Journeying through academia, industry, and entertainment with Dr Erin Macdonald (#48)

We talk about Erin's journey through academia, industry, and entertainment, learning to celebrate little wins, and Erin's love of teaching and sharing science to inspire the next generation.

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Erin Macdonald (PhD, Astrophysics) is a tattooed one-woman STEM career panel, with recognition as a researcher, speaker, engineer, and consultant before her current career. She lives in Los Angeles working as a writer and producer and is currently the science advisor for the entire Star Trek franchise.

In our conversation, we talk about Erin’s journey through academia, industry, and entertainment, learning to celebrate little wins, and Erin’s love of teaching and sharing science to inspire the next generation.

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Show Notes

[00:00:59] Television and film leading Erin down the path to astrophysics.
[00:01:51] Having a passion but not exactly a plan.
[00:02:45] Exploring academia.
[00:03:05] The challenges of academic life.
[00:03:38] Taking the advice of getting some distance from her PhD before making any career decisions.
[00:04:51] Transitioning into industry.
[00:05:01] Working multiple jobs to pay the bills.
[00:05:30] Discovering her transferable skills.
[00:06:26] The value of being able to communicate the science.
[00:08:54] Finding a space in the con circuit.
[00:10:01] Pop culture gives people a reference point for the science.
[00:13:42] The path to becoming a science advisor.
[00:13:56] Discovering that ‘science advisors’ exist planted a seed.
[00:15:06] Networking and learning more about the process.
[00:16:04] Getting on the Star Trek radar.
[00:17:20] Science advising is about “yes, and”.
[00:18:04] The day-to-day.
[00:20:31] The story comes first.
[00:22:16] The cyclical nature of science, invention and science fiction.
[00:24:42] Writing, producing, and looking to the future.
[00:25:38] Speaking to those who had come before.
[00:26:41] Pros and cons working in this space in the 90s and now.
[00:27:43] Starting to write.
[00:28:43] Producing a film: Every Morning.
[00:32:14] Finding a purpose and a place.
[00:33:39] Finding a space where you want it enough and feel that you can make a difference.
[00:34:16] Carving out a space for representation in media in various capacities.
[00:35:59] “Luck is hard work and knowing what is an opportunity and what’s not.” - Lucille Ball
[00:37:01] The pros and cons of working in academia, industry, and entertainment
[00:37:39] The pros of academia.
[00:38:24] The cons of academia.
[00:39:47] The pros and cons of industry.
[00:41:59] Cons of entertainment.
[00:42:26] Pros of entertainment.
[00:43:17] Celebrate little wins.
[00:45:08] Observations about the misconceptions about each of these industries.
[00:47:03] The rejection economy, finding ways and reasons to persevere.
[00:49:20] Finding mentorship and role models who can guide you.
[00:52:24] For academics looking to get out of academia, there are paths for you.
[00:53:59] If you’re starting a new career, don’t be too hard on yourself. You will need time to get up to speed.
[00:55:45] Bonus Question 1: What hobby or interest do you have that is most unrelated to your field of work?
[00:59:21] Bonus Question 2: Which childhood book holds the strongest memories for you?
[01:00:48] Bonus Question 3: What advice you would give someone who wants to do what you do? Or what advice should they ignore?
[01:01:01] Get experience in science communication. The skills will benefit you throughout your career(s).
[01:02:13] Explore the creative side of your hard science.
[01:03:13] Improv and creative thinking provides tools for better and more flexible communication.

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