On any given day, Emily Graslie walks into her botany lab turned office, and within minutes of turning on her coffee machine, she’s swept away into the depths of the Field Museum in Chicago to skin a wolf, begin planning a conservation trip to Peru, or hold a 4.57 billion-year-old meteorite.
Yes, this is a job, and yes, you should be jealous. It’s not often you meet a Chief Curiosity Correspondent at a major museum, but lucky for you, today is the day you’ll meet the best one in the world.
Graslie graduated as an art major from the University of Montana with a focus in landscape painting. It was during her undergraduate years that she was introduce to her campus’s natural history museum and instantly fell in love, accepting an internship in scientific illustration at the museum. Following graduation, Graslie continued working odd jobs in order to continue volunteering at the museum. During this time, she started a Tumblr to highlight the daily life of the museum, and in July 2013, she was invited to bring her program to the Field Museum in Chicago.
“There is a lot of stuff that happens where people will open their doors, and unsuspectingly you kind of run into these situations where you were anticipating learning something that was going to blow your mind,” Graslie shares of her job. “It’s almost like you’re learning some of the most humbling information … that you would almost anticipate there would be a lot more pomp and circumstance. Like I would be followed around by a brass trio. Like a symphony orchestra would constantly be trailing around me in order to orchestra the climactic conversations that I have on a daily basis. But they’re so subtle, and it’s very surreal.”
Graslie co-created her channel the Brain Scoop with YouTube veteran Hank Green (of Vlogbrothers fame) after a video collaboration at the museum. Since then, Graslie has charmed fans with her contagious enthusiasm for science, learning, and adventure, and she’s provided viewers unprecedented access into the vaults of the Field Museum. In each of her bimonthly videos, Graslie interviews one of her 260 colleagues about their projects and studies but most importantly, she gives viewers a reason to care about subjects that minutes before they believed had no relevance in their lives.
“I have so much incredible, privileged access to more information than I could ever feasibly comprehend, you know?” marvels Graslie. “If I have a question about anything at all, about the natural world or meteorites or deep sea octopuses, inevitably, here at the Field Museum, someone will help me answer that question and be able to provide me with more information than I ever knew I wanted to know. When people say you learn something new every single day, that’s absolutely true!”
As she approaches 250,000 subscribers, Graslie has begun taking her science lessons out of the confines of the museum and into the wild. This year alone, Graslie has taken viewers along on trips to Kenya to study bat caves, Wyoming to unearth fossil fish, and Peru, where Graslie is currently filming the conservation of the rainforest with 30 other biologists. But the thing that continues to drive Graslie around the world is her determination to make others as passionate about science as she is.
“We know maybe 10 percent of all life,” explains Graslie. “That kind of mentality is so encouraging to me—that we still have so much to discover and learn and there is more than what the people at the Field Museum can feasibly do between all 260 of us research staff. It becomes really encouraging because I want to get young people invested in [these] projects and to start answering some of these questions for themselves.”
In just the short time her channel has been live on YouTube, Graslie has become a prominent authority within the education community on YouTube. But more importantly, she’s become one of the loudest advocates for female-run STEM channels on the platform and a crusader against the ongoing sexism that plagues these channels. When not filming at the museum, Graslie spends most weekends traveling around the country to speak at colleges and conventions about the importance of women becoming more involved in all STEM fields: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
“Until the climate changes for women in science, [I] feel completely obligated to continue saying yes to everything,” says Graslie of her busy travel schedule. “Just because [I] don’t know who else would do it—and not to stroke [my] own ego or sound self-absorbed—it’s kind of the truth. If I wasn’t doing this at the Field Museum, inevitably someone would do something similar, but it would be a while.”
In her most popular video, “Where All My Ladies At?,” Graslie dives right into the fray, combatting sexist comments with wit and poise. But in the end, she drives home the statement that sexism will not be tolerated on her channel. In this video, Graslie even provides a list of over 50 other female-run STEM channels for viewers to start learning from. This video has strongly influenced Graslie’s viewers, who now patrol her comments, calling out trolls for their inappropriate behavior and shaming them to never return. Graslie is one of the first females to go public about the state of sexism in the science education field on YouTube, and she explains why there needs to be a change both on- and offline.
“Anything that happens on YouTube is a reflection; it’s a microcosm of what is actually happening, in my opinion, with the greater world. There are not many women making educational channels on YouTube, and then if they are, they deal with an incredible amount of sexism and discouragement. I think it is much harder for them to continue and kind of presevere throughout all of that because there aren’t a lot of support groups for them to go to,” Graslie states. “You just kind of have to toughen up and deal with it, and that’s not an option for a lot of people and it shouldn’t be! Nobody should have to do that; nobody should have to anticipate that being a part of their job.”
Graslie’s crusade against sexism, her pursuit of science, and her desire to pave a path for other female STEM professionals are all incredibly inspiring and proof that by starting a conversation, things can change. And when she says things like, “Just do it! The culture has never been better for nerds in high school ever. Being nerdy is super cool,” you can’t help but fall in love with her a little more.
Screengrab via The Brain Scoop/YouTube