Scientist and comedian Sophie Shrand created the television series Science with Sophie to make women in science more visible in the media. Shrand met with students at a Your Hot Job career event. Here’s what she had to say.
I’m the creator and host of Science with Sophie, a science-comedy television series for girls—and for everyone. I’m also the founder and CEO of the company that runs that show. I operate under the personal mission statement that girls are brave, curious, funny, and smart scientists. My career has been devoted to spreading that message.
I followed a nontraditional career path. I have been an educator for over a decade, working in science museums. I’m also a comedian. I’ve been an actor my whole life. I became an entrepreneur to create a business that I knew the world needed. I had to learn how to be a boss and run the company, because my education wasn’t in entrepreneurship.
I have two degrees from Northeastern University, in Boston. I studied behavioral neuroscience and theater. People told me I had to choose one or the other, and I said, “No, I love them both.” If you like multiple things, there are ways to combine them all. Never let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. I worked in science labs, doing neuroscience research. I love learning about why people do what they do, and our relationships with each other. And I love asking the question: “Based on our biology, why are we who we are?”
Here’s the thing: Scientists ask those questions. Theater also asks those questions. The arts explore these questions, just from a different angle. The fields are complementary. That’s why I maintained my work as an actor as I did my scientific work. And I realized that my favorite thing about science was communicating it, sharing with people.
I started working at the Museum of Science in Boston. I ran the lightning show. The museum houses a Van de Graaff generator: two big spheres, with the tubes underneath that generate a million volts of electric charge and create indoor lightning storms. Then, at the Museum of Science and Industry, in Chicago, I taught lab programs about many kinds of science, such as forensics, physics, medicine, and space. The museum has a classroom setup where students come in on field trips and do hour-long science experiments. I taught 25,000 students during my time there. I was also working at Second City, a comedy theater. I fell in love with improvisational comedy. I started thinking about how I might combine improvisation as a learning tool in my teaching.
I was also thinking about my experience as a woman in science, a woman in comedy, and a woman in education. I realized that women in these fields don’t have representation in the media. You may have heard this before: We need more women in STEM. That’s because by age 6, girls already see themselves as less smart than boys. Part of the problem is that women need more representation in the field. The only woman I had ever seen doing science on TV was a cartoon. So I thought, “You know what? We’re out there, let’s make a show that really highlights us.” And that’s what I did.
Science with Sophie is a funny solution to a serious problem. It is sketch comedy. I play all the characters. We meet real scientists, children all the way to adults. It’s the kind of science show I wish I had had when I was a kid. Making the show is satisfying work. Comedy is such a great tool for learning. When we laugh, we learn. It has proven to be true in my work as an educator, as a creator, and as a human being. I love infusing comedy into my work. And I have combined that with my passion for curiosity, for considering the world around me. I encourage you, if you’re interested in any of those things, to reach out to me. Let’s talk more about it.