STEM Role Models and Promoting STEM Careers for Women with Dr. Erin Macdonald
I am so excited to have Dr. Erin Macdonald on the show today. She is an astrophysicist and aerospace engineer. She has managed to take her childhood love of science fiction and the X-Files and turn it into an exciting career. She is a teacher and lecturer who puts as much emphasis on her language and communications skills as she does on her scientific knowledge.
Erin makes science fun and inspirational for her students by explaining how science and movies intersect. She also consults for TV, movies, and video games and found a way to make math fun, because once you progress past a certain point it becomes like a new language that you can communicate in.
Erin is a role model and mentor for up and coming women and girls who are interested in getting involved in STEM careers. She is an extraordinary guest and you won’t want to miss this interview.
- [03:16] Kids love space and dinosaurs. Erin loved the X-files growing up. When she looked into things she found out that she could learn how the world works. She was inspired by studying astrophysics.
- [04:47] She started teaching and got involved with aerospace engineering.
- [05:41] Math is like a language. It will come together once you get into it. Erin came to a point where she could describe stuff using math.
- [06:32] Stick with math, don't let poor teaching get you down.
- [06:53] Being able to write and having the ability to communicate your ideas effectively will get you very far in the field.
- [07:15] Being able to convey very complex ideas in a very succinct way will get you very far.
- [08:06] Public speaking is important. When you’re in an academic environment you do have to go to conferences, you have to explain your research and answer people’s questions. So, being able to talk is very important, plus you have a lot of teaching that you need to do.
- [10:04] Scientist need to have the ability to communicate and not make the other person feel dumb. This is crucial to society's perception of scientists.
- [10:56] In the fields that Erin has been working in, there has been about one woman for every seven guys.
- [11:45] Erin did have trouble finding other women mentors (other than Dana Scully from the X-files). The biggest surprise in her field was the lack of support from the older generation of women.
- [13:01] It was kind of like she had to earn the right to be there.
- [14:05] It would be wonderful if women would lift each other up and find and build a community. Even if you don't have mentors, you could have female peers to help and support each other.
- [15:57] Erin feels lucky that she was able to craft her dream job. She always wanted to be behind the scenes in the entertainment industry.
- [16:40] She started speaking at science fiction conventions, and she was able to share scientific information with a diverse group of people. She also started meeting actors, writers, and producers while she was there.
- [18:21] She started making connections, and people started reaching out for advice about the science behind the shows that they were writing.
- [19:16] She recently worked on a scripted live sci-fi show called Orbital Redux.
- [21:33] Erin answer question #35 from Answers for Modern Communicators book - “Is it better to be a Type A or Type B personality?” Her Type A personality helps her with that, but diversity is important.
- [24:29] If we aren't challenged, we aren't doing it right. Having to pitch herself is the most uncomfortable thing that Erin has to do. She has to convince them that she is different.
- [27:42] Her tough skin has helped her become more confident with whatever she is doing.
- [30:13] Erin had to give a speech to non-scientists. She started taking acting classes and getting out of her comfort zone.
- [32:41] Talking about science fiction can be an anchor to teach real science.
- [33:59] A day in Erin's life. Public speaking and science communication is a skill. She gets up early and works with the Air Force. Then she does doctor errand stuff at the end of the day. She also goes to the beach to decompress or takes breaks when she needs them.
- [36:26] Burnout warning bells put you in a negative space and not wanting to do stuff. It's being tired and irritated. Physical anxiety. We know when we are pushed too far. The difficult thing is fixing it.
- [38:33] I'll work better if I get the rest that I need. Self-care is so important.
- [39:46] Relentlessly pursuing happiness is the way to find what work is for you. It's okay to walk away and think outside the box and pursue new things. Confidence is contagious.
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