Community

You Know Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson. Now Meet Comedic Scientist Sophia Shrand.

By Jenny Abamu     Jun 19, 2018

You Know Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson. Now Meet Comedic Scientist Sophia Shrand.

There is an art to making science fun and entertaining. Bill Nye has done it, and so has Neil deGrasse Tyson. Maybe now it’s time for a woman? For this episode of the EdSurge On Air podcast, we’re joined Sophia Shrand, host of the comedic YouTube show, “Science with Sophie.”

“Science with Sophie” mixes a bit of feminism with science, a difficult combination of things to put together in a comedic fashion. EdSurge talked with Shrand about her comedic history and how educators can learn from her work, making science entertaining.

Listen to the podcast for the full interview below or on your favorite podcast app (like iTunes or Stitcher). Or read highlights from the conversation (which have been edited and condensed for clarity).

EdSurge: What is the goal of your show “Science with Sophie?” How did you begin it, and who was on your team?

Shrand: The goal of “Science with Sophie” is to provide strong female science role models to everybody. It sounds maybe a little wacky to say, “My audience is everyone.” But the primary audience is for kids, to get [them] excited about science. And I realized as a woman in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) that we don’t have any female role models on TV doing science. The only one that I had growing up was Ms. Frizzle from “The Magic School Bus.” And she’s a cartoon. She’s not a real person.

I decided if I can’t see it, I’m just going to be it. That’s the goal of “Science with Sophie,” to be the thing I wish I had when I was a kid. My writing team is all women. They’re all scientists, educators, and comedians. They’re from all over the country, and they weren’t hard to find. I like to say, “There are smart women all around you.”

How did you get into science, comedy and entertainment? That’s not usually an easy track to get into.

I have degrees in neuroscience and theater. I got those degrees at the same time. I went to Northeastern University in Boston, and it was one of the only schools I visited that didn’t look at me like I had three heads when I said those are the things I wanted to do. [My degrees] seem really different from each other, but they are, I think, looking at the world from different perspectives to answer similar questions. Like, why are we humans here? What are we doing here? What does it mean to be human? Why do we do what we do?

I think neuroscience and theater are super complimentary, so I always loved to combine science and theater in different ways. And then I moved to Chicago to study at Second City, which is a big comedy theater out here, and I really got the comedy skills under my belt. I performed at that theater for a while. It kind of all magnetized together to create this show that is comedy and art, in addition to all the science.

You make this so entertaining for kids, and science is not always the easiest subject to make entertaining. Is this something you’re naturally talented at, or is this something you can also teach teachers to learn from?

It’s something that I’ve been innately curious about for a very long time, and then have crafted these skills and practiced over time. I work at the Museum of Science and Industry [in Chicago] as well as creating “Science with Sophie,” and I teach 24,000 students a year. I get a lot of practice in terms of how to communicate, what works and what doesn’t work.

One of the things I’m thinking about is how to bring this to teachers as well. I’ve talked to a lot of teachers who are interested and would love to get on board with this kind of wacky approach.

What conversations have you had? What’s the main thing they’re concerned about, and what can they see themselves learning from you?

I think one of the main concerns that I hear from teachers a lot is how to mix this style and this new idea with standards that have to be met with the time constraints of being a teacher. You’re so busy. There’s no time. You have to do a million things and wear a million hats.

What I hope to provide with “Science with Sophie” is a resource that teachers can use. It aligns with the Next Generation Science Standards, so as teachers are transitioning to that method of teaching, you can use an episode to spark conversations. You can have fun in a new way while still knowing that it’s really quality science.

When I was watching your show, I was thinking about the other science figures that I’ve seen like Bill Nye or Neil DeGrasse Tyson. How would you say those figures might have influenced your work, and how would you describe “Science with Sophie” as different from what they did?

Bill Nye is a huge influence for me because I’m a kid of the ’90s. Watching “Bill Nye the Science Guy” was really impactful for me. I still love the show. When I go back and watch these episodes, they’re really smart, they’re really funny and really progressive. I definitely used some of that inspiration when I was thinking about what I want to create.

I also was thinking, “How do I bring that into this decade?” Because that was done over 20 years ago. While I love it because it’s nostalgic, and I still think it’s really strong, does that translate to kids today?

I’ve talked to a lot of teachers who are like, “Yep, we still use the Bill Nye videos in our classrooms, and they’re great. I would also love something else, something new and fresh. And something that has a woman.” Because that is really the gap that I noticed. We have Bill Nye, we have Neil DeGrasse Tyson, we have David Attenborough and we have Carl Sagan—all these amazing science figures and icons. But where are the women?

Women are doing science, so why aren’t we up there with just as much respect and notoriety and reputation? So that’s what I’m all about.

Have you received any pushback from your work?

There always are going to be some trolls, especially on the internet. That has increased as we’ve become more popular. The more eyeballs you have, the more people are going to be like, “I don’t like women.” But it’s pretty rare, honestly. Everybody who I’ve met in person and talked to about the show, and I would say 99.98 percent of people who watched it and given me feedback are like, “Oh, my gosh, this is so awesome.”

And that’s men and women. I have people on my team who are men, and that’s intentional, because a lot of times when I hear stuff about the gender gap, a lot of approaches that I see and hear about are kind of divisive. It’s a girls’-only space, or an “us versus them” mentality.

That is, I think, a missed opportunity because we all have to be part of the solution. Everybody needs to get in on this mission to promote equity across borders and boundaries here in our culture. So, let’s all do it, and let’s have fun doing it. If you notice in the show, it never says, “Come on, girls, let’s go.” It is simply showing by doing it. We have this strong female role model. She’s doing science. She’s being weird. She’s being goofy. She’s not perfect. She falls down. And when she falls down, she gets back up. So there are a lot of intentional messages sent, and it’s everyone invited to come play.

What is the next phase of “Science with Sophie?” What should we be looking forward to?

We are doing quite a bit of stuff right now. One thing is that, on the business side of stuff, I have been named a 2018 Camelback Ventures Fellow, which is very exciting because they focus on underrepresented entrepreneurs, so women and people of color. That’s been helping me in terms of how we look at our plan to create a widespread impact.

We’re going to be crowdfunding again for season two. We crowdfunded with just an idea. It didn’t even exist, and now we’ve made it. I’m really excited to bring that back to the world and say, “Let’s make more.”

And then we’re going to make more. Season two has more episodes and more experiments. We’re going to meet some exciting women in STEM. We’re going to meet more kids, too. They’re in the show. I can tell you that we have more types of science this time, as well. We’re expanding out so we really hit some technology stuff. I have the neuroscience background, so bio is my particular jam. Season one is bio-heavy because I love that. And we’re going to get really creative and wacky with it.

So where can people go if they want to support your work when the campaign launches?

We’ll be launching on Indiegogo. If you want to check out the series, we’re on YouTube. You can also go to sciencewithsophie.com, and that has all the episodes.

Community

You Know Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson. Now Meet Comedic Scientist Sophia Shrand.

By Jenny Abamu     Jun 19, 2018

You Know Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson. Now Meet Comedic Scientist Sophia Shrand.

There is an art to making science fun and entertaining. Bill Nye has done it, and so has Neil deGrasse Tyson. Maybe now it’s time for a woman? For this episode of the EdSurge On Air podcast, we’re joined Sophia Shrand, host of the comedic YouTube show, “Science with Sophie.”

“Science with Sophie” mixes a bit of feminism with science, a difficult combination of things to put together in a comedic fashion. EdSurge talked with Shrand about her comedic history and how educators can learn from her work, making science entertaining.

Listen to the podcast for the full interview below or on your favorite podcast app (like iTunes or Stitcher). Or read highlights from the conversation (which have been edited and condensed for clarity).

EdSurge: What is the goal of your show “Science with Sophie?” How did you begin it, and who was on your team?

Shrand: The goal of “Science with Sophie” is to provide strong female science role models to everybody. It sounds maybe a little wacky to say, “My audience is everyone.” But the primary audience is for kids, to get [them] excited about science. And I realized as a woman in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) that we don’t have any female role models on TV doing science. The only one that I had growing up was Ms. Frizzle from “The Magic School Bus.” And she’s a cartoon. She’s not a real person.

I decided if I can’t see it, I’m just going to be it. That’s the goal of “Science with Sophie,” to be the thing I wish I had when I was a kid. My writing team is all women. They’re all scientists, educators, and comedians. They’re from all over the country, and they weren’t hard to find. I like to say, “There are smart women all around you.”

How did you get into science, comedy and entertainment? That’s not usually an easy track to get into.

I have degrees in neuroscience and theater. I got those degrees at the same time. I went to Northeastern University in Boston, and it was one of the only schools I visited that didn’t look at me like I had three heads when I said those are the things I wanted to do. [My degrees] seem really different from each other, but they are, I think, looking at the world from different perspectives to answer similar questions. Like, why are we humans here? What are we doing here? What does it mean to be human? Why do we do what we do?

I think neuroscience and theater are super complimentary, so I always loved to combine science and theater in different ways. And then I moved to Chicago to study at Second City, which is a big comedy theater out here, and I really got the comedy skills under my belt. I performed at that theater for a while. It kind of all magnetized together to create this show that is comedy and art, in addition to all the science.

You make this so entertaining for kids, and science is not always the easiest subject to make entertaining. Is this something you’re naturally talented at, or is this something you can also teach teachers to learn from?

It’s something that I’ve been innately curious about for a very long time, and then have crafted these skills and practiced over time. I work at the Museum of Science and Industry [in Chicago] as well as creating “Science with Sophie,” and I teach 24,000 students a year. I get a lot of practice in terms of how to communicate, what works and what doesn’t work.

One of the things I’m thinking about is how to bring this to teachers as well. I’ve talked to a lot of teachers who are interested and would love to get on board with this kind of wacky approach.

What conversations have you had? What’s the main thing they’re concerned about, and what can they see themselves learning from you?

I think one of the main concerns that I hear from teachers a lot is how to mix this style and this new idea with standards that have to be met with the time constraints of being a teacher. You’re so busy. There’s no time. You have to do a million things and wear a million hats.

What I hope to provide with “Science with Sophie” is a resource that teachers can use. It aligns with the Next Generation Science Standards, so as teachers are transitioning to that method of teaching, you can use an episode to spark conversations. You can have fun in a new way while still knowing that it’s really quality science.

When I was watching your show, I was thinking about the other science figures that I’ve seen like Bill Nye or Neil DeGrasse Tyson. How would you say those figures might have influenced your work, and how would you describe “Science with Sophie” as different from what they did?

Bill Nye is a huge influence for me because I’m a kid of the ’90s. Watching “Bill Nye the Science Guy” was really impactful for me. I still love the show. When I go back and watch these episodes, they’re really smart, they’re really funny and really progressive. I definitely used some of that inspiration when I was thinking about what I want to create.

I also was thinking, “How do I bring that into this decade?” Because that was done over 20 years ago. While I love it because it’s nostalgic, and I still think it’s really strong, does that translate to kids today?

I’ve talked to a lot of teachers who are like, “Yep, we still use the Bill Nye videos in our classrooms, and they’re great. I would also love something else, something new and fresh. And something that has a woman.” Because that is really the gap that I noticed. We have Bill Nye, we have Neil DeGrasse Tyson, we have David Attenborough and we have Carl Sagan—all these amazing science figures and icons. But where are the women?

Women are doing science, so why aren’t we up there with just as much respect and notoriety and reputation? So that’s what I’m all about.

Have you received any pushback from your work?

There always are going to be some trolls, especially on the internet. That has increased as we’ve become more popular. The more eyeballs you have, the more people are going to be like, “I don’t like women.” But it’s pretty rare, honestly. Everybody who I’ve met in person and talked to about the show, and I would say 99.98 percent of people who watched it and given me feedback are like, “Oh, my gosh, this is so awesome.”

And that’s men and women. I have people on my team who are men, and that’s intentional, because a lot of times when I hear stuff about the gender gap, a lot of approaches that I see and hear about are kind of divisive. It’s a girls’-only space, or an “us versus them” mentality.

That is, I think, a missed opportunity because we all have to be part of the solution. Everybody needs to get in on this mission to promote equity across borders and boundaries here in our culture. So, let’s all do it, and let’s have fun doing it. If you notice in the show, it never says, “Come on, girls, let’s go.” It is simply showing by doing it. We have this strong female role model. She’s doing science. She’s being weird. She’s being goofy. She’s not perfect. She falls down. And when she falls down, she gets back up. So there are a lot of intentional messages sent, and it’s everyone invited to come play.

What is the next phase of “Science with Sophie?” What should we be looking forward to?

We are doing quite a bit of stuff right now. One thing is that, on the business side of stuff, I have been named a 2018 Camelback Ventures Fellow, which is very exciting because they focus on underrepresented entrepreneurs, so women and people of color. That’s been helping me in terms of how we look at our plan to create a widespread impact.

We’re going to be crowdfunding again for season two. We crowdfunded with just an idea. It didn’t even exist, and now we’ve made it. I’m really excited to bring that back to the world and say, “Let’s make more.”

And then we’re going to make more. Season two has more episodes and more experiments. We’re going to meet some exciting women in STEM. We’re going to meet more kids, too. They’re in the show. I can tell you that we have more types of science this time, as well. We’re expanding out so we really hit some technology stuff. I have the neuroscience background, so bio is my particular jam. Season one is bio-heavy because I love that. And we’re going to get really creative and wacky with it.

So where can people go if they want to support your work when the campaign launches?

We’ll be launching on Indiegogo. If you want to check out the series, we’re on YouTube. You can also go to sciencewithsophie.com, and that has all the episodes.

Next In Community

STAY UP TO DATE ON EDTECH
News, research, and opportunities - sent weekly.
STAY UP TO DATE ON EDTECH
News, research, and opportunities - sent weekly.