A Conversation with Science Educator Sophie Shrand

Science educator and YouTube content creator Sophie Shrand visited ‘Jake’s Take.’ (Photo by Elias Rios; courtesy of Sophie Shrand)

By: Jacob Elyachar, jakes-take.com

It is a privilege to welcome science educator and YouTube content creator Sophie Shrand to Jake’s Take.

I had the opportunity to meet with Sophie at the New York City affiliation of One Million Cups, where she gave a presentation to this entrepreneurial networking group. She presented her online series: Science with Sophie.  Science with Sophie is an educational comedy web series that is geared towards promoting STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education for young girls. Her work has been seen in countless classrooms around the country.

Sophie Shrand and her team have tackled topics that range from food and potholes to gum and dogs. Also, she brought Mother Earth to life. In these videos, Mother Earth advises her children on topics such as water conservation and climate change.   In this edition of A Conversation, Sophie shared Science with Sophie’s origin story, teased the show’s second season, and revealed her dream A-list guest stars.

Jacob Elyachar: When did you get interested in science? How did that passion evolve into the desire to pursue a professional career?

Sophie Shrand: I have been interested in science since I was very young. I remember being about maybe four or five years old in a driveway in my parents’ house. I looked at little cracks in the pavement and seeing what kinds of tiny things I could discover. I have had a natural curiosity about the world around me that a lot of kids have. Then, I was lucky to have parents who nurtured that and wanted me to keep exploring my world. I have been interested in science my whole life. When I was a sophomore in high school is when I had a chemistry teacher, Mrs. Norton, who inspired me that I could do science. She was my real life Ms. Frizzle.

Jacob Elyachar: Could you please share Science with Sophie’s origin story with my readers?

Sophie Shrand: Science with Sophie became my reason for being on the planet because I was a woman in STEM. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math and a woman in comedy, in theater, and I realized in both of these worlds, that there were not enough women. We have heard this before; it’s a pretty hot topic right now. When I was working in classrooms, in laboratories, in science education in museums, I realized that there was a lack of female representation. I started thinking more about it and realized if I notice it, other women and girls notice too. It comes down to what I call the Frizzle Problem which has to do with role models. Role models are so critical to how we see ourselves, how we identify with what we are capable of, and what we can do in this world. The only female role model doing science on TV that I had was Ms. Frizzle from The Magic School Bus.

Jacob Elyachar: Who was voiced by Lily Tomlin.

Sophie Shrand: Yes, Lily Tomlin. An incredible real human. Ms. Frizzle, not so much. She was an astonishing cartoon. In the history of children’s educational television, we have never had a real life human female role model doing science until now.

Jacob Elyachar: How long does it take you and your team to create an episode of your web series from conception to release?

Sophie Shrand: I like to say that I decided that if I cannot see it, I will be it. I just made this show. That sounds so simple. But the reality is far from it. Because to create an episode, we have to come up with the concept, the topic, the STEM topic we are going to explore. As well as the characters and the genre we are going to do because we are not just doing STEM, we are also doing sketch comedy. So, combining those and crafting how their relationship is going to be in the episode is fun and takes a lot of time. A script might be in the works anywhere from a month to six months depending on the process.  Then, we have to find the money to produce it. We are constantly crowdfunding. We have to do pre-production, which involves location scouting, costumes, we need a wardrobe, ideally rehearsal, which in actuality is usually me memorizing my lines on the way to the set that morning. Or in my home, because my set is sometimes my apartment. Then, there is post-production which often takes several months as well. Oh, and when we are filming, we film for example season one, we have five episodes, and we filmed for ten days, and those were 12 to 14 hour days. In season two, we have five episodes, and we filmed for 21 days. My team and I packed a lot more into season two. It does take quite a bit of time, but it is a labor of love.

Jacob Elyachar: What are some of the challenges that you faced throughout your career? How did you overcome those obstacles?

Sophie Shrand: One of the biggest challenges that I have found is that I am battling the very issues that the show is trying to address. So as a woman in STEM and a woman in comedy, those biases against women, those gender biases, whether they are obvious or so ingrained we do not even realize they exist, but they are there. They exist in STEM, in comedy, in the media, and in the film industry. It is really something that we are dealing with from within. I have created by team to be that inclusive voice so that we can change the conversation and walk the walk so to speak. My writing team are scientists, educators and comedians from all over the country and they are all women.

We are elevating voices that traditionally go unheard in that writing space, in that writer’s room. Then, the production team is not entirely female because we need everyone to be involved in the solution together. We are greater than 50 percent female, and then everyone across the gender spectrum is welcome to be part of the solution. Another challenge that we faced merely is, how do we get views without a budget for marketing? Because the media is so expensive. Film production is incredibly costly. We have been crowd-funded from the beginning. We are bootstrapping our budget and making what I like to say, five dollars worth of work on a quarter.

(Photo by Rory McCann; courtesy of Sophie Shrand)

Jacob Elyachar: How does Science with Sophie standout against other YouTube series?

Sophie Shrand: I am so excited to see all of the different channels that are out there right now, and because we can create our content, there’s this plethora or science education that you can get access to through the internet. That is where Science with Sophie comes in, is that it’s in the young learner’s space. It is designed for all ages to enjoy and get something out of; whether you are six, 16 or 60 years old, you’ll find something fun within the show. It is written at a level that young kids can understand. I have had 4-year-olds watch the show and then explain to their moms what basal tears are. How cool is that right?

Science with Sophie’s second season debuted on March 5 with a video focusing on the science of food. (Video courtesy of Science with Sophie)

Jacob Elyachar: Let’s talk about Science with Sophie’s second season. What can viewers expect from this season?

Sophie Shrand: We finished filming, and now we are in post-production, and we are editing it. We have launched two episodes already, which are all about the science of food and simple machines. This season, viewers can expect way more science, more experiments, and more characters. We have hyped up and amped up everything we did in season one to make season two sciencier and Sophier than ever.

Jacob Elyachar: Have you thought about guest stars for future seasons of Science with Sophie? If so, who would like to collaborate with and why?

Sophie Shrand: I have a huge list of amazing people I would love to work with. Beyonce, if you are reading this, I know you are reading this, I have an episode about bees that I am so ready to collaborate on. My gosh, we have amazing women in STEM that I’d love to work with, like some of the incredible astronauts that we have right now. Would not that be amazing? Michelle Obama, STEAM is a real thing, right? Science, technology, engineering, arts, and math. Let’s get everyone involved. I want to work with Michelle Obama and Beyonce, I want Ellen to be on an episode. I want to work with Jane Goodall. I want her in an episode. I want to have a bunch of other young scientists in my episodes because we do that too. The list really goes on and if you are reading this and you’re interested, get at me. Let’s do it.

Jacob Elyachar: Why should my readers check out Science with Sophie?

Sophie Shrand: Oh my goodness. I say the show is for girls and everyone and I mean that because girls need this message so critically right now.  We all benefit from having female science role models. And women as role models in general. If you are reading this right now and you know a girl, then hi, welcome to the Science with Sophie community. Because you influence that girl. And you have an impact on how we all see each other and treat each other with respect for each other’s genius and creativity and our sense of humor and our love or life. And that curiosity that I’ve had since I was little, I want to share with you. So come on and join us. Find some characters you love and let’s go on this journey together.

For more information about Science with Sophie, visit their website. You can also connect with Sophie on social media. Check out the Science with Sophie on their respective Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube channels.

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Copyright 2019 Jacob Elyachar