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A Chat With Emily Graslie, Chief Curiosity Correspondent of the Field Museum

Chicago magazine’s pick for the city’s Best Celebrity Nerd talks about her circuitous path to one of the best jobs in the city.

Emily Graslie and videographer Michael Aranda at work on The Brain Scoop.   Photo: Alex Garcia/Chicago Tribune

In Chicago’s just-published Best Of Chicago issue, I have a profile of our selection for Best Celebrity Nerd, Field Museum Chief Curiosity Correspondent Emily Graslie. It’s an enviable position: basically going behind the scenes of the museum and explaining how everything there works on the inside, from how exhibits get built to what lies within a two-faced calf.

I’d spoken to Graslie before about one of her videos, but in the process of writing the profile I got to talk with her at length about her position and the roundabout way in which she ended up in it, as well as angsty and very bloody high school art, why kids like watching giraffes get fed to lions, YouTube stardom, and breaking down taboos about viscera in order to provide better science education in America.

You grew up in Rapid City?

I grew up in Rapid City. My father has a ranch in Faith, South Dakota. He’s an attorney, but we retained that land while I was growing up, and we still have it now. We’d spend summers out there, really outdoorsy. We live in the Black Hills; my folks are still living in the Black Hills. Hiking and outdoor recreation was a big part of my life growing up.

The Black Hills are a really great look into the past.

It’s gorgeous out there. It’s pretty underrated as far as the rest of the country goes. It’s not the biggest National Park area, but Custer State Park is wonderful, there’s fabulous wildlife out there. And the Black Hills, if you know where to go, it’s amazingly beautiful.

You mention, in one of your videos, that the first time you did taxidermy, on a mouse, it kind of freaked you out.

Yeah, it did.

I’m a little surprised—if you spent time on ranches growing up, did you get exposure to that?

To some extent. It was somehow different. The cattle that we took care of at our ranch, they were always destined to be somebody’s food. Cattle was not akin to wildlife for me. There was no invasion of the animal’s own privacy by taking care of it. And I never did any of that, either. So wasn’t really exposed to a lot of death… it’s not like we were dissecting the cow. I definitely watched the calving process, which was fascinating, but there was no emotion attached to it. Other than like a general interest, I didn’t think of it as anything worth exploring, if that makes sense.

But with that mouse, you could explore the entire cavity of this mouse, literally from the inside out, and I felt very investigative. It’s not like you did the process and and that was done from start to finish how it was supposed to be… there was something more explorative for me. And that was what weirded me out. That I wanted to take it apart even further. And, like, really in the most literal sense, dissect every part of it.

And the fact that I wanted to do it again and again. I was somehow troubled, as if it meant there was something mentally wrong with me.

In high school or college, did you get to work with anyone who’d ever done that?

No, I really didn’t. I don’t have any formal training in biology. I took, maybe, biology in high school. I didn’t take anything other than geosciences in college; I took a basic chemistry course in college and organic chemistry in high school. And that is all the science education I have, like formal education.

I think we dissected pigs or frogs or something when I was in eighth grade. I remember it being a much different experience because of the condition the animals come in. They’re preserved in formalin or formaldehyde, so they’re rubbery, they’re gray. It’s not at all lifelike—despite the fact that they’re dead, it’s really has nothing to do with how an animal actually looks on the side.

They’re sort of preserved en masse.

It’s like a simulation, almost. It’s not the real thing. So, to be able to do the real thing, to dissect this mouse in Montana, without gloves, to go through it and to feel the blood of that animal on my hands—I found it really fascinating and compelling, and did not understand why.

In one of the videos, you mention that you had a particularly influential art teacher. Tell me a bit about him.

Mr. Gulbranson. The high school I went to was pretty underserved. It was very overpopulated, and we didn’t have very many resources. My high school had a 60% dropout rate, so I had 900 students in my freshman class and I graduated with about 320. We only had two art teachers for the entire school.

So Mr. Gulbranson wasn’t able to teach the kind of art classes he wanted to teach because he had to teach these Art 101 classes, and his days were filled, all day every day, with teaching that class, because art was a requirement, and we were kind of beyond capacity. I took a big interest in art, and I was a little upset in high school when I couldn’t take anything other than the most basic art classes, and then there was a semester of painting. So I decided that I could take independent study painting in high school. And that was after, like, my freshman year. So I took, like, effectively… I dunno, two semesters a year… I took something like 16 classes of independent study painting, because I wanted to fill my time and get the credit. So he facilitated all that.

And he really encouraged me to go to college, because in high school I didn’t really want to go to college. There was nothing I really wanted to study. And he was like, “well, you should at least study art, if nothing else, just keep studying art.” And I did, because he believed that I should.

And that, ultimately, was a huge positive impact on my life.

Do you know what you would have done if you hadn’t gone to college?

I have no idea. I only applied to two schools, the University of Montana and Montana State University.

What sort of art were you doing when you started in college?

I did some pretty graphic art. I did a series on the Seven Deadly Sins. They were pretty gross-looking paintings. My mom took them all off my bedroom wall when I graduated from high school. I did a painting on Elizabeth Bathory, who was this… duchess, essentially, in the 17th century. She’s who Snow White’s evil stepmother was based on.

The Blood Countess?

Yeah. I did a very large painting of this Blood Countess. It was… very bright colors. She was sitting on a throne that was the devil’s hand, the devil was sitting on her lap, she was looking at herself in the mirror with one hand, and holding the hair of an escaping torture victim in the other. Behind her, there were all these mirrors reflecting torture scenes. I was a bit angsty in high school.

I didn’t like school, and I didn’t really get along with anybody. I had like one or two really solid friends, and otherwise… I was really argumentative. I don’t know why I’m telling you all this.

It doesn’t sound very squeamish.

I wasn’t that squeamish, I guess. It was that, compounded with how big of an interest I took in anatomy, once I was actually volunteering in the museum… that’s kind of why I wondered, ‘is there really something wrong with me, that I love viscera? And… it’s not so much I love those things as that I’m really interested in the reaction other people have in those things.

What sort of reactions do the people you encounter have to these videos?

The thing is, I’m not unique in what I’m finding interesting. Other people are like, “I love this kind of stuff.” And it’s not just people my age, it’s like young people. Four and five-year-old children love to watch the dissection videos.

And that’s made me believe that it’s more of a cultural taboo than an adversity to understanding these things.

Yeah, especially with little kids, there’s a desire to see how it works inside.

At some point you reach some kind of threshold where it’s no longer acceptable to be inquisitive to that level. And we put some sort of taboo on blood, or insides, or anatomy. And then it all of a sudden becomes gross, and something we should avoid. We try to make people feel they’re disturbed in the head because they’re interested in these things.

Going back to my weird painting with Elizabeth Bathory, that was more of a psychological fascination than anything. I’m just interested in what kind of person from history would be so disturbed that they would treat other people like that.

And I could do a painting of torture victims and irritate the vice-principle of my high school, and there’s nothing he could do about it. Take that for what it’s worth, I guess.

You ended up in the zoological museum late in your college career.

I was a semester away from graduating. For one thing, I stopped doing weird art as soon as I got to college, because I was no longer that angsty teenager anymore. So I started doing landscape paintings instead. I liked them because they were subtle. But I never really had interest or motivation to study anything besides art. I took my basic gen-ed classes, found them to be pretty underwhelming, and absolutely no inspiration to do anything but finish my art degree. I wanted to get my degree and get out of college as soon as possible.

I had like three extra credits that I needed to fill, my spring semester of my senior year. In October, before I graduated, that’s when I found out about the zoological collection. A classmate of mine had brought me there and showed me around after she’d checked out some of the specimens and used them in a scientific illustration.

And I found the place absolutely fascinating. But what I found more fascinating was the fact that nobody was working there. We had one part-time curator in that museum, and you look around and there’s a lot of work to be done. And I was like, “maybe I could help with some of it.”

That’s how I got into volunteering there, and my internship, which was supposed to be in scientific illustration. I was supposed to be in scientific illustration. I was supposed to fill out this whole journal, having done all of these sketches, and turning in my summary. I kind of gave up on that halfway through and began learning the museum procedures instead.

When I read about what you were doing and that you had a BFA, I figured that was the connection—scientific illustration.

It’s a weird thing. Where I’m from, in South Dakota and Montana, where we don’t have resources like natural history museums to go to as artists, we look at everything online, or as an image. And very rarely—you can go out in nature and study these things, but not in formalized school. My art class never took field trips to any place to ever study from life. In college we only ever had, like, a nude model, once or twice a semester, and that was as much from-life drawing as we got. Otherwise, you’re drawing vases and plastic vegetables.

Finding that museum, was, like, finally, I can actually study a three-dimensional object and translate that to two dimensions, rather than trying to translate two dimensions to two dimensions.

I figured that’s where the taxidermy would come in.

Right, the sculptural part.

And depicting movement—if you’re depicting movement, you have to understand what’s inside them.

Absolutely. You have to understand their physiology. That’s how any early taxidermist—Carl Akeley, who taxidermied those giant elephants out there, he actually developed and invented his own motion picture camera, which he called the Akeley, in order to record the movements of animals in the field, because he wanted to translate their movements into art.

You look at cave paintings, they’re always trying to capture the movements of the herds of animals. This isn’t, like, a new thing. Artists are always trying to have a better understanding of their subject matter in this way.

What got you interested in the actual functions of the museum?

Well, I felt that the museum, the University of Montana Zoological Museum was a fantastic resource, and it would have been an amazing resource to me and anybody else in our art department, and I did not understand why it was not being used in that way.

When I started to ask those sorts of questions, the response was that there aren’t enough people who work here to process the loans, to check out specimens to students, to give tours behind the scenes, to advertise to administration, to update the website. 

My conception was that if everything was dead in these cabinets, then what kind of maintenance do they need? What’s the point? But it comes down to, those specimens, to have their value to science fully realized, they need to be databased. And they need to be advertised. They need to be constantly and consistently used, and they need to be tested for pest infestation. There’s an infinite list of things that need to be done. I looked around and we didn’t have any help.

And I said, “I kind of understand how things function here. I’d like to understand them more. What can I do to help? What can I do to make this a resource available for my art-major friends. And then, for college kids who want to come in, or visiting researchers, or elementary school students, or this naturalist in Missoula Valley who wants to borrow an egret for an illustration. All of these people who I was trying to facilitate coming into this place.

That’s really how I got involved. From then it just snowballed. I wanted to advertise outside of Missoula, since I couldn’t really get the Missoula community involved, and I couldn’t get the University of Montana to take much of an interest in this old closet of dead things. I couldn’t get them to care.

So that’s how I started a Tumblr. And I grew an international audience.

I’m surprised, because from the perspective of someone from the East, so much of the important archaeological work being done on species in the United States comes out of the Mountain West.

I’ve brought that up before—that collection is the largest collection of northern Rocky Mountain wildlife in the world. It’s the largest repository for research specimens of its kind between Minneapolis and Seattle. When I used to tell people that fact, they were like, there’s not a lot else happening between Minneapolis and Seattle.

And it’s, like, you’re underserving huge geographic areas of people. There’s so much archaeology, paleontology, anthropology, zoology to be done in that huge region in between Denver, Seattle, Minneapolis, and Canada. Why not make that a centralized location for people who otherwise wouldn’t have that sort of educational resource. It was obscene to me that we weren’t putting more resources into it. Not just from a university standpoint, not just from the community of Missoula, but the entire state of Montana. Anybody who’s passing through that area… you’re talking about thousands of miles, and that could have been a centralized location, and it wasn’t being utilized.

So much of education and research is on the East Coast, or on the West Coast, and you’re just not reaching the majority of the United States population. But this is also coming from someone in South Dakota who did not understand or realize or appreciate the scientific value to taxidermy. My exposure to natural history museums was visiting the local Cabela’s sporting store where they have the wall of taxidermy mounds. I saw taxidermy and animal and specimen preparation as only a trophy display, not necessarily having any educational value.

What were you learning from this stuff while you were looking through it and cataloging it?

I was learning everything from specimen care, curatorial practices and basic museum studies, essentially, to species distribution across the state of Montana. I was learning about migratory routes; I was learning about animal anatomy and physiology. I was learning osteology—like, vertebrate osteology to the point where, after I’d been doing it for a year, I was the teaching aide for the graduate-level vertebrate osteology course at the university. So I was teaching archaeological students—if they’re doing an excavation at a historic archaeological site, and they find a bunch of animal bones, I was teaching them how they can identify those animal bones, and how that can inform their interpretations of that archaeological site. If you find a site, and there’s a ton of mouse bones, what does that mean? Or if there are a ton of deer bones, that can tell you a lot about what the people were doing in that area.

I was also helping to identify remains from forensic sites. So somebody’s hiking in the woods in Montana, they find something that looks like a human hand, they’re going to call the police. The police are going to pick it up and say, this isn’t a human hand, we need somebody to definitively say it’s not human, and we need an outline of what it is. So I could take a look and say, you’ve got a pig hamhock—somebody was roasting a pig and you have, like their elbow bone essentially. Or you have a bear paw, and you know it’s a bear paw because the last digit of the finger bones was removed with the pelt.

I was learning a lot from volunteering. Pretty much everything that I know.

What surprised me about your farewell-to-Montana video was that, in contrast to a lot of your work, it was… kind of tragic. Do you know what happened to the museum since?

Yeah. I’m happy to say that, after I left the University of Montana, they did find somebody to be an adjunct professor to oversee what was happening in that collection. Which is extremely positive, that somebody is still in there. They’ve made their own initiative to create a couple videos talking about the importance of that collection that they’ve been sharing with the administration, and with the Montana state legislature, I believe.

And they moved that fish collection—that fish collection in the basement that was rotting and falling apart. They retained a lot of the mammal specimens, and a lot of the other reptiles that were in there, and they got all the fish moved to the University of Idaho. It’s unfortunate that those specimens can’t be a resource for the students in Missoula, however, they can be a resource to somebody in Idaho. And they’re given the space they need and the curation they require.

I stay in constant contact with the people over there, letting them know about symposiums that are coming up where they can present their case. I go around and talk about the state of that collection because that’s really why I’m here at the Field Museum. Not because it was a launching point for my career, but because I work here because I think about that museum, and because that museum’s not unique. There are a lot of university collections and small-town museums that have incredible historical and scientific importance, and they’re not well-served or appreciated.

In one of your videos, with Anna Goldman, you talk about volunteers—who you knew at the Field Museum who hadn’t started as a volunteer.

The time has come and gone when people can just leave their Ph.D. program and automatically get tenured curatorial positions in a museum. Those positions are really few and far between. The people who really get paid positions in museums, they do so by interning and volunteering.

I gave a talk this morning, beginning with how I was an art major, this is how I found about this museum, and I felt troubled by it, and I felt I could increase its exposure, so I started a blog, and then the blog started to pick up, and then I started to spend more time doing it, and then it all snowballed, and then I started a web series, and now I’m the Chief Curiosity Correspondent, and it’s my full time job… and the first question I got was, like, “how does somebody get this job?”

It didn’t just fall in my lap. You have to volunteer and intern. Otherwise you don’t really understand the importance, or the breadth, or the scope, or the significance of a collection like this.

One barrier to that, and one thing I like about the series, is that if you’re a visitor, you get the external part of the museum, the part they’re showing the public. And seems kind of static. And then there are these things constantly going on, where people are still figuring out stuff that will later go up. Your videos are turning the museum inside out.

We’d like to do more of that. The reason that exhibits aren’t changing, or there’s not a feeling of ongoing research, is because exhibits take a lot of money. They take a lot of time to put together. So if you want to do something to highlight somebody’s work, and you spend five years putting together an exhibit, there’s the chance that maybe it’s outdated.

We’re living in this competition between the incredible increase of technologies and resources available to the general public, but introducing them to museums… there’s a time and a budget issue that we haven’t really been able to figure out yet. How many times have you been in an exhibit where you’re like, “this touchscreen is really out of date.” It’s deterring to people who are like, I have better technology in my own house. We try to avoid that as much as possible.

You also have to consider that museum exhibits and museum culture has changed so drastically in the last 20 years, if not 100 years. Museums used to not be open to the public, at all. There was no incentive to share any collection with anybody. Collections were somebody’s own private enjoyment, up until the 1880s. In the 1890s, early 20th century, people started to appreciate and see the scientific and educational value in sharing these things with the public.

And that gradually increased. I want to say that up until the 1970s they were still having curators writing the labels for the exhibit pieces. And curatorial language is way different… you’re going to engage a different type of audience.

All that’s to say it’s constantly changing and morphing. Museums, if they’re not supported well enough, can’t keep up with the changing times.

The light really turned on for you when you started working with physical specimens. Now you’re working in a virtual medium. How do you try to reconcile that?

That’s really tricky. I’m trying to empower people to take responsibility for their own knowledge-seeking, I suppose, by sharing my story in that way. I felt so much more enriched when I could volunteer in a museum. I do encourage so much, that if people want to have the same kind of experience, they need to seek out their own local museums and volunteer or intern. Or maybe it involves them studying something different in college. 

It seems like such an intuitively obvious thing to do—to show the back of the house, so to speak, because so much of what a museum is involves showing how things come to be. But museums haven’t been doing that to themselves.

There’s still a bit of guardedness from museums. It’s hard to say…. I’m very open about talking about dissections. I dissected that whole wolf that got hit by a car, and made a video series about it, and it was wildly successful. And I did that naively. I did that not knowing or understanding why other museums didn’t do that. When I came to the Field Museum, they were like, “that was pretty ballsy for you to do that.” Because a wolf looks so much like a dog, and for so long, any scientist or researcher is very afraid of the general public’s reaction to that sort of thing. Are you going to get animal rights activists knocking down your door, or undermining your research? Those are real, legitimate fears.

You never want to bring that negative publicity to that work. And there’s sometimes an outdated mentality that the public doesn’t need to know what I’m doing. Why would the public need to be involved? My research only appeals to a highbrow level of educational sophistication. Which is also incorrect.

I believe very strongly in science communication, in that if you don’t have public investment into your research and into your educational message, how can you hope to change the state of the world and the educational system, if the public can’t even comprehend the significance of your own work. So there’s that sort of guardedness that needs to be broken down.

And there’s the general fear that what we’re doing is boring or disgusting. I know some museums, in the past, and still today, refuse to advertise their dermestid beetle colonies, because they think it’s disgusting or gross. It comes back to that—at some point in our lives we’re introduced to some kind of taboo associated with death and decay and anatomy, and it’s totally unfounded.

If you bring people into this room full of dermestid beetle cases, and you say, before you walk in there, “hold your nose, it’s going to be really gross, it’s going to be disgusting,” you’re getting people to brace themselves for the worst.” And if you don’t say that, if you say, instead, this is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen, people aren’t thinking about the smell first, they’re not thinking about the weird visuals, they think “I’m watching a really unique process.” We can’t be afraid about sharing our science when we’re, like, apparently afraid of a hypothetical.

Does that make sense?

Yeah. I was fortunate—I got to spend a lot of time on farms as a kid. I have this vivid memory—I went to kind of a hippie school, and the only sex-ed class we ever got happened when we were on my teacher’s farm, and one of my classmates picked up the device used to castrate cattle and asked, “what does this do?” So we didn’t get the birds and the bees, we got cows. She had us squish beetles on her plants. I had those walls broken down early.

Yeah, that’s exactly the kind of educational experience kids should be having. Are you familiar with the giraffe that got killed at the Copenhagen zoo and got fed to the lions?

I read a little bit about that.

There was a juvenile male giraffe that was not fit to be bred, so the zoo decided, instead of sending it to another zoo, or trying to rehouse it, which would cost a lot of money, that they decided they were going to use it as a food resource. So they killed it, and butchered it in front of the public, which included a large number of schoolchildren. And then they fed it to the lions.

And there was this huge uproar, especially in the United States, that was like how dare they do something like that, it’s absolutely disgusting. I feel like Europeans didn’t have that kind of reaction. You look at pictures of these kids, and they’re just fascinated. They’re really interested in what’s going on.

So I stand by that. If you raise the future generation to think that science is weird, gross, unapproachable, or somehow bad or harmful, then obviously you’re going to get a disinterested public.

What’s the process of making an episode? How do you go from brainstorm to the finished product?

It depends on the subject matter. We like to do dissection videos because we like to teach anatomy and physiology. Those are always fun ones to film, and that’s kind of dependent on what kind of crazy thing Anna Goldman finds in the freezer, and would that make a good episode.

Like the two-faced calf. It’s not every day you get a calf with two faces to come into the museum.

But we’re trying to branch out and diversify. Tomorrow’s episode is how to pin an insect. Not only do we want to show the value of keeping an insect collection, and all the information you can learn from a pinned butterfly, but also how kids could do it at home. Or how anybody could do it at home. That’s one way we’re trying to bring this virtual medium and make it a real-world project.

I don’t know if you saw the dimetrodon video….

Yes.

That video was inspired by a conversation I had with a paleomammologist here at the museum, where I told him I’d be interested in talking about paleontology, and did he have any suggestions? And he said he could talk about early synapsid diversification. How about dimetrodon?

And I said “dimetrodon’s great! It’s that sailback-looking dinosaur!”

And he’s like, “dimetrodon’s absolutely not a dinosaur.” He felt so personally strong and passionate about it, and I started to think about it. He spent 30 years of his life, however many years of his life, studying this diverse lifeform—not just dimetrodon, but kind of early proto-mammals in a sense, even though they’re not quite proto-mammals, they’re like non-mammalian synapsids.

But anyway, I became really interested in why he was so interested in studying this nuanced genre of paleontology, and the more I learned about it the more I shared in his passion, and I completely understood why he would be interested in a group of animals that doesn’t get the same kind of limelight as dinosaurs, but they’re no less interesting, diverse, or fascinating. They all have really weird morphologies and adaptations, they existed for hundreds of millions of years.

There’s no reason they should not get a prime spotlight in the paleo community. But they don’t.

You can go into any museum gift shop or any toy store and find examples where dimetrodon is sold and packaged along with dinosaurs, even though there are sixty-six million years separating dimetrodon from any dinosaur.

So I started a different Tumblr for that, called Is Not a Dinosaur, and I have people go out and find pictures of Dimetrodon packaged incorrectly. And I have like 60 posts. It’s insane. People send me new stuff every single day. It’s, like, rampant in our culture to call Dimetrodon a dinosaur.

Did you have any teaching experience before you started doing these videos?

No.

Were there any sort of models you followed?

I learned with Hank Green. I watched quite a few other educational YouTube channels to learn their presentation style.

And I watch a lot of comedic routines. Especially people like Mike Birbiglia who have an overarching narrative throughout their standup. Because I wanted to emulate that style of storytelling, and incorporating a lot of that into an educational narrative.

Some people are visual learners, some people are tactile learners, some people are auditory learners, and some people learn by humor and narrative.

What do you see coming next for The Brain Scoop?

I have no idea. I’m coming up on my one-year anniversary with the Field Museum, and so much has already changed and developed in the last year. It’s been kind of overwhelming and insane.

I love what we’re doing on YouTube. I would love to see our production increase. I would love to be able to put up more videos.

But I am traveling. I’m going on a paleontological dig at the end of July with some of our geologists, and we’ll be filming that expedition.

Where are you going?

It’s the Green River Formation—lots of fish fossils. So that’ll be fun.

We’re working on editing footage from our Kenya trip. I spent the beginning of the year, back in January, on an expedition with some of our mammologists studying bats. Which was amazing. So we’re going to have a small, temporary exhibit that’ll be up in the Comer Gallery here. That’s opening, I think, in August.

Then in October I’m traveling with our conservation group, the Action Center, to Peru. They do this thing called the Rapid Inventory every year, where they helicopter in to the rainforest, spend two weeks with specialists like bird people, fish people, plant people, and everybody kind of divides and conquers, and they get a cohesive survey of the diversity in that area, which they can write up in reports and present to the Peruvian government in order to set aside areas for conservation.

Other than that, who knows?

Are they using your production work in the museum exhibits?

We’re working on integrating that more. The trip that we went on to Kenya back in January, they will take that footage and Brain Scoop-y stuff and put it into an exhibit. But that’s something we’re still trying to figure out. Like I said, exhibits take a long time to put together, and I haven’t been here that long. So it’s difficult to say—if we’re going to put money into integrating it more thoroughly, how do we do that, and what is it going to look like, and what if in five years YouTube isn’t cool anymore, what then?

Now that it’s been awhile since the “Where My Ladies At?” video, do you have any more reflections on that?

I’m pretty happy to say that a lot of that language on my channel has stopped. I don’t know if that’s because it coincided with YouTube overlapped with Google Plus login features, so you have to have your name associated with your YouTube login. It kind of takes the anonymity piece out of it a bit.

But after I had that video that came out, and all the publicity surrounding it—which was insane, it was an incredible amount of publicity, which was great, but it was still like, “really, guys? This is news to you?"—a lot of that has stopped on my channel. If somebody leaves a comment that I’d traditionally find offensive, I can rely on my community and my audience members to say, “listen, that kind of talk is not appreciated here. Let’s be nicer to one another.”

Also I’m going to Vidcon next week, which is the largest YouTube convention in the world. It’s in Anaheim, California. We’re anticipating 15,000 attendees. I’m on two panels this year that are just about women on YouTube, and sexism on YouTube. One is an industry panel just for people who work in the industry, that’s the sexism on YouTube panel. We’ll discuss, quite literally, how we deal with workplace sexism in a digital environment, what tolerances need to be made, where we can reinforce or restructure communities to be more supportive of women in that space. The other one’s just about women creators on YouTube, and why there aren’t more.

I’m always astonished how big the YouTube universe is.

And I’m a small player YouTube universe. That’s kind of surprising to people—they’re like, wow, 200,000 people, that’s not a small number of people. Compared to other people in YouTube.edu, I have like the smallest channel. You have VSauce, Michael Stevens, his channel has like six million subscribers. It’s insane—it’s like every single person in Chicago tuning in and watching his videos twice.

I find it really exciting, too. I’m on an email list with the most popular YouTube educators in the world. Probably like digital learning educators in the world. Other than like Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye, that’s it. They’re all online. They’re all on YouTube and we’re all part of one cohesive community.

So we’re trying to figure out a way to work better together to make positive, impacted change. And that’s the most exciting thing ever. So who knows where that’s going to go? None of us have a clue.

Which other channels would you recommend?

The Green brothers have a couple good channels. They have SciShow, which is hosted by Hank, and they just launched SciShow Space, which is just space news. Crash Course, which is co-hosted by Hank and John. And I will be co-hosting part of Big History, which will be on Crash Course, and that’s an educational initiative by the Gates Foundation. Which is pretty insane.

Crash Course focuses on ten-minute-long episodes that are effectively, like, every year is a different semester in school, so they should be, like college-level classes. One was U.S. history, one was world history, they do literature, biology, chemistry, psychology. Those are all great videos.

VSauce is Michael Stevens. Smarter Every Day, which is hosted by Destin Sandlin; Minute Physics; ASAP Science. There’s a lot of them.

I love Smarter Every Day, hearing someone with a Southern accent talk about science. There’s a little bit of bias against that.

Yeah, and he knows it. He’ll bring it up. In his Southern drawl, “a Southern guy’s gonna say somethin’.” He’s fabulous. He’s been a really good friend.

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