been a pretty athletic person. I swam competitively growing up. I swam in college for you know D3 at Swarthmore College, and something that has really been fun at Berkeley and has been, I think, a really great way to stay balanced and stay happy during, you know, what can sometimes be a long process of grad school, has been taking up triathlons. So, I actually like learned to ride a bike with clips pedals and went all the way from doing my first triathlon to competing with the Cal triathlon team, which is a club team on campus. So, that's been super fun.


Saintsing: Cool, have you won anything?


Lawrence: Last year, actually, the Cal women's triathlon team won the national title, so -


Saintsing: Nice 


Lawrence: - I got to contribute to that. That was super fun.


Saintsing: That sounds really cool.


Lawrence: Definitely an experience that I didn't anticipate having in grad school. Um, but it's really kind of added to the experience.


Saintsing: Cool. Wow. Do you just try to do this every day? Like try to exercise, just to get out of the lab, like to clear your mind?


Lawrence: Yeah I think it, you know, kind of ebbs and flows with what's going on in lab, but I would say I'm generally more happy and productive in the lab on the days when I get a swim in or a bike ride in to the extent that my lab mates will comment on it. They're like, “Oh you haven't, you haven't swam in a while.” Like, so yeah, I think it's something that I, you know, I think it's - it's great I'm in grad school to have some outlet outside of the lab. Because doing science is one of those things that sometimes everything is working and life is awesome and sometimes you go through three months at a time when none of your experiments work and it may or may not - it's often not any fault of your own, it's just the process of doing science is very arduous and unpredictable sometimes. So, it's really nice to have kind of some other outlet to keep you motivated and happy.


Saintsing: So, you actually went to school, is that what you were saying, for swimming?


Lawrence: Um, well I swam like competitively there you know NCAA, but it was - it's Division III, which means that it's not scholarship level. So, okay yeah but I got in there. Yeah, it was awesome.


Saintsing: Nice. Did you know when you went there that you were gonna be a scientist?


Lawrence: I always really loved biology. I loved hiking, or I would say loved camping as a kid. Actually, didn't love hiking. I loved like camping outside with my family and like wandering around and looking at flowers and just always was super fascinated by looking at the world around me. I wouldn't say that I necessarily expected to be a scientist. I think I had a bit of a picture of what being a scientist was like that was very you know wearing a lab coat and working in the lab all the time, and being like I don't know. I had sort of a picture of maybe a sort of isolated person before I really kind of got to college and met people who were scientists and started realizing that the life of a scientist is actually pretty awesome.


Saintsing: Was there like one class or one experience where you're just like, “Yeah I'm gonna be a scientist.”


Lawrence: “Um I took a - I took actually a plant biology class in college. I was actually working in plant biology at the time, but I had this one class where my professor designed all the labs in the class to have us essentially take one type of plant or flower and do a ton of different experiments to understand how for example the reproductive system of that plant worked. Just to sort of like design our own experiments rather than many other kinds of lab courses that I had taught had been very sort of cookie-cutter, like follow the directions. And so, I think really getting to kind of jump in and follow my own curiosity and work with a really amazing professor got me interested in actually like trying to work in a lab. And then, once I had my first experience working in a real research lab, I realized, “Oh, this is like totally different from doing labs in a class.” And, I really liked it.


Saintsing: Right, so your first lab experience was in plant biology, or… 


Lawrence: Actually, it wasn't. I did my first lab experience the summer after my sophomore year of college, and I remember the summer after my freshman year of college I had gone home for the summer and worked as a lifeguard, like that was my summer job. And, I came back and realized like a bunch of my friends had gone and done all this really interesting academic research stuff, and I had no idea that this is you know even a thing that people were doing. And I realized like, oh, you know, I know I like biology. If I maybe want to do this someday, I should figure out what people do in a lab. And so, I ended up applying to a ton of different labs. I wasn't really in a position that I could volunteer in a lab, so I wanted to get paid. So, I ended up actually working in a lab at Carnegie Mellon studying motor proteins and cells and how cargos are moved around. Um, so that was actually a different experience that was awesome, and then I came back and actually started working for that plant biology professor back at Swarthmore where I was for college. And, I worked with him for the rest of my time in college.


Saintsing: Nice. How did you end up at Berkeley?


Lawrence: Um, well I actually took a year off after undergrad and was abroad, and that project was actually also working in plants. And, through those experiences I realized that I've always been pretty excited about understanding basically this question of how do cells in our body make decisions. Like I would, you know, would read textbooks in undergrad, and there would be all these pictures of like blobs coming together and saying okay you know the process of cell division is governed by these molecules. And, it was always a little bit unclear to me like how do they - how do they actually know, you know, when to turn on, when to do these things. There were, I always felt like, there were these kind of deeper questions about how these decisions were made that I didn't really understand just by reading some of the larger summaries, and I realized after actually working in plants for a while that a lot of the kind of cutting-edge work on those kinds of questions were really more in mammalian cells, which is really actually an unfortunate like consequence just of the funding situation. But a lot of really like awesome cutting-edge microscopy that I was pretty excited about was happening in more like molecular and cell biology departments. So, I applied to a bunch of a - bunch of different schools and interviewed at Berkeley and really thought it looked it seemed like a really amazing place to be both scientifically and as a place to live. So, I found myself here. 


Saintsing: You're thinking about what you're gonna do after graduate school, right? Are you potentially interested in getting back into plants?


Lawrence: Hmm. Um, I wouldn't rule it out. I'm not particularly unfortunately. I guess I'll make a plug for public funding of science, you know, I - one thing that people who are in science are always thinking about are, you know, what are the areas of science where we can get funding to do our work. And, the reality is there are certain areas that are more recognized by sort of government funding than others. So, most labs for example at UC Berkeley are receiving grant money from the National Science Foundation or the National Institute of Health, which are government funding agencies funds through which are distributed actually by Congress or the budgets are partially decided by Congress, and these grants are paid by tax dollars. So, one thing to realize is that you know these basic processes underlying cancer people are studying are often really studied in labs that are doing basic science. However often the sort of decisions about what types of research are getting funded are going to be very kind of biased towards fields that have clear disease relevance. So, unfortunately plants aren't often thought of as having a lot of disease relevance even though there's a lot of really awesome and interesting stuff that you can do in plants. So yeah, so I'm still interested in studying something else relating to cellular decision making. I'm thinking a little bit about maybe going in a neuroscience direction but at this point I'm actually very open-minded and still thinking about it.


Saintsing: I see. Well you know plants – agriculture.


Lawrence: Yeah. Yeah. I know. When I was an undergrad actually I worked on heat stress response in plants and how plants can - some certain plants can actually adapt and grow in warm climates, which is super important as by thinking ahead to global warming for example. So, yeah, I think - I think that stuff is all really important.


Saintsing: As a graduate student, you've worked with undergrads that come to you much like you went to your plant lab. How is that experience from the other side?


Lawrence: Oh yeah, it's awesome. I actually think one of the most fun things is to work with people as they're learning how to do the scientific process and mentor them. I feel like I was extremely fortunate to have amazing mentors. I actually went to like a primarily undergraduate institution so got a lot of attention from the professor, but actually at Berkeley I've both kind of been involved in teaching, you know, teaching undergraduate classes as well as working with undergrads. I had one undergrad student who actually worked with me for three years, so almost her whole time in undergrad, and she actually just recently graduated and is now a grad student herself which is very exciting. But, yeah, I think getting to really kind of share the joy of the scientific process and work with someone over a long period of time so they can really develop their own – yeah, their own confidence and their own ability to design experiments and actually have original ideas that are better than your own ideas is super fun. So, I really, really enjoyed that.


Saintsing: Cool. Do you try to do mentorship with people that you don't have in your lab?


Lawrence: So, I have actually been involved in a program called the Prison University Project, which is actually teaching in San Quentin prison. So, that's not exactly, it's not exactly research, but it is actually a chemistry class that I was involved in teaching where we actually do have an active lab component. So, that's an example of definitely kind of - really kind of getting to share the love of science with people outside of the lab that I would recommend to anyone if they're interested in doing that. It's a really amazing program, and some of our graduates from that program actually when they left prison got jobs in labs which is amazing.


Saintsing: Yeah that's really cool.


Lawrence: Yeah.


Saintsing: Yeah, that's so cool. I actually had another guest who taught Spanish.


Lawrence: It's a really excellent program, and a lot of grad students at Berkeley are involved in it. Yeah, so there's that. I also am involved in some like inter-grad student mentorship stuff. So we have this program in MCB called “MCB Grad Network” that's really about providing venues for older grad students to kind of have a reason to talk with younger grad students and kind of talk to them about the process of going through challenging aspects of grad school like choosing a lab or taking their quals. So, being involved in that has also been fun to try to hope that some of the hard-won knowledge that you have gained could help someone else, and that's been fun as well. 


Saintsing: We're coming up towards our time limit. Is there anything that you would like to say? You kind of talked about science funding, but are there any other things you'd like to share with the public or make a plug for?


Lawrence: I guess maybe my only other weird or interesting perspective is having the perspective of having worked abroad. So, I actually did research for a year in Southern Africa and Botswana after undergrad, and a really eye-opening experience for me there was realizing the extent to which really amazing science can be done all over the place. And, there are awesome scientists all over the place. However, the opportunities to do science really vary depending on where you are, and I think something that's really valuable is ensuring that there are opportunities for people to do good science all over the place. And, part of that actually in practice can actually mean making it easier for scientists to cross borders. So, many of the people that I actually worked with in Botswana are now you know in labs in the UK or in the US, and so, I think making sure that we continue to have programs to allow scientists to collaborate internationally and make the visa process not too hard, that’s something that I think is also very important.


Saintsing: Very true, very true. Thank you so much for being on the show, Rosalie.


Lawrence: Thanks for having me. This was really fun.


Saintsing: Yeah, tune in in two weeks for the next episode of The Graduates.

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9/24/2019

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.
9/10/2019

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.