A Podcast host interview for Curioscity
In the midst of all the upheaval we are all experiencing, I was elated when Curioscity podcast host, Calvin Yeager 4th year Biochemical Virology PhD Candidate at UNC, kept the time we’d already set up to Skype. I hope you’ll enjoy our conversation below.
The podcast was launched January 3rd, 2019 and is now over a year old!
How do you feel the current global pandemic (COVID-19) will change science in the future?
It’s hard to tell — scientists spend a lot of time looking back on data to predict the future. I feel there is potential for widespread infection and it is unclear whether the measures we are taking for the next month are appropriate. A major consideration is reducing cases to below the threshold of what hospitals can handle. It’s hard to tell if the change of seasons will alter infection rates or viral spread.
Do you feel this will cause climate change to lose any traction in the community’s awareness?
Climate change is in the foreground of virologists’ minds, and virologists like to talk about it. Many viruses, like West Nile, Chikungunya, and Zika are spread by mosquitoes. Many more viruses are spread by ticks. Increasing global temperatures help to expand host ranges of the mosquitoes and thus the viruses. Hopefully, we will be able to turn this pandemic into a situation where we can have useful conversations about other viruses that are impacted by climate change
I really liked the YouTube video that featured your entry into the Millennium Café Elevator Pitch Competition!
Tell me why scientists need to be able to deliver an elevator pitch.
It’s important that all scientists communicate their research and emphasize its importance to the public. The pitch is also useful to the scientist because it prompts them to take a 50,000 foot perspective of their work. Sometimes we get so caught up in the minutiae of what we study that we forget the broader importance of why we do it. At the same time, an elevator pitch is supposed to be simple and without jargon, thus making it easily accessible to the public who fund our research with their tax dollars.
What episodes do you have coming up?
We just released an episode discussing the process of bringing a drug to market. We get into the financial resources, preliminary data, and time required to bring a small molecule or pharmaceutical into clinical trials. That episode released last Thursday, which was March 19th, 2020.
What led you to study science?
My general interest in science began in elementary school. During that period, I spent a majority of my time in the redwood forests in California catching salamanders and making potions.
I had a poorly funded high school and didn’t always have the same resources to do hands-on learning, but I still enjoyed chemistry and biology. When I went to college, I knew I wanted to study the sciences. I ended up choosing biochemistry because I liked chemistry more than I liked biology (and there were more letters in biochemistry that were from “chemistry”, haha).
How did you end up at UNC?
I realized my interest in science was very academic and that I would be well suited to be a PhD. My college advisor recommended that I apply to Penn State because he knew I liked biochemistry and viruses. My thesis advisor, Craig Cameron, is a biochemical virologist – score! He took a job at UNC just last year as the chair of the Microbiology and Immunology department.
The impetus for your podcast Curioscity was…
I listen to plenty of podcasts. I find that when comedians talk about science without a formal education, they often say misleading things. I would often email the comedians with factual corrections and consultation offers. No one ever took me up on it, haha. Then, I got sick one weekend and woke up in the middle of the night with the realization that I should just make a podcast myself. Still, I didn’t want to do it just for the sake of doing it, so I decided to email a couple podcast networks and see if my idea for a show would be a good fit. Vincent Racaniello (professor at Columbia) runs the podcast network MicrobeTV and liked my proposal.
My show intends to speak to people who are non-scientists and non-specialists. We provide a basic understanding of scientific topics that will mesh really well with other science podcasts (especially those you can find on MicrobeTV!).
Tell us about your favorite episode so far?
There are a couple that are near and dear to my heart. As I told you before, salamanders really helped me find my interest in science. Wham – episode 52 was salamanders.
I should also mention episode 29: Human evolution and migration. My guest and I talked about human ancestors like Homo erectus, Homo habilus, etc. It was nice to talk about because evolution is a huge, fundamental tenet of biology. Sometimes people think you can politicize science, but scientists are supposed to be relegated to making assertions from data they measure and collect. As most scientists have told me through my life: “The data are the data”. An incredibly vast majority of all scientists are on-board with climate change and evolution… why disagree with the experts?
How do you choose your podcast topics?
It’s actually incredibly self-serving! I talk about things I want to learn about, and during the course of my discussion with my guest figure out what we don’t know and what we would like to know. I try to keep the tone very conversational; it can be hard enough to learn science in the first place without it being dry.
What sources do you like to use?
I start by thinking about what background information my audience needs to know to understand the given topic. My sources are educational institutions, scientific publishers, or governmental websites (and all of the citations for each episode are available at my website ascienceshow.com). I always ask the listeners to email us or Tweet at us if we make any factual errors so that we can edit the website citation section if need be. I also don’t listen to any other science podcast regularly so that my content is as original as possible.
What other things are you into that foster your success in the sciences but don’t have to do with science per se?
I’m really interested in sharing things, like a note in a song, or a brush stroke in a painting, and I think this aspect of my personality lends itself to being an educator.
I remember I won a teaching assistant award (https://bmb.psu.edu/about/news-articles/2018-news-articles/calvin-yeager-named-the-recipient-of-the-2018-paul-m.-althouse-teaching-assistant-award) at Penn State, and it was likely because I was desperate to get all of the students I taught invested in the topic of microbiology. I wanted what I taught to be relevant to them for their future. I want to make everything personal to people.
Was there anything else you wanted to expound on before we sign off?
Something I wanted to mention is that people who do science communication are often thought to be “Bill Nye” types; that is, people who aren’t active researchers, scientific figureheads, or students. I believe the whole scientific community needs to get on-board with sharing their science to the public. All scientists need to be able to explain what they do to anyone.
I might also mention that at my poorly funded high school, one cheap thing we could do was acting. We mostly did Shakespeare, but the teachers taught us to be emotive. This acting experience has been a major boon to me. Sure, it doesn’t always play well in the scientific community (and I’ve had some comments about how I’m too enthusiastic or like a used car salesman), but I tell people I like to seem excited about what I’m doing… and if they don’t like it, there are still plenty of people giving monotone lectures.
Connect with Calvin via Twitter :
Curioscity has so many wonderful episodes and it hands down makes for an enlightening and entertaining listen for scientists, science enthusiasts and even just anyone needing a something to listen to while passing the time on their commute or while they’re home at their computer.
Interview performed and compiled by Suzanne Miller, Managing Editor of SICB journals.