(48) Droppin’ Science with Emily

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Emily Calandrelli from Netflix’s “Emily’s Wonder Lab” stops by to talk about her experience as a woman in the STEM world, and how she’s raising her daughter to be science-minded. We also discuss the coronavirus, show business, and just how pregnant she was filming her show! I didn’t think it was possible for her to be more likable than she is on TV, but I was wrong.

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Brandy:            Hello, Adult Conversation Podcast listeners. If your kids have ever binge-watched Emily’s Wonder Lab on Netflix, you will recognize today’s guest. Emily herself stops by to talk about her experience as a woman in the STEM world (STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math) along with the process of getting her own show and filming it while super pregnant. We also talk about her scientific take on the coronavirus, what ultimately motivated her into the STEM field, what she wishes she’d known as a little girl, and how she’s raising her own daughter to be science-minded. I didn’t think it was possible for her to be more likable than she is on TV, but I was wrong.

Brandy:            If you enjoy the podcast, chances are you’ll love my novel, especially right now while you might need some validation, humor, and a wild trip to Vegas if only in your mind. Titled Adult Conversation: A Novel, it’s a darkly comedic story about the relentlessness of modern motherhood where the main character seeks an answer to the question, “Is motherhood broken, or am I?” After a series of relatable mom wins and failures, she and her therapist end up on a Thelma and Louise style road trip to Vegas where they are attempted and tested while finding lost pieces of themselves that motherhood swallowed up. You can find it in all the usual places, or you can go to my website, https://www.adultconversation.com to find out more. And the audiobook version of it just recently came out which I narrated, so now’s your chance to pop in some air pods or earbuds and multitask and self-care at the same time. On to the show —

Brandy:            Today on the podcast, I’m talking to the star of a new Netflix series that your kids likely love called Emily’s Wonder Lab. The show’s host, Emily Calandrelli, teaches kids all about science as they make huge messes that I hope my kids don’t ask to make, and she’s here today to talk to me about being a female in the male dominated science field along with what it’s like to get a Netflix special of your very own. So, welcome to the podcast, Emily.

Emily:               Hi. Thanks for having me.

Brandy:            Yes, I’m so glad you’re here today. It’s so exciting because you’re like a celebrity in my house, and when I told my kids that I was interviewing you, they were both freaking out. {laughter} I asked my daughter (who’s seven years old), “What would you want to ask her?” And she just said, “I would just tell her really nice things if I sent her a text message.”

Emily:               Aww, so nice.

Brandy:            {laughter} So, that’s what my daughter has to say. Like many families right now, we have plowed through Netflix’s offerings, and my daughter is just really into science. She binge-watched your show in like a half a day. I have to say that it was so engaging that I found myself watching it as well, and that was partly because you are adorable in raspberry colored overalls at like nine months pregnant. {laughter}

Emily:               {laughter}

Brandy:            How far along were you while you were filming this?

Emily:               Yeah, 35 and 36 weeks pregnant.

Brandy:            Oh, my goodness. {laughter} And you were dancing on the oobleck! I was so worried for you when the kids were like, “Aren’t you gonna get on it?” And I’m like, “Kids, no! Center of gravity. Totally different.” {laughter}

Emily:               {laughter}

Brandy:            But, you did it!

Emily:               I know, I know. It was such a trip because I’d never known what it was like to be pregnant. That was my first time, and I wasn’t sure what my capabilities would be filming a big show like that. Surprisingly, it all went really well. I felt really great. I was pretty lucky to have a smooth pregnancy. I probably took more breaks than I normally would, drink more water than I normally would, and maybe was a bit more careful. But, other than that, I felt pretty great.

Brandy:            Awesome. I have so many things I want to ask you about with the show and your background, but first, what is something that you think the listeners need to know about you?

Emily:               I’m getting more well-known for science related stuff now, but when I was growing up, I was not a kid that knew that I wanted to be in science. I didn’t consider myself one of the smart kids, and I think that influences the way that I talk about science a lot now. Now, I’ve gotten four degrees of science and engineering, two of which from MIT, and I feel like a lot of times when people talk to me, they maybe don’t assume that I never thought that I would be in this type of world or field. So, when I talk about science, I’m very in tune to what people know and what they don’t know, and I never want to make anyone feel stupid. I always try to meet them at their level. Everything that I do when it comes to science is done through empathy and kindness. I’m always trying to just bring everybody along and make sure everybody feels welcomed in this field.

Brandy:            Oh, my God. Why are you the best person ever?

Emily:               {laughter}

Brandy:            That’s amazing. This is what needs to happen. It’s like the left brain and parts of the right brain – and the masculine and feminine coming together divinely as a really beautiful balance.

Emily:               Yeah.

Brandy:            I love that. That was actually one of my first questions: When did you first know that you were into science? I didn’t want to just assume that you knew when you were little. So, when did you know?

Emily:               Right. I think that kids that I know, like the people in my field who always knew that they wanted to be scientists and engineers, they knew scientists and engineers when they were little. I didn’t. I was the first person in my family to pursue a degree in STEM, so becoming a scientist or engineer was just such a foreign concept to me. When I was a high school senior, I did like math. I wasn’t a huge fan of science, but I liked math. I was a very practical high school student. I literally Googled all of the majors that one could major in in college, and I looked at their starting salaries.

Brandy:            {laughter}

Emily:               I found that engineers who use a lot of math often have pretty well-paying jobs. I was like, “Uh, the next four years of my life are going to suck, but I’m going to end up with a good job at the end” Then, I went to college, and I found all of these wonderful things about studying engineering and all of the different adventures that you can have. You can travel the world, and you can do research in different countries and in different states. I just had so many fun adventures. I became enamored with the concept of engineering. I became enamored with the space industry because my major is work in aerospace related fields. I kind of reluctantly joined but enthusiastically stayed.

Brandy:            Oh, wow. I’m just surprised because I feel like in my generation, when I was going to high school, I feel like kids were rebelling and were like, “We’re not looking for the money. We’re looking for something that fills us up or is important in this world.” And we’ve all now regretted that. {laughter} So, just to let you know how that pans out. I’m hearing what you’re saying which is that you were thinking about getting a good job and what that was gonna provide for your life which I just think is great because you won’t have the same regrets that some of us had. {laughter} But also, I love that that actually ended up matching because there are lots of things that somebody could go, “Oh, I want to get an MBA,” and then 10 years into working in that field, you’re like, “I actually hate this.” I love for you that the thing that could get you a great job, that you were interested in, actually also was marrying your love of things that you didn’t even know you were gonna love until you were in them. I just love that story.

Emily:               Yeah. For me, I didn’t really have — I mean, my dad grew up in poverty, and he brought our family to middle class. I had that legacy to encourage me to do the same or maybe pressure me to do the same.

Brandy:            Yeah.

Emily.               I think some kids out there don’t really have the liberty to be like, “What in my wildest dreams would I like to do to make the world a better place?” That wasn’t really something that I thought about a lot. Of course, I wanted to make the world a better place, but the first thing I wanted to do was to make sure that me and my family had everything that we needed. For a lot of kids out there, I do think that’s not really part of their thinking when it comes to, “What do I want to be when I grow up?”

Brandy:            Yeah, that is such a good point because I’m looking back and I’m thinking about being in that middle class. There were a lot of well-to-do (for our area) kids in our school. We all had the luxury of thinking of that because we had always had a safety net.

Emily.               Right.

Brandy:            But the irony here is that the kids who did that and who had that safety net, I think some of them grew up who chose the thing that “I want to do with my life” and “what are my passions and my talents” are now struggling more than maybe their parents were because of kind of the shit economy that we’re in and a lot of different things. It’s interesting how maybe it kind of flip flops so that kids that thought they had a safety net maybe today are struggling. Not to say that the kids who didn’t have a safety net aren’t also struggling, but you’ve opened my eyes to an interesting motivation for why at those ages, we choose the career paths that we do.

Emily:               Yeah, sure.

Brandy:            What messages did you get? You were coming to it a little bit later, but what messages did you get, whether obvious or more subtle, about being a girl and liking science?

Emily:               They were all very subtle. For me, I was lucky enough to not experience very blatant sexism from people in power, which was really nice — or at least none that I really noticed. There would be micro-sexism things along the way from my peers that would be kind of obnoxious. When I was in the Astronomy Club, an undergrad, I was applying to be the President of the Astronomy Club. I was going up against this one guy, and we both gave our speeches as to why we thought we would be the best president of the Astronomy Club. Then, everybody in the club voted, they counted the votes, and they announced the winner in front of the club. I was the winner. He, in a very frustrated moment, exclaimed to me and to everyone in the room, “You only won because you wore a tank top today,” and then stormed out of the room.

Brandy:            Ah.

Emily:               Things like that are a little bit obnoxious. I was in a group project once where we were working on an engineering project. I think the guys in the project decided they wanted to do some type of gun as the engineering project. I don’t really care about guns, but I was like, “Whatever. It’s an interesting engineering, technology design. I’m happy to work on it.” They were showing a video of how the gun works. It was just like in the fields. There was no gore. I mean, it was just the way that the gun operated technically. One of the guys asked me if I wanted to leave the room while he showed it to the rest of the guys in the group, just to be a gentleman. I was like, “What? I am someone who’s probably going to do most of the work on this project. You want me in this room to be able to do all of that work. No, I’m not going to leave the room.” I don’t know. You get things like that along the way that are always very annoying, but you kind of just brush them off. I think some women in this field get so many of those that they’re just like, “You know what? I don’t really want to deal with this anymore,” and they leave to a different type of career which is totally understandable. That’s just the bare minimum of what happens.

Brandy:            Ugh.

Emily:               There are lots of other things that go on. Just walking into a room of 50 guys and being one of only two or three girls in the class will automatically make you feel a little different. I had a professor that would, every once in a while, call on people for answers, and he would ask the class if anybody wanted to speak on one of the questions that he had asked. Then every once in a while, he’d be like, “Okay, I need to hear from the girls. Alright, girls? Girls, what do you think the answer is?” He would very obviously point us out, and that would always make me feel a little awkward.

Brandy:            Oh, gosh. I am so sorry. That’s so ridiculous that they would think that you couldn’t handle the gun technology or whatever. I had to laugh when you said, “I’m going to be the one doing most of the work anyway.” Is that something else that you noticed in that you would be the one that would do a bulk of the work when you were in groups?

Emily:               Yes, but I think that was probably situational. I think that the types of people that were in my program, many of them were maybe less interested in schoolwork and more interested in the party aspect of college. {laughter} I knew that there were a handful of people that I would always want to partner with because they were always really, really good partners, but you can’t always choose who you work with in every class. I think many of the projects I was in, I went into it knowing that I was going to be doing the bulk of the work.

Brandy:            Oh, man. That’s so frustrating because I feel like that’s just part of the whole motherhood experience to unwrap sometimes, too. A lot on this podcast, we talk about the unseen work of motherhood. Especially for those of us who have been in it for a decent amount of time, it doesn’t seem like that’s going to happen, and we have all the intentions that it won’t, but then it’s interesting to look at these conscious but also subconscious agreements that we all have about what is woman’s work and what is man’s work. It sounds like you were getting this whole other education and really learning how to fight back too. I don’t mean fight back like you were just having a revolution all over the campus and burning shit down, but I mean that that you were learning how to be discriminated against — maybe not in such an overt way, but like you said, “These little things,” but then how to keep going or maybe how to stand up to that. I guess that’s what I want to ask you about. Some people, you said, were like, “Some women get too sick of it, and they’re like, ‘Okay, I’m out of here,’” but what was it that made it so that you stuck with it and you were like, “I’m gonna put up with this?” Or, did you not put up with it? Did you stand up for yourself or try to educate these men about what they were doing?

Emily:               No, I think that I wish that I had the education back then. Keep in mind, this is over 10 years ago. This was before the “woke feminism” that we’ve experienced today. Of course, feminism has been around for a very long time, but it wasn’t totally mainstream for everybody for a while. Back then, I didn’t have the right tools to be able to stand up for myself or even recognize what was happening.

Brandy:            Yeah, totally.

Emily:               I think for me, it was just sort of like, “That’s annoying. That person’s annoying. I have a goal that I want to reach, and I’m not going to let that person stand in the way of my goal,” which at the time was getting good grades and building my resume so that I could get into a good grad school so that I could eventually get a good job and just focusing on my priorities and not allowing other people to affect those I think was something that really helped me.

Brandy:            Wow, that’s amazing. What a useful skill. Dang, that’s awesome. How did your show idea come about? Where in your journey was that seed planted? Did you think a while back, “Wouldn’t it be fun to have this show?” Or, was it thinking about having a family yourself? Where did it come from?

Emily:               I’ve been in the science TV world for about seven years now. I have my own show on Saturday mornings on FOX called Xploration Outer Space that I started hosting as soon as I graduated from grad school. That’s turned into this multi-Emmy nominated show that’s been around for a while. We’re premiering our sixth season of that show this year which is pretty cool.

Brandy:            Oh, wow.

Emily:               That platform has helped me grow my niche in this world a lot. From there, I started doing children’s books. I became a correspondent for Bill Nye on his Netflix show, Bill Nye Saves the World. Then for about four years, I had been working with a producer, who works for Murray Productions, and we’ve been working on this idea of a children’s science show. We’ve been pitching it to various networks. We even shot a pilot at one point, but we got the feedback that it was “too sciency” for their audience.

Brandy:            Oh.

Emily:               That was pretty disappointing to hear. With a lot of these networks, their leadership changes every so often. Some people go from one network to another. Anyways, long story short, someone at Netflix, who had seen our pitch before at a different studio, was like, “Hey, I think that the people at Netflix would really like to hear this science, kid show pitch.” So, we go in, and we pitch it. Now mind you, this show that we’re pitching is one where I’m an actor, and I’m working with a bunch of kids. One of them is my theoretical niece, and we do a bunch of science experiments in my lab after school. The feedback we got a week later from Netflix was like, “We like the general concept, but we really like Emily. We want her to play herself. We don’t want her to be an actor. She’s very genuine in her excitement for science. She has the background to lend credibility to that. Come back to us with a different show where Emily is just playing herself.” And we did that. We created Emily’s Wonder Lab, and they said “yes” not actually knowing that I was pregnant at the time. We pitched it when I wasn’t showing. I announced that I was pregnant, and then a week later, Netflix said “yes.” They knew that I was pregnant when they said “yes,” but, it wasn’t intentional that I was going to be pregnant while filming this. They were like, “Should we film the show before or after the baby?” I was like, “I don’t know what it’s like to have a baby. I hear it’s pretty hard, so let’s do this before the baby comes.”

Brandy:            {laughter} I would just imagine that there are conversations like, “Okay, let’s try it earlier in the pregnancy,” and then someone’s like, “No, we’re gonna do 35 and 36 weeks.” We are doubling down on this. {laughter} How did that come about?

Emily:               {laughter} Everything moved so fast. I think I was like six and a half months pregnant when they said “yes.”

Brandy:            Oh, got it.

Emily:               The production had to move so quickly. I mean, as soon as they said “yes,” I started working on preproduction because I’m also a co-executive producer for the show.

Brandy:            Ah, awesome.

Emily:               I helped come up with all the science that I actually do on the show. We worked in preproduction for maybe a month and a half or two months. Then right after that, we started going to LA testing out the experiments. After that, we started filming. Everything was fast, fast, fast.

Brandy:            Right. Because you had the clock ticking down.

Emily:               We had a deadline. {laughter} Yeah.

Brandy:            Yes.

Emily:               They’re like, “Well, she physically needs to be back home by 36 weeks and change, so that’s our timeline.”

Brandy:            It’s interesting when you said that one of the networks got back to that the show you guys were pitching was “too sciency.” What exactly does that mean? I know my kids also watch Brainchild which I think is a great mix of learning but also fun and funny. Were they saying that the previous show that you pitched didn’t have enough fun? How is a science show to sciency?

Emily:               That is also my question. I think they thought they wanted a science show, and then what they saw what a science show looked like, they were like, “No. Actually, we just want a show with a bunch of colors and explosions and no explanation as to why they happen whatsoever.” {laughter}

Brandy:            Ah, awesome. {laughter} That makes no sense.

Emily:               Yeah, you have to be very flexible. You kind of have to know what you’re not willing to compromise on, and then be flexible on everything else because every network has their own mandate as to what they need to fill in the market for their particular business at the moment. So, it’s a mixture of entertainment but also business. All of that goes into the world of changing administrations. When all of that changes, their priorities change. It’s such a fascinating business to be involved with.

Brandy:            Yeah, a lot of ins and outs there. My entry point to you is obviously Emily’s Wonder Lab, but you were saying that for seven years, you’ve had this kid’s show that’s on Saturday mornings. How did you get involved in catering to kids? Is that something that you knew that you wanted to do, or did that that kind of fall in your lap?

Emily:               My show, Xploration Outer Space, is actually geared toward adults. It’s for like high school and college level students, but when I was graduating from MIT, I got a call from a production company that was like, “Would you like to be the host of a space show?”

Brandy:            Wow.

Emily:               It all happened very serendipitously. It was one of those like “they discovered me” moments, I guess. I think the way that it actually happened was when I went to West Virginia University, I was a girl, I had a 4.0, I was getting all of these national scholarships and awards, and so for them, I was making WVU look pretty good.

Brandy:            Yeah.

Emily:               I think that they saw that, and they used me as like a poster child which was wonderful. I mean, I’m forever thankful that I went to West Virginia University because the support system I had there was just bar none. The type of publicity that they gave me to get my name out there was just wonderful. They are the reason that I was able to get this opportunity that helped launch my career. So, I said “yes” to that. After a couple years of that, I started doing children’s books. That was my “in” to doing science work for kids. My children’s books are called the Ada Lace Adventures. There are five books in the series. I sent the third book to the International Space Station a couple years ago. That was my entry into this world of kids, and ever since then, I’ve been trying to pitch a science show for kids. This was the fruition of the end of four years of work trying to get this out there.

Brandy:            Oh, congratulations on that.

Emily:               Thank you.

Brandy:            It’s a huge accomplishment. I don’t think people realize how much goes on behind the scenes, and how much pitching, rejection, pitching, rejection happens in that.

Emily:               Oh, my gosh. Yes.

Brandy:            When I heard about your show and then I reached out to you, I was thinking, “What a great moment to get your show picked up on Netflix.” Obviously, you had other shows happening as well, but what a huge accomplishment. The timing is so serendipitous, too, because everybody’s home. We have no choice.

Emily:               Yeah.

Brandy:            Everybody’s just going through Netflix, and so you are probably being watched even more than you would have been without a pandemic.

Emily:               I know, so true. I was pregnant. My daughter just turned one. We made this over a year ago, and it was a totally different world back then. We had no idea that we would be living in this pandemic, apocalyptic world.

Brandy:            {laughter} Yes.

Emily:               The goal is to have this show be useful to parents and educators and hopefully, especially useful to families and educators during this time.

Brandy:            Yeah, absolutely. Well, I wasn’t kidding about the messes. I love it because it’s science, and science is messy. But my daughter was like, “I want to do all of these,” and I’m like, “Baby, I’m barely hanging on here. We’re in a pandemic. I don’t even think I can handle a mess right now.” {laughter}

Emily:               I know, I know.

Brandy:            But I’m getting to the place where I think maybe I could hack it. I think some of my bandwidth is coming back. Some things are getting stable. {laughter}

Emily:               Do it outside. Go out on the sidewalk and make the mess outside. Then, just like hose it down. {laughter}

Brandy:            Yeah, hose it down is a great life mantra. {laughter} Just hose it down.

Emily:               {laughter}

Brandy:            As a scientist, just curiously, do you have any insight or ideas about coronavirus or about this pandemic that we may not have heard? Where are you at with it? What do you know about it that maybe we don’t? Is there any piece of information, scientific or otherwise, even just coming from another person in the pandemic that you would share with us?

Emily:               For me, this has been a really interesting moment in science communication because with science communication, oftentimes it’s, “Here’s this complicated thing that we know for sure, and let’s just find creative ways to explain it simply so that a lot of people can understand it.” But with coronavirus, they’re still learning so much about it. There’s still so much uncertainty and still so much that we don’t know. Science is very much like putting a puzzle together and guessing what the final picture is of the puzzle as every step of the way where you get to put more and more pieces down. You get the edge pieces, and it’s like, “Okay, I think this is a picture ‘x.’” Then, you get more and more pieces in, you make another guess, you get more pieces, and you make another guess. That’s what science is. We’re just continually trying to create the best theory that fits the picture that we have with the data that we have right now. Science communication to the public becomes even more complex when we are in those early phases, and we don’t have all of the pieces yet. So of course, you create sometimes a distrust where you make a guess as to what the picture is, and then it turns out that guess is wrong. That happened with masks. We didn’t have enough data to show that masks were effective, and so many people that the first advice was like, “Only use N95 masks. Regular masks don’t work. It’s silly if you use them.” Then, we found out that there was a shortage of PPE. Then, we were like, “Don’t use N95. The doctors need them.” Then, we learned from early studies that masks are actually kind of effective in protecting me and protecting you, so let’s start to use them. We’re kind of hugging the public around in all of these different directions, and it’s understandable that people are confused. I think the mantra that I’ve found really helpful is “time, space, people, place” when it comes to lowering your risk. The whole game of coronavirus is just managing your own risk and figuring out how to do that. Time: you can lower your risk by spending less time with a lot of people, people spending less time with fewer people, and not being in groups of a ton of people. Space: being outside is less risky than being inside and enclosed. Smaller spaces are more dangerous, so larger spaces, primarily outside, would be great with fewer people with fewer time. Something like that, that is what I’ve personally found helpful in thinking about how to lower me and my family’s risk.

Brandy:            That’s so helpful, your take on it. I’ve seen some scientists post about like, “You guys are getting to see what the scientific process is like,” which is exactly like what you’re saying. It sounds like with the puzzle pieces of a lot of guessing, trying, failing, going back, and “that wasn’t right.” As a public, we’re like, “We want the right answer immediately.”

Emily:               Exactly.

Brandy:            I feel so bad for people who are actually trying to research this and who are trying their best and having natural experiences with the scientific process of, “We thought this. But no, this.” And then, having an entire public berate them. I’m like, “What are we doing people? Can we just pause for a moment and give this the space?” This is new, and how do we expect long term data in month one?

Emily:               Exactly. For me, it’s really interesting when science becomes a political thing. Inherently, science shouldn’t be political, but of course, because humans interact with science, it always is.

Brandy:            Yeah.

Emily:               It feels like the liberal stance on masks is like, “Wear a mask and protect others,” and then the conservative stance is like, “That inhibits my freedom in this country, and you can’t tell me what to do,” even though we do a lot of things that we’re told to do, like wear seatbelts.

Brandy:            Yeah.

Emily:               Another example that a fellow science communicator said was, “Wear condoms,” because it’s something that we we’re asking you to do. You are not required by law to do it, but it protects you, it protects your partner, and it protects the people that you are interacting with.

Brandy:            Right.

Emily:               It’s a good idea to do it, and it shouldn’t be a political thing as to whether or not you choose to do that. Masks are very similar in that. This is really to protect your community. It’s to protect yourself and your family and everybody around you, especially those who are like immunocompromised and older and maybe have health issues. It’s very interesting to stand back as a science communicator and watch this all unfold.

Brandy:            Oh, totally. I read something the other day that’s not totally science related, but I think somebody said, “My girlfriend is a librarian, and she reminds me all the time that if libraries weren’t around and they were going to be invented today, people would be completely against them.” I mean, could you imagine now, if that didn’t exist, and we were like, “There’s going to be a place where you can get information and resources.” I mean, the politicization of that would be a right wing/left wing thing, but like you’re saying, there are things like the seat belt and the condom that are the same kind of thing. If we tried to pass a law today about seat belts, I don’t know that it would pass for the same reason that people are having a hard time with masks.

Emily:               Right. Yeah. It’s so fascinating to me that this became an issue about freedom and not just like being a decent human.

Brandy:            Yeah.

Emily:               {Audio trouble} Are you there?

Brandy:            Uh, oh. Are you back?

Emily:               I’m back. I’m sorry about this. I think this is my fault. This is definitely my tech issues.

Brandy:            Girl, do not even stress about it.

Emily:               I really should be on top of this.

Brandy:            No, this is life. I mean, this is literally life in a pandemic trying to do the best we can.

Emily:               {laughter} That’s right.

Brandy:            Like, we’ve all been there. It’s all good. I had a woman I was interviewing a couple days ago, and she was trying to get her toddler to take a nap. For the first five minutes, he was screaming in the background while she was furiously texting her husband. {laughter} It was one of the most relatable moments that I’ve had.

Emily:               Oh, my gosh. I know. These Zoom dinner dates that we try to have for our own sanity and my daughter is like one and change, and she won’t always cooperate. I’m just like, “I don’t even know why we try to do these things.” This not super fun.

Brandy:            No, I feel like everything with kids that age is just tricky. It always, in theory, is like, “Oh, how fun. People can see each other,” and then you’re like, “Stop touching the button. Stop touching the buttons. Don’t do that.” {laughter}

Emily:               Yeah, like, “What do you need? What do you need? Why are you crying? Why are you so mad?” {laughter}

Brandy:            Yeah, so hard. Another thing that I wanted to ask you was: Now, I would imagine being on Netflix, you’re getting recognized more. What is it like to be recognized, and are kids noticing you? I mean, I would imagine you’re not out quite as much. How happy are you that you’re recognized for being smart and fun instead of being on some garbage reality show?

Emily:               {laughter}

Brandy:            Which I would totally watch, by the way? Like, I’m not above that at all.

Emily:               I’m a huge fan of The Bachelor. I find those people so fascinating, too. It’s interesting for this to come out now because I am not going out, and when I do, I have a mask on. So, I haven’t gotten recognized once since I left the house.

Brandy:            True.

Emily:               It’s so funny because I love that kind of stuff. I get recognized, every once in a while, for my other work that I’ve done, and it’s always the best feeling. I am never annoyed by it probably because it doesn’t happen all that often, so when it does, I feel so cool.

Brandy:            {laughter} You need to have a shirt that says, “I host Emily’s Wonder Lab,” just so that people know.

Emily:               I’ll have a picture of my face on my chest.

Brandy:            Yes, exactly. People need to know.

Emily:               It will definitely be awesome when that does happen because I enjoy it anytime, but if a little kid and their family comes up and they’re like, “We love your science,” it makes my heart melt.

Brandy:            Aww.

Emily:               It will absolutely be the best when this is all over, but when is this ever at all going to be over? Who knows?

Brandy:            I know. {sighs}

Emily:               I hope that Emily’s Wonder Lab is so popular like a year and a half from now.

Brandy:            Yes. Well, I was going to ask if guys got picked up for another season, or is everything on hold because of the way that things are in the pandemic?

Emily:               We haven’t heard yet. We’re all still crossing our fingers. I would love, love, love that. I have a running document of ideas for future episodes. As soon as they give the green light, I’m ready to go. It’s fascinating because I’ve been applying for other shows, and the way that it works is that production is still going on for new shows, but the people who are filming, the cast and crew, have to be in these bubbles. You go to LA, you quarantine for two weeks, and then you go live in a house with either other people that are filming or your family, and nobody is allowed to leave the house except those who film. Everybody gets tested like every three days, and it’s tracked so incredibly well that if one person gets it, they know every single other person that they’ve interacted with so that they can trace it. Then, if it spreads, they have to shut the entire production down which is why they’re so careful about it. It’s fascinating that TV production is still going on.

Brandy:            Yeah, totally. I think I heard of a friend of mine who has another friend that’s a videographer for hockey. That was the same thing. They switch out, but they have to do this two-week quarantine. Then, you’re in a bubble, and that’s not how we’re used to living.

Emily:               It sounds very cool in the sense that you have an interesting story to tell once this all is over, but it also sounds awful for everybody else that you’re bringing with you. Would I actually bring my husband and daughter into a house and just be like, “Okay, we’re going to live here for six weeks, and you guys can’t leave. I’m going to go do my dream job, but you guys have fun not doing anything in this house. Sorry. Bye.” {laughter}

Brandy:            Right. Yeah, that might be harder to sell.

Emily:               I mean, I would do that, but it sounds awful for them. {laughter} I would probably have to give them all presents and plan a trip for them afterwards, but it doesn’t sound fun.

Brandy:            No, but I was gonna say, too, I feel like this is one of those things that you do that for though — that’s like a big enough deal. I feel like the timing is so great for your show, especially with kids needing maybe some science supplementation and some fun since they’re not in school. I’m sure a lot of really big Netflix execs listen to my podcast, but I’m giving you a vote of approval for more seasons of this.

Emily:               Two thumbs up. Yes, I hope so.

Brandy:            Absolutely. You have really great charisma on screen, and obviously in West Virginia at your school, people found you and noticed this about you. Do you have an acting background? How are you so comfortable in front of cameras, or is that just who you are?

Emily:               Oh, gosh. No. No acting background whatsoever. I think I’ve just been doing this for a while, and having a presence in front of a camera is very much like a 10,000 hour skill set where the more you do it, the more comfortable you get at it, the more comfortable and confident you are, and that shows on screen, especially when you’re talking about something you’re genuinely excited about. I would guess that I am not as good on screen if I’m just talking about something that I don’t care about as much because everything that I’m doing, I’m genuinely very excited about. I think if you looked at the earlier seasons of my show on Xploration Outer Space, to me, watching them, I’m like, “Oh, that’s cringe worthy. You were not very good at this in the beginning.” But year after year, you just get more confidence. You figure out what your presence is on screen, and you just trial and error and get better at it over time.

Brandy:            Yeah, that’s awesome. By the time that you got to Netflix, you had honed those skills.

Emily:               Right.

Brandy:            That’s kind of perfect. {laughter}

Emily:               Yeah, definitely.

Brandy:            The kids who they cast in your show — I know showbiz kids, they have big personalities. Were there any hilarious, like behind the scenes, bloopers? Any kids that were sort of wacky and wild? Or was it just pretty smooth sailing with the kids?

Emily:               Oh, my gosh. They were all just so professional. They were very, very excited about the science. That was part of how they were chosen is that they actually had to be genuinely excited about science. For us, when we went into the show, we wouldn’t tell the kids what we were doing that day. It would be a total surprise to them because we wanted those reactions from a kid seeing a cool experiment for the first time.

Brandy:            Oh, fun.

Emily:               They weren’t scripted. I mean, every once in a while, they would throw them a line to kind of spice it up. I think you can sort of tell which ones those were in the show, but so much of the show is just them being kids seeing science and experiencing it for the first time. They were all really great. I miss them. I’m also still in contact with all of them.

Brandy:            Aww.

Emily:               It’s been fun to watch what they’re doing outside of the show and talk to their parents. I think every one of the kids is doing the at home experiments from Emily’s Wonder Lab on their own social media. They’re helping their families and the kids that followed them do the science with them which is really cute. They’re actually acting like little scientists.

Brandy:            That’s adorable. Is there anything that you wish someone had told little Emily about your future in STEM?

Emily:               Oh, yeah. I think that I wish that when I was younger, I had a better relationship with failure. I’ve read studies on this where we congratulate little boys and little girls differently when it comes to success. Oftentimes, when we congratulate little girls on a job well done, we often say, “Good job. You’re so smart.” Whereas with little boys, we often congratulate the process where we say, “You’ve worked really, really hard. Good job.” So, the next time they encounter a challenging situation, the boys know how to replicate the same strategy that they used to find success previously, so they know how to work really hard. Whereas with little girls, if they experience something challenging and they fail, they think, “Oh, this is a time where I’m not smart.” It’s sort of a binary thing where it’s like, “I’m either smart, and I succeed,” or, “I’m not smart, and I fail.”

Brandy:            Yeah.

Emily:               Girls growing up often have more of a struggle with failure than boys do because of this. For me, I definitely found that to be true. I would often avoid really challenging projects, or I wouldn’t even try to attempt them because I would be afraid of failing and what that would mean about me. So, I would tell my younger self that it’s okay to fail. Not only is failure fine, but it’s an indicator that you’re being brave, that you are learning, that you’re trying something new, that you are recognizing something that you don’t know, and you’re trying to expand on your knowledge, and all of that is wonderful. I would just try to get my younger self to be better with failure.

Brandy:            Oh, wow. Yes. I know you just said that sometimes you didn’t try the harder thing, but didn’t you say you have four degrees and some from MIT?

Emily:               {laughter}

Brandy:            I’m wondering. Maybe, it was good. Maybe, you should have pulled back on the things that you pulled back on because what else could you have achieved? {laughter}

Emily:               {laughter}

Brandy:            Maybe, it was too much? I’m just gonna throw that out there. Maybe, it was a good thing. {laughter}

Emily:               Yeah, I know. But even today, like with various projects that I’ll take on, like engineering projects — my husband is an engineer, too. He’ll start like a side project that he wants to work on not really knowing where it’s going, but for me, if I can’t see the beginning, middle, and end of a project and know exactly — if I haven’t seen basically somebody else do it before, then I’m like, “Well, I don’t really think I want to try it out because who knows where that’s going to go? It might just end up being a stupid project, so I’m not getting involved.”

Brandy:            No, I can understand that. Absolutely. How do you think with parenting your daughter, is there anything in terms of — I mean, I’m sure there are many things in the whole parenting realm that maybe are on your radar, but in terms of her education and academics and her future in STEM or not a future in STEM, have you made any agreements about how you want to do things differently or the same or certain things that were really important to you as you parent her? What are some things that are on your mind?

Emily:               My parents did such a good job. I’m so thankful that I had the parents that I did. My mom was super crafty, and we just did so many crafts growing up. We made a lot of home videos, and I was in a lot of church plays growing up. I did so much creatively because of my mom. My dad really helped me to learn. He taught me how to learn. I loved that I had a little bit of both growing up. I think that I want to try to make sure that I do that with my daughter because I’m not as crafty as my mom, but I definitely still really enjoy artistic things. I’m hoping to make sure that she has a really good balance of both, and also try not to put too much pressure on her to go into STEM. Her dad went to MIT and Stanford and Harvard, and he studied aerospace engineering. I studied aerospace engineering. I think growing up with parents like that, that’s already a lot of pressure just knowing that. I want to be cognizant of that and make sure that we’re not being too obnoxious about like, “We’d like it if you followed in Mom and Dad’s footsteps.”

Brandy:            Right. Like, “Your parents are rocket scientists. Isn’t that funny, sweetheart?” {laughter}

Emily:               {laughter} Yeah. I think we’re just taking it day by day and making sure she just feels loved and supported. I think it’s gonna get harder as she gets older and learns more. If she actively hates science, I think that’s going to be something hard to cope with, but we’ll see.

Brandy:            Yeah, definitely.

Emily:               I definitely have a lot of experiments to do with her.

Brandy:            I was gonna say, she can’t hate science because you have all of these really fun things, and it sounds like you’re willing to make a mess and do these projects. We’ve seen you do it on TV, so we know you’re good at it. I think that that just is not possible.

Emily:               I truly hope so.

Brandy:            Please let me know if that ever ends up. Gosh, it would take a special child to have a parent who was that interested in science and had all these really cool, kid friendly ways of doing it, and for the kid to be like, “Mom, that’s so boring.” You would have just a real special child. {laughter}

Emily:               I know. It definitely would be like the biggest irony in the world if I could do this show over and over again and get a bunch of other kids, who weren’t my own kids, excited about science but couldn’t get my own get excited about science. That sounds so sad. I really hope that doesn’t happen. I suspect there’s going to be like phases where she’s excited about it, then kind of embarrassed by it, and then also excited about it.

Brandy:            In the same breath, I’m like, “There’s no way this can happen,” and then I also know the laws of parenting are like, “Oh, you can get all the other kids interested, and then your own kid is like, ‘Eh.’” So, we’ll see. I’m putting all my money on that she’s gonna love science because you’re awesome.

Emily:               I hope so.

Brandy:            Do you have any suggestions for how kids can stay engaged with the fun and the physical nature of science while not going to school?

Emily:               I do think that the at home experiments at the end of each episode are super helpful mostly because most of them use materials that you should already have around the house. They’re fairly easy to do. We definitely curated experiments that would be fun and colorful and have a surprising reaction and all of these experiments that kids typically would be drawn to. That should be a really good resource. Also, I think that introducing kids to science creators who look like them on YouTube is always really helpful just because it’s like the whole representation thing. There are so many wonderful science YouTubers out there that I think you can do the stuff from Emily’s Wonder Lab, and then you can watch other YouTube videos from other science creators. There’s this entire library of wonderful science content online. You just kind of have to know where to look.

Brandy:            Do you have any of your favorites — just even a couple that you know on YouTube?

Emily:               Oh, yeah. Physics Girl, Raven the Science Maven, Estefannie Explains It All, Simone Giertz (she’s the robotics girl). I mean, there are so many of these people online that are combining their wonderful, beautiful personality with science in a creative way, and the stuff they’re creating, it just like it blows my mind. It’s so cool.

Brandy:            Oh, awesome. I can’t wait to check that out. That’s going to be so much better than listening to Jojo Siwa on repeat which is what’s been happening at my house. {laughter}

Emily:               {laughter}

Brandy:            So, your show is called Emily’s Wonder Lab on Netflix, and where can people find you online? And then, what are the names of your books again?

Emily:               I’m online everywhere at @thespacegal on Instagram and Twitter and Facebook and TikTok. My website is the http://www.thespacegal.com. My books are the Ada Lace Adventures, and you can find them anywhere books are sold.

Brandy:            Thank you so much for taking the time here. I know you’re a very busy woman now that you’ve got this celebrity lifestyle of science star from Netflix, but honestly, thank you so much for taking time to do this. I was so happy that you responded to my email. My listeners maybe don’t know, but I email people who I’m interested in who I think are doing awesome things. I don’t limit who I send emails to. When I get a “yes” back from somebody, I’m just always so thrilled. You were one of those that I was like, “Oh, my God! You said ‘yes!’ This is so awesome!” So, thank you so much for sharing your knowledge, and I just appreciate your point of view on things. Thanks for coming by.

Emily:               Absolutely. Thanks for having me.

Brandy:            One of the things that lingered with me from this interview is how we each decide our career paths and how informed that is by our privileges. Also, I wish I had asked her how motherhood was going for someone who needs to see the beginning, middle, and end of projects, the clear path. Motherhood often feels like stumbling around in dark, and I know that must be a challenge for the science-minded.

Brandy:            Hey, hi. If you like what you hear, don’t forget to subscribe, leave a rating, or better yet, a review. And of course, for anyone who wants to discuss this topic an episode further, you can find myself and other listeners like you on our Facebook group: the Adult Conversation Podcast Discussion Group. I’ve added questions to vet you guys, and truthfully, one of those questions is just for my sheer entertainment. Please, humor me. As always, thanks for listening.

** As always, thank you to Scott Weigel and his band, Seahorse Moon, for providing me with that jaunty intro and outro music. You guy are awesome. Check ’em out on iTunes.