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Ursula Kwong-Brown

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Speaker 1: (singing).


Ashley Smiley: You're tuned into 90.7 FM KALX Berkeley. My name is Ashley Smiley, and you are listening to The Graduates, the interview talk show where we interact with graduate students here at UC Berkeley and around the world. Today, I am joined by Ursula Quan Brown, a PhD candidate in the Department of Music. Ursula is a multimedia artist and composer and is currently splitting her time between New York City and Berkeley, California. Ursula, welcome to the graduates. We are happy to have you here today.


Ursula: Thanks so much for having me.


Ashley Smiley: I want to start out with asking you a question about your background. So I understand you have a bachelor's in music and biology from Columbia University, a master's in music composition from Berkeley, and now you're finishing up your PhD in music composition with a designated emphasis in new media. How did you transition from studying both science and music to progressing towards the current career path?


Ursula: So my whole life, I've done music. It was never ... I never questioned whether I'd do music, it's just also whether I could squeeze science in as well. I really enjoyed my research at Columbia. I worked in Professor Darcy Kelly's laboratory and she permitted me to do my own independent research into the vocalizations of African Clawed frogs Xenopus Laevis. And I heard musical intervals in the frog song and I got to spend like two years researching how they produce those intervals, if they perceived them, and it was incredibly fun, but it was also incredibly energy consuming and I did not have time to write music.


Ashley Smiley: Okay.


Ursula: I just didn't have enough time for my music and that's why I went to just music.


Ashley Smiley: So why do you think you chose the African Clawed frog? What about them piqued your interest? You said it was the music. Did you know anything about them before you started this project?


Ursula: It was really just like a happy coincidence in that Darcy Kelly taught the neuroscience, intro to neuroscience class I was taking at a time, and I loved her so much that I went and switched my summer lab research to her lab and it just happened to be that I was listening to frog song in the, you know, in the lab tea room and I was like, uh, that's a perfect fourth. Like I know what that is. Yeah, it just happened.


Ashley Smiley: Okay. Yeah. That's so cool. I actually read a publication that you are an author on that was just released in 2015, pretty recently in the journal of Comparative Physiology. I remember reading about how some species within this Genus Xenopus can actually glean information about reproductive state, species identity, and sex based on hearing these vocalizations that come from their larynx, which is this organ that produces sound pulses.


Ursula: Yeah, that's accurate. So you know, these frogs call underwater in murky water at night. They don't have much vision. They use sound to find their mates and they have to differentiate their calls both temporally with different inter click into like tick, tick, tick or tick, tick, tick, tick, tick. And then also spectrally. So in terms of pitch, some frogs have dun dun, to pitches that are like a perfect fourth apart, and then some of them have like dah duh. But what's really cool is they actually produce those sounds harmonically. So they produce them at the same time, which I can't sing for you because I can't sing two pitches at the same time. But without those calls, I think that you would have more species trying to have sex with one another when they're not compatible. You know?


Ashley Smiley: Yeah. So it's like a ... It's a reproductive barrier.


Ursula: Or identifier. Yeah.


Ashley Smiley: Yeah. It's interesting that you say they can produce sounds at the same time or two different sounds at the same time. So, they must have musculature that can control that to like open and close parts of the larynx or do you think they have an additional structure sound producing organ like in ... For instance in birds, birds have a syrinx. Are frogs the same way, do you think?


Ursula: So, frogs are totally, totally different. We've actually talked with some birdsong people trying to figure out how they ... How the frogs make these two pitches and it's not at all clear. We're actually just submitted a paper about this in which we worked with a really wonderful researcher named [Coen Elemens 00:04:36] in Denmark with some high speed video in an isolated prep of the larynx in a dish to look at the sound excitation. But basically, it's not an air driven mechanism. It's more like percussion. It's more like striking a metal bowl that rings at a pitch, but it's two pitches.


Ashley Smiley: That is insane. So, I came across this ad in BAMPFA or you know, somewhere in campus and I was reading about your sound installation art and, if that's what I may call it.


Ursula: Sure, yeah.


Ashley Smiley: So my understanding is that you were participating in this collaboration where you took metal sheets and then connected transducers to them and kind of propagated some type of input into those so that it could transform the sound of instruments to reverberate through these metal sheets. I guess I can't quite wrap my mind around that and what that actually means. Could you clarify how that works?


Ursula: Yeah, so just imagine that the sheet, the metal sheet, or in some cases wooden sheet, is the speaker, right? So, A transducer is just a device that is converting variations in an electrical signal into physical pressure, right? So like sound waves. So your speaker does that very well, right? It just pretty accurately, for the most part, reproduces that. But if you take a metal sheet, there's all these resonant frequencies in the sheet that will come out more strongly. So, if you play Beethoven's seventh through a metal sheet, you will hear Beethoven seventh but you'll also hear the humming resonant frequencies of the sheet or the word or whatever you want. And in this project, I was working with a painter and cellist named Amy King in New York City. And we really wanted the sounds to emanate directly from her artwork. So, we wanted you to go up to the art and feel the vibrations, the music coming from her painting.

So she painted metal sheets and then I attached transducers to the back of them.


Ashley Smiley: So that's where the painting came in. That's something that I completely forgot about. Those were color coded, right?


Ursula: So this was a project that Amy King had already been doing that I had found just so beautiful. She took the Bach Cello suites, very famous, and she took each note and would assign them a different color. So like C would be blue and G would be green. I mean I'm just, or something like this. And she would paint the entire prelude, for instance, in rows of single brushstrokes. And because music does have a structure, you know, you would see these recurring blue notes that were the C's and you'd see them occurring green brushstrokes, which were the G's and it had this sort of gorgeous structure inherent in it. She was inspired actually by a treatise that Sir Isaac Newton and written about optics and light and the continuum between the light and the sound spectrum.


Ashley Smiley: Yeah. I see aspects of science and engineering and physics that are combined into your work.


Ursula: Yeah, I guess I hadn't even thought of that.


Ashley Smiley: Yeah, it's a strong theme. I really appreciate it. So, are you from Berkeley or are you from New York or where did you grow up?


Ursula: So I'm originally from New York. I lived there for most of my life. I also lived in Boston for high school, but I moved back to New York for college, except for a year in London when I studied at the Royal College of Music for one year. I've been in New York and then five or six years ago now I moved to Berkeley. But now the last year I've been back in New York because my fiance is there and I'm getting ready to graduate and move back to New York for good. Although I really will miss Berkeley.


Ashley Smiley: Yeah, I imagine you've done so much great stuff here. I would love to get into talking more about what is your dissertation about?


Ursula: So my dissertation, which I recently finished, is a work for soprano and orchestra that's going to be performed either next fall or the following spring by the UC Berkeley Orchestra, which is very, very good. Conducted by David [Mens] with Anne Moss, the singer soloist. You might be surprised to know that in music, you can have a dissertation without any words. It's just music, you know? It's a musical score. That's my dissertation. I am so excited to hear it.


Ashley Smiley: So you said that your PhD has an emphasis in new media?


Ursula: Well, my thesis piece is it doesn't actually have new media in it. It's just for soprano and orchestra. An orchestra is like a hundred person unit, which you don't want to waste rehearsal time. And so, working with electronics can actually be quite tricky with orchestra.

So what I decided to do is do a separate piece that integrated new media with piano. So I'm a pianist and I'm actually performing a piece for prepared piano. So I'm putting magnets in the piano and prerecorded sounds. And so that's my new media piece.


Ashley Smiley: What do you mean you're putting magnets in a piano? What does that do?


Ursula: I mean, I'm putting little magnets on the strings and they stick to the strings, right? Because the strings are metal. And they create these cool bell-like sound.


Ashley Smiley: Whoa. That's really cool. So, okay. My question is what is a composer?


Ursula: Wow. What is a composer?


Ashley Smiley: What are the roles of a composer?


Ursula: So I guess I consider a composer to be someone who organizes sounds in space. I think you can compose electronic music on your computer by rearranging prerecorded sounds. You can also be a composer by writing things down on paper, but your, you know, structuring time with sound and there's a performance element, right?

You're not just doing it for yourself, you're doing it for an audience. Yeah.


Ashley Smiley: So then, do you play some of the instruments in these composed works or you write it and then so then it's out of your hands?


Ursula: I do both. I mean in this case, this piano and electronics piece, I'm playing it myself, but I have to say it's really nice to be in the audience. It's definitely easier to hear the sound balance, especially if you have four channel sound with complex samples. Like the samples for this piece it's called I Should Have Taken the Train, and it uses text written by a brilliant writer friend of mine, Hannah Howard back from Columbia, who recently published a memoir. And I am triggering these sound samples while I'm playing and so I have to have someone very good in the audience to sit and tell me the levels are correct, you know?

So that's when it's really nice to have someone else play something so that you can sit in the audience and set the level.


Ashley Smiley: Yeah. That makes sense. I noticed that you have various titles for your different pieces. I was kind of curious where these titles come from and, I mean, my guess is that you're writing these from your own life. I wanted to talk a little bit more about where those inspirations come from, if you're comfortable with that.


Ursula: Of course. I mean, they each ... I would say every piece of mine has its own story, its own. So I have a range of titles. Recent pieces would be like Unwinding, very string quartet. I actually did an Unwinding Two as well. Those were inspired by I had a severe bike accident about five years ago and afterwards I was having a lot of memory problems and severe headaches and I saw a craniosacral therapist who helped.

They call it unwinding. It's this process in which they sort of released the pressure on the various nerves in your head that are creating so much pain by shifting very subtly the plates of your head. It's this amazing feeling of relief and release. And so, I have a couple of pieces written about that process. What's another one? Sometimes they're just pulled directly from the text, like if I'm working with a writer. So this piece, Where the Eye Comes From. That's my thesis piece that's going to be performed, and it uses texts by the poet Josh Bell who teaches at Harvard and he wrote this just lovely poem, which I guess I'll just read a couple of lines from. Doesn't really do it justice. The whole poem's amazing, but here it is. Josh Bell, Where the Eye Comes From.

"Our days often ended and began with the sound of voices raised in song, even after we murdered our friends and neighbors. Even after we brought the attention of our knives to the neighbors of our neighbors. Until at last, the neighborhoods fell silent and the city's quiet in the city's city, and the country then annexed the country until finally the moon, as if its own reflection looked upon an earth that we had emptied nearly back to Eden."

So it's a really dark and depressing and wonderful poem that I felt accurately reflected how I felt after the 2016 presidential elections. I just had a piece performed called Black and Blue, which is totally different. It's a piece for electric guitar and 15 instruments and dancers that was just performed at the Berkeley Art Museum and Black and Blue is actually a title from a visual artist. Her name, she's a Korean artist that was originally based in Berkeley, Theresa Hucking Cha, who sadly passed away when she was young. She has amazing archive at Berkeley Art Museum, and so I took this piece of hers called Black and Blue and made my own piece out of that.


Ashley Smiley: That's incredible. I love how some of your works seem like they're filtering other pieces of art. Reflections on Rothko, I'm guessing is you writing music in response to the painter's abstract expressionists art.


Ursula: Yeah, so that's a piece that I really have enjoyed performing with this violist, Ellen Ruth Rose, she teaches here at Berkeley. She's an amazing violist and in that piece, I have a live camera feed on Ellen and her image is chroma keyed and projected against Rothko paintings. So there's like seven paintings in the piece. Then, so the piece is structured around those seven paintings. It starts sort of bluish in the middle. It's like yellow and red and then ends bluish again. I'm not exactly synesthetic but I do have really strong color associations with musical motifs. So for me, that's a yellow idea and that's very definitely yellow, because I mean, he has ... Rothko, these amazing, you know, vibrant sheets, squares of color and I find them very inspiring musically.


Ashley Smiley: What do you want your audience to take away from the stuff that you share?


Ursula: I think each piece, again, has its own genesis and its own emotional story. For the 2016 election, I probably won't share that with the audience. It's enough that they can read the poetry that spoke to me so much. The poetry is about mutual destruction and sort of held that desire for destruction is inherent in all of us and I think the poem speaks for itself. I don't need to talk about the elections, especially since that's such a polarizing topic. I'd prefer not to. But in a different piece, this more recent one for piano and electronics. I Should've Taken the Train. That one I definitely want the audience to connect with the message behind it. It's about a friend of mine who was assaulted and it's about her self-recrimination afterwards. You know, instead of blaming the man who assaulted her, she says repeatedly like, I should have taken the train. Like it was all my fault, essentially. I should have taken the train. And I think it's important for audiences to understand the mentality of young women. And I think that art is a place that you can put people emotionally in the space that someone else has occupied.

I definitely want my works to be emotionally moving for other people. I suppose it's in part because when I was composing, when I was young, it always felt like writing diary entries. Literally I'd be like 13 angry at my mom and I just write really angry woodwind quintet, you know? And what's nice about music is that then my mom would hear it and be like, that's an amazing woodwind quintet. Like she ... You know, music often doesn't share the source, right? It's just, you know, it's angry, it's full of energy, but you don't know what it's about. And sometimes that's really nice not having to have the specificity of text.


Ashley Smiley: When did you start playing and composing?


Ursula: Probably when I was around seven when I started taking piano lessons. I had a really wonderful piano teacher in New York City. Her name was Kathy Eddy and she had all of her students write music. I think it's such a good idea. I recently taught piano to a little six year old and he's so creative. Kids when you're like "Write music." They're like, "Okay." It's like coloring. There's no mental barriers, you know?

Ashley Smiley: Yeah.


Ursula: It's only later that you're like, I couldn't write music. Like what's ... You know, kid's, they're like, "Fine, I'll play around on the piano and here's my song."


Ashley Smiley: I mean, and it also makes me think about like the question of access because you said that when people paint or when you assign colors to music, there are clear patterns that come out. And so, if, you know, a child can paint, you know, perhaps they can also be creative with music, but who has access to to a piano when they're young or who has access to like something more affordable, like a box of crayons, you know?


Ursula: Yeah. I mean, it's one of the tragedies of classical music right now that there's really not much diversity anywhere in the world of classical music. And I do think that that goes back to childhood. to be a orchestra violinist, most people started when they were five. I started composing when I was seven. I played a million instruments when I was young and those have all helped me. And those are all privileges. They're all advantages that most people don't have. And so when you're trying to diversify, college is too late, you know? We have to start a system to help kids, young kids, become more involved and give them instruments, give them lessons, give them materials.


Ashley Smiley: If you're just now tuning in, you're listening to 90.7 FM KALX Berkeley. And you're listening to The Graduates, the interview talk show where we interact with graduate students here at UC Berkeley. And today we are joined by Ursula Kwong Brown from the Department of Music. So you've performed not just here in the United States in the bay area, in New York, and Chicago, but also in Europe, like Germany, London. What's the biggest difference from traveling and performing your work in other countries versus here in the United States? What's it like traveling for work?


Ursula: Well, it's wonderful traveling to these foreign countries and immediately having this small group of friends with common interests. New music world is actually quite small. I was in Darmstadt Germany in 2014 in some tiny town and oh, I ran into a friend that I met three years ago in France. And I mean, that's just what happens. And then I ran into someone I knew from California and then, I mean, these gatherings just pull people from all over the world. So I think you feel at home wherever you are. In terms of differences between Europe and the United States, public funding is a huge one. When I was in London at the Royal College of music in London, I remember that people weren't nervous about going into music the same way my friends at Julliard were. There had recently been an article in the New York Times about Julliard students selling their instruments to pay their rent, and it's actually not uncommon for Julliard musicians to leave music because they can't afford to stay. Whereas in London, healthcare is guaranteed, so you have to pay rent. You can always cash someone's couch, right? It's not the same fear of losing healthcare that drives people towards other jobs.


Ashley Smiley: That's so interesting to hear coming from STEM. Music versus integrative biology where where I'm at. There's a lot of similar anxieties in terms of funding and access to resources that you may need and also just early science education makes a huge difference in getting a more representative population in science. There are issues with diversity and inclusion and they're systemic and, I mean, I see that in science.

I'm interested in figuring out a way to address these issues and make them more transparent and also more available to the public to consider.


Ursula: Yeah, I mean I wish I had the answer there. I do feel like, you know, taxing the rich slightly more and giving more money to the arts and also to, you know, STEM education and all these things would be a really wonderful first step. I guess I would encourage people to compose, and especially encourage parents to have their kids compose music. I feel like in our society, there's this like mental barrier everyone has like, "Oh I can't write music.". Everybody can write music. Seriously. Listen to some-


Ashley Smiley: I don't know about that. I mean ...


Ursula: No, but listen to contemporary music. It often sounds like scribbling. You can do that. Like you don't have to write Beethoven music. You can write whatever sounds you want. It's just organizing sounds in space. So if it's something that interests you at all, do it. And I guess I say that in part because I just wish there were more women composers. I feel like there aren't enough.


Ashley Smiley: Yeah, I completely agree with that. And what I meant earlier about being skeptical about writing music, where do you get the tools that you need to know how to write music? You know what I mean?


Ursula: Yeah, I mean, one way that I've seen done in some public school outreach programs is using color maps, energy maps. You know, you ask a group of kids "How do you show something's loud?" And generally someone shouts out red and [inaudible 00:22:23], you know, if it's a jagged sound, do you want it to be a circle or triangle? Triangle, you know?


Ashley Smiley: Yeah.


Ursula: So you can just start assigning colors and shapes to different texture.


Ashley Smiley: That's really cool. Never thought about that before.


Ursula: I mean harmonically, it is a little more complex and I think that's where taking lessons when you're young is really helpful.


Ashley Smiley: Yeah. Okay. Yeah. You mentioned earlier you have a upcoming performance either sometime this fall or next spring, and that one is Where the Eye Comes From.


Ursula: Yes.


Ashley Smiley: And that's for soprano and orchestra with text by Josh Bell. So that one was going to be performed by the UC Berkeley symphony within Moss. So, listeners can stay tuned for the final date and time, and that one's going to be your ...


Ursula: That's my thesis piece. Yeah, that's my dissertation.


Ashley Smiley: So exciting. I wanted to ask the final question and I wanted to ask if you feel there are any issues that the general public should be thinking about? This is what we call the soapbox section.


Ursula: I feel like the bay area could really benefit from more racial diversity in the art scene, particularly the classical music scene. And even within that, the new music classical scene is just some of the least diverse concerts I've ever been to in my life. It makes me uncomfortable, you know? And I'm not sure why, because the people are all very nice. It's never a personal question. I feel like it's something structural that has to change. We have to make some tickets cheaper, free, and subsidize that with raising more money from donors, right? Or we just have to program slightly different music, like mix new music with some music that would be attracting a new audience, essentially.


Ashley Smiley: Yeah. I think that, you know, you're not alone in this mentality and you're not solely responsible for offering solutions to these issues. And I feel this sentiment coming not just from you and the music department, you know, across the board at Cal Berkeley and in the bay area, and part of this show is starting the conversation on how to have these discussions and introduce these topics of concern to the public. So, I appreciate you sharing that.


Ursula: And I guess even apart from the public performances, the university, we could do a much better job of pulling in diverse students into our ensembles. I mentioned we have a wonderful orchestra. It's not very diverse. We have a wonderful choir. It's also not diverse. There are ways to go out and find students that we want to be in those ensembles. Instead, we're just waiting for people to come to us and if people feel like they're not welcome in an environment because nobody looks like them there, they're never going to come. I think it's on us to go find diversity and bring it in.


Ashley Smiley: Yeah, I completely agree with you. On that note, it looks like we are out of time, unfortunately, but as a reminder to the listeners, be sure to look out for Ursula's upcoming performances in the bay area and the final performance composed by Ursula in the bay area. Well, I don't think it's going to be the final performance, but-


Ursula: Where the Eye Comes From.


Ashley Smiley: Where the Eye Comes From. So, be sure to look that up and it will be performed by the UC Berkeley symphony. Thank you so much for coming on the show, Ursula, and sharing both your stories and your work with the listeners.


Ursula: Thank you.


Speaker 1: (singing)



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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.