The Pivot

August 28th, 2018

I’ve hit a moment in my life where I think it is time to make a change. I look around at the science communications landscape, and it is FULL of amazing people communicating science. The YouTube space is now overflowing with intelligent, energetic young women explaining science. And… I feel aged out.

I’m not old, but I’m not young anymore either. It’s hard to believe that I could be a mom or even grandmother to most YouTube viewers. So, why do I keep doing the same things – producing content that is now being produced by younger voices and faces?

Like I mentioned in my last post, I’ve started a small video production company, and that is part of my pivot. I can use my experience to help others tell their stories. I don’t need to be the face in front of the camera any more.

However, I like to talk with people. I like to use my voice. So, I’m considering working on new shows beyond the weekly science news of TWIS. I want to produce shows that have personal value to me, and that set me apart from the pack of youngsters I no longer fit into. I’d love your feedback on my thoughts and experiments, so that I can really figure out what works and what doesn’t.

First, I’d like to interview more people – scientists, primarily, but I’m also thinking about a focus on women and the various issues that crop up as we age. My concern here is that although this is something that I am very personally interested in, it is a HUGE shift from what I have done historically, and away from the audience that I have built up over many years. Not that it’s a bad thing to do that. It’s just fear-inducing to consider something so different.

And, second, I’d like to do something with my son. I think it would be extremely rewarding to spend time creating a science-based show with him. This would also be targeted at a different audience, but the same amount of fear isn’t there because this show wouldn’t be about me as much as something to experience with my son. He has expressed interest, but seems to like the idea of a gaming channel more than science at the moment. So, we’ll see whether this idea gets any traction.

Finally, as far as helping other scientists tell their stories goes, I’ve also been thinking about putting some videos together about story-telling and video production for science. Maybe a weekly or monthly video workshop would be helpful for people…

Anyway, it’s time to pivot. I have ideas. I just need to start moving forward on execution. And, like I said, I’d love your feedback on what you think will be both useful and enjoyable.

Getting What I Want

August 22nd, 2018

I am… I think… finally, starting to see my work for the past year or so beginning to bear fruit. It’s a wonderful feeling to have clients and to be doing work that I enjoy. The best feeling in the world is actually completing projects to send them off into the world.

My little video babies…

Lol. Now I’m making my self laugh. Which is good. For the soul, for the heart, for me.

A few years back I decided that I would really make an attempt at running my own video production business. At first, I was full of excitement at the idea, but then anxiety about my abilities took hold (Would I actually be able to do the things I say I can? Am I actually just full of myself? Am I crazy to try this new thing?), which was followed by the depression, which led to me not doing anything to make the business move forward. Ugh.

That couldn’t go on forever. It was making me miserable to have a goal and NOT be acting on it. Thank you, therapy, for helping me to take actionable steps (yes, they were little baby steps) toward me facing my anxiety head-on so that I could get back to being productive.

Skip forward, and I’m working at building a small business in video production that focuses on telling science stories to the point where I now have sufficient business to keep myself busy. I might be too busy though…

I don’t know. Maybe my level of busyness is just right. It’s summer, and I (like everyone else) would rather be lounging on a river or beach than working in my office during these beautiful days, which are a VERY seasonal occurrence in Portland, OR.

Part of my decision to work for myself is based on wanting to be able to spend time with my son. And, yet, now that I am beginning to get the success I am aiming for as a video-maker, I find myself handing him the iPad so that I can work. This is a less than satisfying result for my soul. These years with the child will be gone before I know it, and there are no do-overs in this game.

Still, I also feel as though I haven’t taken a real break for a very, very long time. I went from working, to having a child, back to working, and then there was the anxiety and depression, not to mention the move to Portland, struggling for money, creating a new life in a new city, still working… and I’m still working.

Thankfully, I do love my work. And, I don’t think I could have kept it going this long if my work didn’t feed my soul. But, I think I’m tired, and I don’t know how to fix that because I made my decision to create a business that requires constant attention. Between work and family and my crazy brain, I honestly don’t know when I will be able to rest.

Maybe it’s time to hire some help? (That idea panics me because hiring people would mean that I realio, trulio am running a business, which is a bit scary and exciting to consider.)

Anyway, as I work through the emotions of balancing work and life, I’d love to hear from other parents. Do you work for yourself? As an entrepreneur, what do you do when the beautiful season hits? How do you make ends meet, and not feel like you are working all the time? If you work a steady job, how do you handle the summers when kids are home?

Wisdom Versus Weakest

July 17th, 2018

This week has been a doozy for news in America, and it’s only Tuesday. Trump has travelled the world, cow-towed to Putin, and managed to do unfathomable damage to our world standing… oh, yes, Germany now lists us as adversarial thanks to recent comments by Trump. AND, Jimmy Kimmel once again reinforced the inadequacy of the American educational system.

Understanding that the bit is edited to be a shocking and humorous as possible, it is still hard to believe that people don’t know the difference between a continent and country – many responses were to point at Africa when asked to locate/name a country on the map. Even more disturbing is that when given the option to locate ANY country on the map, they don’t even start with the United States. Thankfully, we are relieved when a young boy-child seems to name all the countries in North and South America. The future is in good hands… can the rest of us just leave already?

But, the problem is I can’t even be shocked by the revelation of ignorance in this video clip. The news for the past couple of years has etched this reality into the nerve pathways of my brain. A good portion of Americans don’t know anything about the rest of the world, let alone where the rest of the world is located. They also don’t know much beyond their own experiences. The educational system has let a lot of people pass through its grasp without actually teaching them to see beyond what is right in front of their own faces.

Of course, the media is to blame as well. It perpetuates what people want to see, and it seems as though that vision is driven by the least curious among us. Once again we fall victim to the influence of the weakest link instead of being lofted by the wisdom of the crowd.

How we change this pattern is something the brightest minds are trying to figure out. For the time being we don’t have an answer that involves systemic change. For now, it is up to each of us to be responsible for a few things:

  1. Ourselves – be curious, and feed that craving for information. Don’t take things at face-value. Do your own research.
  2. Our families – inspire curiosity in the next generation.
  3. Our communities – conversation doesn’t have to be argumentation. Learn to listen, and practice compassionate communication to build stronger, more resilient communities. Kindness really is essential in the present moment.
  4. Our world – Vote. It really is the chance you have to voice your preferences in a way that will count. Local elections are essential to a functioning democracy. Forget about “trickle-down” economics, politics is all about trickling up. The grass has strong roots, and it will grow.

Not too hard, right?

Together we can turn the weakest links to wisdom.

Back At It…

July 2nd, 2018

Dr. Kiki WAG TV ShootI looked at the date of my last blog posting… just about 6 years ago, in fact… and am amazed at how things have progressed since then.

I obviously stopped blogging, but in the past 6 years I have managed to continue broadcasting TWIS, written articles for some great science magazines, appeared on cable tv science programming, done bits for what is now called Seeker on the Discovery Digital Platform, been hosting a second podcast (the Stem Cell podcast), become part of an amazing science communication organization called ScienceTalk, started to build a science media production company called Broader Impacts Productions, moved to Portland, and raised my little NanoKai into a wonderful 7-year old boy.

During that time, I also struggled off and on with depression, which certainly added a challenge to life. But, I discovered ways to deal with the lows, and try to really appreciate the good days. It doesn’t always work out the way I envision, but I am getting better and better at rolling with the unpredictability of my moods.

More recently, however, I have been feeling like some part of myself that was lost somewhere in the past is returning. Hence, this post, and my plan to get back into blogging… writing on a regular basis. Words stream through my mind that in the past few years have simply been lost to consciousness, slipping through the neuronal fingers of my mind. Now, I’m grabbing them with intention – some to be placed here for posterity.

I don’t know how many of these words will hit the pages of this blog. There are so many things I want to say; books I want to write. It might take me a while to hit my stride again, but I look forward to every moment of trying. Thank you for joining me in this venture.

Write on…

Bay Area Science Festival Coverage

November 1st, 2011

This week, the first of (hopefully) many Bay Area science festivals is taking place. There are events happening all around the Bay, and I will be covering some of them live via Justin.tv. Also, I’m lucky to be joined in the action by the wonderful Indre Viskontas.

Here is my estimated broadcast schedule (times are still subject to change):

Tuesday 7-8pm PT
Porchlight: Epic Fail
Hosts: Indre, Kirsten

Wednesday 11am-12pm PT
Retrain your brain
Hosts: Kirsten

Wednesday 6:30-7pm and 9-9:30pm PT
Will We ever understand the brain
Hosts: Indre, Kirsten

Friday 11:30am-12:30pm PT
Gut Check
Hosts: Kirsten

Friday 7-8pm PT    CANCELLED
RadioLab
Hosts: Kirsten

Saturday 1-2pm PT  CANCELLED
Artificial Intelligence
Hosts: Indre, Kirsten

Sunday
Discovery Days, ATT Park
Hosts: Kirsten


Watch live video from drkiki on www.justin.tv

About That EMF…

September 13th, 2011

… radiation / hypersensitivity story that has been making its way around the internet today. Thanks to Tom Merritt for inviting me onto Tech News Today to talk briefly about the story!

So, people are moving to West Virginia to get away from electromagnetic radiation. They’ve chosen the particular area in WV because it is a “quiet zone” with little in the way of EM transmission going on (mainly so the government dishes listening to the rest of the world and signals coming here from space can hear things better).

This type of story is not new. People have been moving away from modern society for any number of reasons for years. I recall watching a made for TV movie some years back about a woman isolating herself from everyone and everything because she was convinced that chemicals (in paint, perfume, fabrics, etc.) were making her sick. It was depressing. I turned it off.

Scientifically, there is no concrete evidence that EMF radiation causes the symptoms related to electromagnetic hypersensitivity (specifically, we are talking about only that portion of the EM spectrum related to the production and transmission of electrical and magnetic energy — people with hypersensitivity report symptoms when computers or tvs are turned on, near cell towers, near power lines, in areas with wi-fi, etc.). The symptoms are real though, so there definitely is a cause. What that cause is has yet to be discovered.

It’s been suggested that EM hypersensitivity results from an unknown sensory transduction process, that the individuals’ physiological responses actually lie outside normal variability, or it is psycho-somatic in nature. There is a high likelihood that some percentage of those with EM hypersensitivity do fall in the fringes of what we call normal; we know about people with tetrachromacy (they can see more colors); there are super-tasters; kids can hear higher frequencies than adults (and, I can hear the high pitched whine of fluorescent lights and had to get rid of my old CRT monitor because its refresh rate was too slow).

I, personally, like the idea that it could be due to some unknown process. How cool to have some people with an extra sense for EMF! It wouldn’t be too surprising either, considering that we evolved in a radiation-bathed world. The question that rises from that knowledge is what kind of survival benefit would come from being able to sense EMF, and from the symptoms described, in a really unpleasant way? What other things do we sense unpleasantly? Noxious stimuli. Burning hot, freezing cold, sharp objects that could injure our skin, and so on. We need to sense things that could injure us in order to survive better.

Is EMF harmful then? Is the sensation and resulting behavioral response a brilliant survival mechanism? Well, if so, why is it only self-reported in 5% of Americans? Shouldn’t it be more widely spread? Could be that we are seeing evolution in action with this one… I suggest the geneticists get on it to look for evidence of the genes responsible.

Anyway, my bad news for those trying to get away from EMF radiation is that since they live in this universe, there isn’t really any place that is technically 100% quiet. Sure, they can avoid some specific EMF signals created and transmitted by people since there aren’t any cell towers or electrical wires nearby, and they’ve chosen not to use wi-fi, and in some cases even live without electricity; however, they are still subject to all the signals (“It’s like a particle and a wave, man…”) that bounce around inside our atmosphere. Just because they don’t have a television doesn’t mean they aren’t still being bombarded by TV’s EM waves. TVs are not magnets for TV broadcast signals; they’re more like a bird net that can be tuned to catch specific kinds of birds.

And, to the poor suffering seventy year old Nichols Fox from the BBC article, who said she felt the symptoms come and go when she used her remote control to turn the TV on and off, I just have one thing to say. TVs with wireless remotes are always on in a stand-by mode waiting for the signal from the remote control to “turn it on”. Ok, two things to say… the EM radiation emitted by a TV decreases exponentially with distance, so sit further away if you are worried.

I’m not saying we know everything about EMF radiation and public health. By all means, no. We have a lot more to learn, and thankfully scientists are doing studies to inform our future decisions. If you are worried about EMF pollution by human activities, do your best to limit your exposure. You might find yourself breathing fresh air a lot more often, which science has shown to be very good for you.

I Am A Scientist…

May 27th, 2011

I think this speaks for itself…

DrKikiMadScientist

Many thanks to Jeff Steinmetz at Urge Productions for the pictures, Anastassia Babanskaia for the styling, and Kat Steinmetz for the make-up. These pictures were taken last year pre-pregnancy; I’m working to get back into the amazing shape I was in when these pics were taken. Note the intentional lack of a lab coat anywhere.

I was Ninterviewed!

April 8th, 2011

First, what an honor to be interviewed by THE Ninja.

Second, how fun! I could have hung out and talked for hours. Everyone needs more Ninja in their life.

Check it out:

Thinking About Epigenetics

March 1st, 2011

This morning, I was totally taken by the focus on epigenetics in this month’s issue of The Scientist magazine. It’s a fascinating area of study that looks at mechanisms of inheritance and development that fall outside the usual genetic mechanisms.

For years, researchers investigating inheritance focused solely on DNA and RNA as the blueprints for what makes us who we are. However, over the past 80 years research has amassed suggesting that there is much more to the picture. Namely, expression of genes can be controlled through one process termed imprinting or another called X-chromosome inactivation, and chemical modifications by structures, called histones, that wrap DNA into little bundles, and a process called methylation.

The various modifications to DNA or RNA affect the ways that genes get expressed (like if they get turned on or off, or are expressed more or less), but not the genes themselves. Darwinian natural selection and Mendelian genetics are still major forces acting on the genes themselves (so, don’t go off half cocked crying about Lamarckian ideas overturning over 100 years of evidence for the theory of evolution), but now we have a new tool to add to the toolbox to help us understand the very nuanced processes of adaptation and development.

From an article in The Scientist:

Eric Nestler, a psychiatrist at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, explained that behavioral researchers “are moving to a far broader definition of epigenetics which simply refers to any lasting change in gene expression mediated by an alteration in chromosomal structure.” “

What I find fascinating, is the idea that these modifications can arise during an individuals lifetime. It’s a mechanism that has the potential to explain how experience during someone’s lifetime can 1) effect changes in their behavior and 2) effect changes in the behavior of subsequent generations.

Epigenetics is no longer like genetics, which can look at individuals, but preferentially looks at changes to populations on a generational timescale. Rather, epigenetics diverges from genetics because it can explore changes within and between individuals on multiple timescales: second to second, minute to minute, year to year, or generation to generation.

Again, from The Scientist:

Szyf… speculates that behavioral epigenetics might end up showing that adult learning is simply development, continued. Perhaps, he says, “it’s all development, starting from preconception to death.” “

If the articles from The Scientist aren’t enough for you, we did a review of epigenetic research on TWIS last year, and interviewed one of the leading epigenetic researchers, Dr. Andrew Feinberg, back in 2007. In both cases, the coverage starts in the second half of the program, so you will need to fast forward a little bit to get to the pertinent info.

Climate Change and Coral Reefs

January 31st, 2011

For the past several years, news of the decline of coral species and coral reef ecosystems has increased dramatically. Ostensibly, we are hearing more about corals as a direct result of the work scientists are doing to help us learn more and more about the tight inter-relationship between the Earth’s climate and the oceans.

Last year, I was involved in a project with The Video Project, Plankton Productions, Curriculum Corporation, The Learning Federation, and Specialty Studios to create a video series for students on the subject of climate change and coral reefs. The project was based on a presentation given by Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, a globally recognized marine biologist, at the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. I worked as the host of the videos, and as Creative Adviser, working closely with the Instructional Design consultant, Nancy Wolfberg, on the writing, editing, and animations.

The primary goal of the project was to create a series of short videos that science teachers could use as supplements to help familiarize students with the basic science of both coral reefs and climate change. Secondarily, but even more importantly, we wanted our videos to instill an understanding of the nature of scientific inquiry that students would take with them from the classroom to the real world. In doing so, we hoped to counteract the very depressing scientific statistics presented across the videos with a feeling of empowerment… we wanted to leave the students with the impression that they are capable and don’t have to wait for adults in order to substantially affect their environments.

Here is a little taste of our introductory video:

I’m proud to say that I think we achieved our goals. The DVD that is currently available through The Video Project is a valuable teaching tool:

“The DVD includes:

Four 8-minute video modules hosted by Dr. Kiki Sanford.
The modules feature Dr. Sanford and excerpts from a presentation by Prof. Ove Hoegh-Guldberg:

  • Introduction to Climate Change and Coral Reefs
  • Coral Bleaching
  • Ocean Acidification
  • The Future of Coral Reefs.

The full 28-minute presentation by Prof. Hoegh-Guldberg.
Details his scientific findings about the impact of climate change on coral reefs, with charts, graphs and other visuals.

A Detailed Teacher’s Guide.
Featuring an innovative group discussion format (Climate Café), templates for team-based
investigations and presentations, a glossary, Science magazine reprints, and a comprehensive
list of other resources and links (on the DVD-ROM section).

Visual Resources for Student Presentations.
Video clips, animations and other resources (on the DVD-ROM section).

All video segments are illustrated with footage from renowned underwater filmmaker David Hannan.”

I think the Teacher’s Guide is brilliant. It takes engagement with the material to a whole new level in and outside of the classroom. Additionally, source materials and all of the animations are available for the students to use in their own research and presentations, giving them the opportunity to put their own spin on what they learn.

So, if you are a science teacher (or home school your kids!), or know someone who might be interested in this teaching resource to supplement their teaching of climate change and coral reefs, please pass this information along!

If you are a teacher or student in Australia or New Zealand, where I believe these videos are available through the Curriculum Corporation, please let me know what you think of the video project. I’d love your feedback.

Also, Specialty Studios and The Video Project will have a booth at the 2011 National Conference of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) in San Francisco. I hope to be able to make an appearance at the event, and be able to talk with teachers in person about our labor of love. However, it’s rather close to the due date of my first child, so I will be sure to keep people apprised of developments.

I hope people enjoy and get much use out of our creation. It took the devotion and hard work of many talented individuals to see it to completion.