We are SO excited to feature Sophie Shrand, the creator of Science With Sophie. Sophie inspires learners of all ages to learn about S-T-E-A-M (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics studies) both on her Youtube channel and at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, where she is an educator to 24,000 students per year.
INTRODUCE YOURSELF! TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR FORMAL AND INFORMAL EDUCATION.
Hi scientists! I’m Sophie Shrand, creator and host of Science With Sophie: science comedy for girls and everyone. I am a science educator, comedian, and actor with degrees in Neuroscience and Theatre from Northeastern University, Boston. In addition to creating SWS, I am an educator at the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, teaching 24,000 students per year about the excitement of physics, engineering, medicine, and more. I am also a graduate of the Second City Conservatory here in Chicago, and got real-time learning as a performer on the Second City Training Center’s Musical House Ensemble.
I consider every experience an education, whether it’s researching human behavior, holding a brain in my hands, generating three-story lightning bolts, working with a racist red-tailed hawk (which have all happened) or eating a literal bunch of kale in one sitting (which has not happened…. yet).
WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSON OR SKILL YOU LEARNED INSIDE THE CLASSROOM?
As a student of two seemingly very different subjects, I confirmed in college what I had hypothesized going in: that interdisciplinary study is not only possible, it’s a rich way to approach learning. I learned that connections exist everywhere, across fields and within them. I love neuroscience AND theatre because they ask the same questions from different angles: Why do we do what we do? What are we doing here? What is our relationship to each other, to this planet, to the universe? Examining that "human condition" is the most exciting thing in the world to me.
The school I chose to attend encouraged me to do all these things, even though it meant hard work, long days and nights of studying, rehearsals, shows and lab work. It was worth every second. With each new class, I made more connections between science and theatre. Now I've created a career for myself that combines them in a fun, new way.
If you're like me and you love different subjects, imagine what could be possible if you combined them. Get creative, scientist!
WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSON OR SKILL YOU LEARNED OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM?
This might seem like I flipped my answers to these questions, but I actually got perspective on the value of the scientific process outside the classroom. Through my work in museums, labs, classrooms and now producing a brand new show, I’ve learned how useful the science and engineering processes can be: asking testable questions, imagining solutions to problems, arguing from evidence, using data, recognizing bias… these are all science and engineering practices that I use every day at work and at home!
WHO WAS YOUR MOST MEMORABLE TEACHER?
My sophomore year of high school, I had a chemistry teacher who was my real-life Ms. Frizzle: Mrs. Norton was energetic, kind, thoughtful, brave, and willing to take risks in the classroom to showcase the thrills of chemistry. Her enthusiasm and encouragement convinced me that I wanted to (and could!) do science as a job.
TELL US ABOUT SCIENCE WITH SOPHIE! WHY DO YOU CHOOSE TO TARGET IT TO GIRLS AGES 7-14?
Science With Sophie is a science comedy series inviting viewers to explore science all around them and remember that they are brave, curious, funny, smart scientists every day. Sophie and her cast of wacky characters (all played by Sophie - that’s me!) bring the audience along to have adventures, try experiments, and find science in surprising ways. The show is my light-hearted solution to the serious problem of inequity in STEM fields and underrepresentation of women in mainstream science media.
The show’s primary audience is girls age 7-14, although we’ve learned that girls younger AND older are watching too. This is great news, because I want to send loud and clear messages to girls as early as possible that they have everything they need to be a scientist. I’m making the thing I wish I had at that age. I also want girls to grow up with these messages as they head into middle school and high school, when we tend to hear negative messages and might feel less confident in our ability to be smart, brave, curious, and funny.
I want to send loud and clear messages to girls as early as possible that they have everything they need to be a scientist.
I say the show is “for girls and everyone” because it’s important for boys to have strong female role models too. We’re all responsible for leveling the playing field, so I want to get people of all gender identities in on the conversation. I like to say that STEM equity is an “all-play.” That’s a term from improv that means everyone is invited to participate. We’re all in on this goal of equity, inclusion and respect; when we work together, we will make it happen.
WHAT’S IN STORE FOR SEASON 2?
Season 2 will bring more adventures, more experiments, and more characters (still all played by me!) We might recognize some returning fan favorites too. We’re expanding into different types of science and will also feature real, live human STEM experts. Season 2 will live on YouTube (for free!), so be sure to subscribe with notifications turned on to get the latest episodes as soon as they drop.While you’re waiting for Season 2, I’ll keep you on your toes with fun video updates.
YOU’VE BEEN COMPARED TO THE REAL LIFE MS. FRIZZLE. DID YOU WATCH THE MAGIC SCHOOLBUS GROWING UP?
Goodness, what a compliment! I love the Magic School Bus. I watched it as a kid, and I’m watching the new one on Netflix now. (Kate MicKinnon, I’m ready to collaborate anytime. Tweet me.) The Frizz’s catchphrase to “take chances, make mistakes, get messy” are words I live by. Ms. Frizzle was my only female STEM role model on TV when I was young. I actually got in a little trouble at work a few years ago because I was asked to present about a female scientist who inspired me. I gave a 20-minute talk about Ms. Frizzle and my boss was annoyed because, in her words, Ms. Frizzle “isn’t a real person.”
That was a lightbulb moment for me, realizing that the only woman I saw doing science on TV was… not real. She was a cartoon. That inspired me to be the change I want to see.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO PURSUE A CAREER IN STEM?
I fell in love with science because I could ask questions and then create ways to answer those questions. I fell in love with technology because it exemplifies innovation and the responsibility that comes with the idea of “progress.” I fell in love with engineering because its cycle is useful in every aspect of life and depends on failure to lead to success. I fell in love with math because it is COOL and the language of science, and numbers are comfortingly logical. And I fell in love with art, because like the others, it is beautiful and powerful and asks good questions. With all these loves, I knew I had to pursue a career in STEAM (science, tech, engineering, art and math).
WHAT IS ONE LESSON YOU YOU’VE LEARNED THAT YOU’D LIKE YOUNG GIRLS GROWING UP TODAY TO KNOW?
Ask for help. Ask early and often. Creating SWS, I realized I had a LOT to learn (and still do). When I first reached out to people for help with this idea for a brand new show, I was floored at the outpouring of support I received. By asking for help, I met a growing number of incredible women and men who shared their time, advice, skills, and other help to make SWS what it is now.
Asking can seem scary, but you’ll never know unless you try. The worst that can happen is someone says no… and if you’re a good person with a good idea and a good heart, usually the answer is Yes. More than that - it’s Yes, And. (Thanks, improv!)
WHAT BOOK ARE YOU READING RIGHT NOW (OR FAVOURITE BOOK)?
I was very influenced by the Wrinkle in Time series by Madeleine L’Engle when I was young. I still think about those books. Now that the movie is coming out (with an incredible, diverse cast) I just ordered the series to re-read them all before I head to the movie theater! I remember something about mitochondria, and I’m so excited to rediscover what that was all about.
WHAT DID YOU LEARN TODAY?
I teach a program at MSI called Live… From the Heart, a live video conference with a hospital in the Chicago area as they perform heart surgery. Yes, you read that right. It’s mind-blowing. We usually witness a bypass surgery, but today it was a heart transplant. I got chills, as I do just about every time I teach! Today’s chills brought to you (me) by the moment the new heart started beating on its own, which was partly due to the surgeon massaging the heart with her hand. Her hand! Medicine makes my heart sing. Pun intended.
ANYTHING ELSE YOU’D LIKE TO ADD?
Scientists (that’s you, reader!), let me know what you’d like to learn about next! What do you want to know? What about the world intrigues you? Your suggestion could end up in Season 2 or in another video (stay tuned for those this spring).