July 15, 2017 9:04 pm

Finding Role Models in the Women of StarTalk

Today’s guest blog post is by Alex Hanson, StarTalk’s STEAM intern. She is a senior at NYU and the founder/editor of HERpothesis, which showcases work by creative young women inspired by STEAM.

In my teens, my STEM role models were the communicators that made science accessible to people like myself— those who may have dabbled in physics but were more likely to be found in a film class. This included Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye the Science Guy, both of whom I still count as important role models. However, if you asked me in high school to name a living woman in STEM that I looked up to, I probably would have paused and thought very hard before sadly realizing that I couldn’t think of anyone. I knew there must be women thriving in science communication, but I rarely ever saw them in the media.

Now, as a college student, one of my favorite parts about working for StarTalk is that it introduces me to so many inspiring women role models in science. Between the All-Stars hosts and the comedienne co-hosts, there are so many inspiring women that share their knowledge and laughs on this podcast. To see women that are not only at the forefront of their fields, but also able to communicate the questions and discussions they face in their research, is hugely important to me as a young woman with an interest in science.

In the All-Stars episode Women in Science, hosts Emily Rice and Summer Ash, alongside co-host Chuck Nice, answer Cosmic Queries about “Women Crushing It Wednesday,” a new twist on the popular “woman crush Wednesday” hashtag, or #wcw. In the episode, Summer Ash mentions that she enjoys finding other women in science online and connecting with that community on Twitter. I love filling my Twitter feed with the women of StarTalk— in addition to hosting the show, they all have independent projects they are working on to educate and inspire the masses.

For example, Summer Ash and Emily Rice’s astronomy fashion blog STARtorialist is a constant source of space-related fashion, décor, and more. In the All-Stars episode Science Gets Fabulous, Summer and Emily talk about their inspiration behind STARtorialist, and everything in the middle of the Venn diagram of science and fashion. The conversation ranges from space imagery in everyday fashion to their STARtorialist collaboration with Sci Chic. It’s fun to look for ways to express a love of science through fashion, but Summer and Emily also address the bigger impact that something like STARtorialist can create. By encouraging a fashionable approach to science, they can inspire women scientists to embrace their expressive side, give them conversation starters, and normalize an interest in space for women who may have a passion for astronomy but might not be involved in it professionally.

Emily Rice and Summer Ash looking fabulous in the StarTalk All-Stars studio.

Emily Rice and Summer Ash looking fabulous in the StarTalk All-Stars studio. Credit: Ben Ratner.

Emily and Summer each share their own outreach projects on their individual Twitter handles, including updates about StarTalk, STARtorialist, Emily’s work with Astronomy on Tap and Summer’s work with Columbia’s Astronomy Public Outreach. I’m 21 now and can’t wait to attend one of the Astronomy on Tap events, where people can ask questions and learn from astrophysicists in a casual bar atmosphere. As a college student in New York, the events hosted by Columbia’s Astronomy Public Outreach have been some of the most salient memories I’ve made in my college years so far. I always bring a group of my friends, and seeing them light up when they get to learn about the cosmos and explore the night sky at Columbia’s observatory always makes my night.

Each of the StarTalk All-Stars hosts has an engaging online presence that you can follow on Twitter. Janna Levin, astrophysicist and author of Black Hole Blues and Other Songs From Outer Space, shares on Twitter and about her talks and appearances to promote Black Hole Blues and her work with Pioneer Works.

Janna Levin, co-host Matt Kirshen and LIGO co-founder Ranier Weiss recording the episode “Deciphering Gravitational Waves.” Credit: Ben Ratner.

Janna Levin, co-host Matt Kirshen and LIGO co-founder Ranier Weiss recording the episode “Deciphering Gravitational Waves.” Credit: Ben Ratner.

Cosmochemist Natalie Starkey updates her followers on Twitter about her progress on her upcoming book Catching Stardust, which will be about how scientists are using comets to learn about the history of space. She also keeps a blog about her StarTalk appearances and her book progress.

Photo from the recording session for StarTalk All-Stars, with host Natalie Starkey, guest Lindy Elkins-Tanton, and co-host Chuck Nice.

Natalie Starkey, co-host Chuck Nice, and guest Lindy Elkins-Tanton recording the episode “Searching for Space Water.”

Carolyn Porco, the leader of the Cassini Imaging Team and a planetary scientist who worked with Carl Sagan on the Voyager missions, shares not only her own work on Twitter, but also what she is reading and thinking about in all realms of culture and society, giving us a look into where her mind goes in the course of a day.

Screen capture of a Facebook Live session with Carolyn Porco, Sean Ono Lennon, and Chuck Nice.

Carolyn Porco, guest Sean Ono Lennon and co-host Chuck Nice during a Facebook Live session.

Amy Mainzer, NEOWISE principal investigator, can be found tweeting about Ready Jet Go!, a PBS Kids show for which she is a science consultant and live-action host. I wish I had this show when I was a kid— I would have developed my love of space much earlier! Even as a college student, though, I love this clip of Amy making a homemade comet on Ready Jet Go!:

Primatologist and comedian Natalia Reagan is also the co-founder of BOAS Network, a forum that aims to make anthropology fun and accessible. From co-hosting 10 Million Dollar Bigfoot Bounty to appearing on Nat Geo, to making web series explaining science with humor,  to tweeting about all things anthro, Natalia always finds a way to link her two passions of science and comedy— making her a perfect fit for StarTalk.

Ben Ratner's photo of Neil deGrasse Tyson, Natalia Reagan, and Chuck Nice in the StarTalk Radio studio.

Neil deGrasse Tyson, Natalia Reagan, and Chuck Nice in the StarTalk Radio studio. Credit: Ben Ratner.

Let’s not forget our comedienne co-hosts Maeve Higgins and Leighann Lord. Not only do they bring their questions, personality, and sense of humor to the show, they’re each fantastic role models for listeners. Leighann Lord has utilized her comedic talent to make a positive impact on the world: she has entertained U.S. troops in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, as well as troops stationed in Haiti during the earthquake relief effort. She won the NYC Black Comedy Award for “The Most Thought Provoking Black Female Comic.” She was the NYC face of the African Americans for Humanism Outreach Campaign sponsored by the Center For Inquiry— and this is all on top of her busy career in stand up, writing, and television appearances.

Photo of Neil deGrasse Tyson and Leighann Lord in a studio recording session for StarTalk Radio, taken by Jeffrey Simons.

Recording StarTalk Radio: Neil deGrasse Tyson and Leighann Lord in studio. Credit: Jeffrey Simons.

Maeve Higgins is internationally known for her sense of humor. While she’s known in her native Ireland for her work in television, she has performed around the world, appeared on Inside Amy Schumer on Comedy Central, has written two bestselling books, and is currently working on another, to be out later this year. In addition to appearing on StarTalk and several other podcasts, Maeve hosts her own called Maeve In America, which features the stories of immigrants to the United States from around the world.


Elliot Severn's photo of the StarTalk Live! crew backstage at the Apollo. Left to right: Neil deGrasse Tyson, Phoebe Robinson, Maeve Higgins, Eugene Mirman, Dr. Ainissa Ramirez, Senator Cory Booker.

Backstage at the Apollo before the show. Left to right: Neil deGrasse Tyson, Phoebe Robinson, Maeve Higgins, Eugene Mirman, Dr. Ainissa Ramirez, Senator Cory Booker. Credit – Elliot Severn.

StarTalk has provided me with a plethora of women role models who showcase the potential to connect people with science through conversation and comedy. I love learning about the ideas and experience they share on StarTalk, and following their projects and adventures elsewhere on social media. While I wish I could go back to my high school self and introduce her to the multitude of science communication role models I have in my life now, I know that young women currently looking for role models at the intersection of science and media can find plenty through StarTalk.