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ScienceI am Emily Calandrelli, an MIT Engineer who's an Emmy-nominated Science TV Host - AMA!

Apr 25th 2017 by emilycal • 32 Questions • 399 Points

Hey everyone! I'm Emily Calandrelli, an MIT engineer who came to be an Emmy-nominated science TV host.

I did my undergrad at West Virginia University in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and got my Masters at MIT in AeroAstro and Tech and Policy. I'm the host and a producer of FOX's Xploration Outer Space and a correspondent on Bill Nye Saves the World. I recently created a children's science chapter book series – the Ada Lace Adventures.

I love finding creative ways to get people excited about science and tech - AMA!

Proof: https://twitter.com/TheSpaceGal/status/856578657573158912

EDIT: That's all for me, folks! Signing off now. Thanks for all your great questions. You all are the best. Till next time!

Q:

EmCal, With take your kids to work day coming up, what is your favorite science project/demo to show kids? Also, Go 'Eers!

A:

Go Moutaineers!! I'm a big fan of the standard Alka Seltzer + film canister rocket experiment. It's fun, cheap, visual, and you can talk about pressure, Newton's 3 laws of motion, and kids always love it!


Q:

How do you think we can actually shift public opinion to give more value to scientific rigor and reduce the overwhelming abundance of bunk? With cognitive biases controlling how we think and feel is it possible?

A:

Scientists and science communicators have to really dive into why people refuse scientific facts.

If someone doesn't believe in the efficacy/safety of vaccinations or the reality of climate change it can often feel good to call them stupid. But that solves nothing. It's often the parents who are the most educated who are the ones refusing vaccinations (or creating their own schedule) - so we have to look into why they are doing these things if we want to change the situation.

Basically, we need to be less snarky, realize that science doesn't come easy for everyone, and know that there are often intricate underlying reasons why certain groups of educated people are ignoring science.


Q:

As a fellow AE working in the Space field, keep up the good fight for science awareness!

Do you see yourself ever returning to industry? If yes, what areas would you love to explore? You seem to be living the dream with your current path.

A:

I would be most excited to work in the small-sat telecommunication industry and work to bring internet to remote locations all over the world.


Q:

What do you think is the most interesting thing happening in science now?

A:

I'm particular to space exploration - and I'm particularly excited about 2 things. 1 - rocket reusability. What SpaceX and Blue Origin are doing is changing the rocket industry and forcing the larger incumbents to reevaluate their technology and innovate as well. 2 - the small satellite industry and it's implications for telecommunications. Less than half of the world has access to the internet right now (which is always so crazy to think about!!). But today there are companies that are going to launch large constellations of satellites in Low Earth Orbit (or smaller clusters of satellites is Geostationary Orbit) and bring internet to the rest of the planet. Imagine how much the world will change when everyone has access to the internet - a tool that can be used to educate, receive healthcare information, build businesses, etc. It's gunna be great and these companies are just on the horizon.


Q:

Emily ,

I'm really interested in becoming a public STEM/ Space advocate like you and Bill. Any advice for someone starting out?

A:

Find the other STEM/space influencers out there who are already creating great content (YouTube videos, articles, social posts, etc). Learn from them! And don't be afraid to put your own ideas out there. Stay informed on everything that's happening with SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, Planet, NASA, ULA, etc - and post your thoughts on it. Apply for a NASA social. Practicing speaking and writing. Volunteer to talk at your local schools about STEM.


Q:

Hey Emily, I honestly was so captured by your segment with Bill almost immediately, Instant fan (3rd year MechE, myself) My question for you is, what was your first internship or job as a Mechanical and Aerospace Engineer and what are some of your favorite takeaways from it?

A:

My first internship I ever did what as Walt Disney World. I did the College Program for a semester, working in Downtown Disney (in 'Merchantainment') and then took Disney Imagineering classes. I loved learning about Imagineering and realizing that engineering could also be a creative endeavor. All too often STEM is portrayed as a 'right brain' field. But there are so many careers where you can be analytical as well as creative - like becoming a Disney Imagineer!


Q:

I recently had to do a research paper for my public speaking class and stumbled across your TED Talk "Space Exploration is the Worst". Upon watching it, I was confused but later realized that it was actually really good!

Anyway, my question for you Emily: realistically speaking, what technological achievement/advancement do you want to see in your lifetime? Thank you for taking the time to do this AMA!!

A:

haha yea I have mixed feelings about that talk. It's weird, but I feel like I could have struck a better balance of sarcasm / realism.

Anyway! I'm excited for modes of travel that are significantly faster than what we have today (e.g. hyperloop). Personally, traveling has taught me so much about myself and others. I think once we make it easier/cheaper for people to see the country / the world people will become more empathetic of others.


Q:

Hi! If Mars or any other planet does not have the conditions to contain human life, would it be possible that they contain other 'living' things?

A:

Definitely! They could host microbial life (the kind of life you can only see under a microscope), which would still blow our minds! If life exists on two planetary bodies, it means that there's a good chance that life isn't as rare as we thought.

Also - scientists are still finding new ways that life can exist. This is why you always hear scientists saying the phrase 'life as we know it.' We are basing everything we know on ourselves and the life around us. But the cosmos is constantly full of surprises.


Q:

Hello Emily, What is your favorite thing in the universe and why? Also if you were offered a seat on the first trip to Mars would you take it?

A:

I'm obviously pretty fond of Planet Earth, but I also really love the star Arcturus - it was the first star I was able to consistently locate when I was a kid looking at star maps.

And would I go to Mars? Nope nope nope nopetity nope. I would definitely go to space on a reliable spacecraft, but I would not risk my life to be the first person on Mars. I admire those who would - we need those explorers to push the boundaries of space exploration.


Q:

Ms. C, how many Astronauts have you met?

A:

Probably a couple dozen. I'm always surprised by the range of personalities - there's no "cookie cutter" version of an astronaut. They simply all love STEM in different ways.


Q:

Who is you favorite female character in science fiction? Why?

A:

Does Hermione count? No? Well honestly none come to mind because most of the coolest characters I've loved in Sci-Fi have always been men (which is why I wasn't really into Sci-Fi growing up - I wanted to read about/watch someone I could relate to!). We need more women directors / writers, etc. Open to recommendations though!


Q:

Advice for aspiring science communicators?

A:

Work on your public speaking and writing skills. Try to get good at story telling and humor!


Q:

Will coach Holgorsen’s offensive line be up to task this year?

A:

They better be! * pretending to know something about football *


Q:

Ask someone on r/cfb about Mountaineers football and they will kindly give you a brief summary of info.

A:

My mom works for the football office, I also worked there all through high school, and I've been to nearly every Mountaineer Bowl Game since I've been alive - I have no excuse haha :)


Q:

I guess you know all the words to Country Roads.

A:

I couldn't call myself a West Virginian if I didn't!


Q:

Hi Emily! I'm a phd-level scientist and I'm trying to get more into #scicomm, but I find myself quite crippled with imposter syndrome. I know I'm smart, but sometimes I just get scared that I'm going to say something wrong, offend someone, or just flat out be bad at getting my point across. Have you battled imposter syndrome, and if so, any tips for getting over it?

A:

I GET IT. When I first started doing sci-comm, I would get this paralyzing fear before I posted something that I had some incorrect information in it. And believe me - the STEM/nerd community loves nothing more than to point out when you are wrong about something (which is part of the reason that makes that community so great). So you have this responsibility to constantly fact-check and make sure you're disseminating accurate science.

That being said, the more I did it, the more comfortable I got. I was wrong less often but I was also more comfortable with admitting when I'd made a mistake. We're all constantly learning so you have to do the best you can and also be forgiving of yourself. My advice - put your thoughts out there, and be willing to embrace your mistakes. You'll only get better!


Q:

Ms. Calandrelli, how can teachers and schools get young girls more interesting in science and technology?

A:

Introduce them to female STEM role models! Representation is so important!


Q:

Emily, what were some of the major challenges you had to overcome to get where you are now? Keep up the great work.

A:

Gaining confidence to put yourself out there and opening yourself up to criticism. I'm not going to get it right every time (my jokes in my speeches may not land, I could get a calculation wrong in my writing, I could look awkward on TV) - and I had to learn how to accept this. Be kind to yourself and embrace (some) of the critics. They'll make you better.


Q:

What is the absolute best thing Bill Nye has ever said to you?

A:

"Great shoes!"


Q:

Ms. C, what kind of telescope do you have at home?

A:

Unfortunately none. I live in the middle of the city in SF so I'm not sure how useful it would be unless I traveled away from all the light pollution. Too many excuses - I should have one! However, I've absolutely loved visiting all of the telescopes up at Lick Observatory. Highly recommend checking it out.


Q:

Ms. C, do you play videogames? If so which ones?

A:

I LOVE super spash bros. I also loved Pokemon Snap and Paper Mario when I was little. I've been playing Mario Run and was unhealthily obsessed with Pokemon Go for a little while


Q:

Ms. C, have you invented anything or plan to in the future?

A:

When I was 7 I used construction paper and a hanger to invent a "hairspray blocker". My mom would always put my hair in a pony tail and hair spray the top, getting hair spray in my eyes. So I bent a hanger, taped some construction paper around it and used it every morning to shield my eyes. Not sure I've made anymore more useful since then. ;)


Q:

Ms. C, do you have any pets?

A:

When I was little I had hermit crabs, gold fish, a parrot, a dog, two turtles and a cat! I love animals. Today I travel too much to keep another animal, other than myself, alive. One day I'll build up my zoo once more!


Q:

Hi Emily!!

Fellow Lady Mountaineer here! Two questions:

  1. What was your favorite thing about the University?
  2. How would you recommend someone who doesn't have a formal background in STEM (my degree is in Econ) to get involved and stay "STEM-literate?"

Loved your TED Talks!

A:

Go Eers!

1 - The professors and staff were so incredibly helpful. I owe so much to them. 2 - Read articles from reputable sources about STEM topics like climate change, vaccinations, GMOs! There are some really great science and tech journalists out there who can break down sciencey topics into digestible, easy-to-read articles. I'd recommend following people like Loren Grush, Mika McKinnon, and Emily Lakdawala (find them on Twitter)! Basically try to stay informed on what's happening in the news that's related to STEM. The more you read, the more you'll come across familiar topics and it won't seem as complex/confusing.


Q:

I am just starting my degree in engineering but due to my current job(Navy) I am taking online classes and don't have opportunities to take internships, I am currently 27 with a background in electronics. What advice do you have for getting into engineering career fields for people starting out at an older age without the experience of internships in that field?

A:

I would say your Navy experience is certainly teaching you unique and amazing things as well! Leverage that experience on resumes to jobs / scholarships etc. Oh, and definitely apply for scholarships!! You can do this in your free time. I am particularly fond of the Goldwater Scholarship and the Truman Scholarship.


Q:

Thanks! What are some good nationally competitive scholarships/awards/internships that I should be aware of and working toward?

A:

My show is hosting one national contest right now called the #StudentAstronaut compeition. See the video announcement here.

Also the Goldwater Scholarship, Truman Scholarship

Fellowships: look into NSF, NDSEG, and the DOE for great research fellowships

NASA also has a number of scholarships!

If you are involved in engineering clubs (like robotics for example) there are often national competitions!


Q:

What inspired you to choose AeroAstro?

A:

I really loved Math in high school and when I was a HS senior I googled what the top-earning majors were after graduation. Across the board, engineers made the most money so I chose Engineering (I was a very practical 17-year-old). And then, when I got to college, NASA had the coolest free opportunities for students pursuing a career in the space industry (think - Vomit Comet, paid internships, opportunities to travel for conferences, etc) so I decided to pursue Aerospace Engineering.


Q:

Would you make a youtube vlog or other weekly videos on youtube in the future?

A:

I've always wanted to, but have been too chicken to put anything out there...at this point. Maybe in the future when I have more free time. I think it's an incredible platform and more personal than the stuff I currently do.


Q:

Hi Emily, what do you think it'll take before there is a recognizable mainstream female science communicator that is as popular as Neil deGrasse or Bill Nye?

A:

We need more executive producers like mine (Steve Rotfeld) to put women (and minorities) in front of the camera. The TV/film industry is predominately white and male. It often feels like a boy's club which can be a problem in an industry which is very much a Who-you-know type of industry. We need to recognize that diversity is not only nice, it's smart for your bottom line. After all, half the humans are women - we watch TV too! :)


Q:

Hey Emily, big fan of yours and what you do to promote STEM.

what would you say to a parent who refuses to vaccine their kids?

A:

I would want to understand their concerns. Parents who refuse to vaccinate their kids don't do it because they hate their kids (duh!). It often takes a bit of empathy to help people understand scientific evidence.


Q:

Hey Emily, I'm currently a computational physics undergrad. I have two questions. What is key to a successful career in STEM and scicomm? Also how do I watch Xploration Outer Space if we don't have Hulu in my European country?

A:

Well I'm not exactly sure how to watch XOS in other countries but I know it's on Amazon Prime, Roku, YouTube TV, and Yahoo streaming if that helps!

Key to success in Sci Com? Storytelling and humor - still trying to get good at both.


Q:

Hello Emily. I live outside of the USA and I was wondering how I can watch Xploration Outer Space? It doesn't air on any channel on TV(at least not the ones that are available to me) and I also can't find it anywhere on the internet.

A:

Check Amazon Prime, Roku, YouTubeTV, Yahoo!