Q&A with “They Blinded Me with Science” crew

This Q&A is with the group of DJ’s that host the KVRX science radio show called “They Blinded Me with Science.” 

If you are looking for a local spin on science, tune to KVRX every Monday at 8:30 p.m. to catch “They Blinded Me with Science,” a radio show produced by graduate students in the College of Natural Sciences. And if you miss that, check out the podcast.

“It’s poetry in motion,” sings Thomas Dolby in the radio program’s namesake song, and indeed, grad students Nichole Bennett, Amanda Perofsky, Stavana Strutz and Michael Gully-Santiago bring the poetry of science to listeners’ ears weekly, covering research from UT Austin and around the world.

We sat down with the crew to ask how they came to be a part of the show and what role they think it plays in science.

Why do you think a show like this is important?

Amanda: I think it helps people see scientists as more approachable. There is this stigma that scientists are very pretentious, but we’re all just normal people who happen to be scientists, and I think the way we have discussions on the show helps people understand that.

Gully: From the listener point of view, they now have access to what’s going on in UT science. I think that’s really awesome. There are other outlets, but at least for now the radio and the podcasts I’ve been pushing are an easy way to get a digestible automatically downloadable format. The podcasts provide some real tangible thing that lasts beyond the fleeting airing of the show.

Do you think it brings anything to the communication of science?

Stavana: I feel like entertainment media is dominated by a lot of junk information, and so I feel what we present is real solid information. It’s facts in a fun-to-listen-to sense. And you know in the United States in particular science is sort of constantly being challenged, and so in a state like Texas I think it’s important to promote science.

Nichole: And on the flip side of that I sometimes feel like the radio show itself helps train our guests to be able to talk to the public. If you do some big research project and you get called by CNN you need to be able to kind of do that one line thing and get across your science but still keep the pubic engaged. I feel like we do a small part in trying to help with that.

Do you think the show makes you a better scientist?

Amanda: I feel like the show helps me be well rounded in terms of my scientific knowledge. If I were just left to my own devices I would probably just read infectious disease papers all the time and not necessarily branch out. Especially with having an astronomy person on the show I have learned a lot. I learned all about what the Higgs Boson is, for example.

Gully: We really have our pulse on what’s going on at UT because we’ve interviewed so many people now we sort of know what’s happening. Sometimes we have shows focused on national news where we just talk about current news instead of bringing on a guest. That also helps us keep our pulse on science that’s happening here at UT and around the world.

What are some of the coolest shows you all have done?

Nichole: We did a Valentine’s Day show on the science of kissing, and a Halloween show on the epidemiology of a zombie outbreak. So we pretended like it actually happened and how we would model it and how it was all kinds of hopeless, depending on the properties and transmissibility of the zombie outbreak. We also did a Sasquatch species distribution model. But the distribution of Sasquatch just happened to line up with the distribution of the black bear. So that’s a better explanation. We’ve done some fun shows.

Stavana: There is always something cool we learn on every show. There is always a crazy experience the guest scientist had. We have guests that come on that talk about all of their interesting adventures, like getting held up at gunpoint by poachers in India while looking at rare species of birds. Those are the kinds of things that get people excited about science.

How did you get started in the radio show?

Nichole: I joined my first year of grad school and am now the veteran member. I had always done college radio as a kind of hobby. Then someone came to me and said, “Oh, we have a science show and you should join it.” And honestly I wasn’t really comfortable at first having my music life and my science life interact. But actually it’s a really great way to learn how to talk about your research.

Gully: So I got involved originally as a guest in December of 2012. I then sort of just started coming on as a host the semester after that. It was just occasionally at first and now I’ve more or less been doing it pretty steadily this summer and fall. I was also the one that started the podcasts.

Amanda: When I was interviewing for grad school here I mentioned to someone in our department that I wanted to DJ at the radio station because I really enjoyed being a college radio DJ in undergrad. That’s when someone told me about the science show and said that I should meet Nichole. In college I had thought it would be cool to do a science talk show but I never had the initiative to start one up on my own. When I came here it was just something I could join right away. I’ve been doing it for two years now.

Stavana: I was a guest in September 2012. After that I became a regular guest, really. Then, Nichole told me, “you’re a good guest speaker and I’m leaving for five months to Japan so can you come on and fill my shoes?” I was very happy to do it. It’s a great opportunity. We are also really glad Gully is here so it’s not just biologists.

“They Blinded Me with Science” hosts Nichole Bennett, Amanda Perofsky and Stavana Strutz are graduate students in the Ecology, Evolution and Behavior program. Michael Gully-Santiago is a graduate student in Astronomy.


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