Episode 12: Entomology with Meghan Barrett

This week we talk about entomology and BEES! Join us as we discuss #BugsR4Girls, a movement on Twitter about showcasing women in entomology and supporting a sweet young bug lover.

Then we read about Maria Sibylla Merian, a wonderful woman who’s love of bugs led her to South America, where she published a book of all of her wonderful illustrations.

Next, we interview Meghan Barrett, a passionate and creative scientists who’s love of bees has led her to wonderful and interesting places. She talks about fantasy, war, and her motivations to keep going.

Smore Magazine, a science magazine for young girls, is featured next. It is a beautiful magazine, filled with great pictures and content to motivate any young girls to see the wonder and beauty of science!

Finally, Cordon talks with Meagan and Sorina from the University of Alberta Women in Chemistry group about their upcoming LOGIC retreat.

Click the ‘play’ button on the SoundCloud file below, or download directly from iTunes or SoundCloud.





Academic Journal: Engaging for a Good Cause: Sophia’s Story and Why #BugsR4Girls

8-year old girl bullied for loving bugs publishes scientific paper on them 


Past Lady Scientist:

Maria Sibylla Merian

Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World 



Meghan Barrett


Twitter: @BeeBytes

Facebook: @BarrettsBeeBytes 

Website: meghan-barrett.com

The Bees in Your Backyard: A Guide to North America’s Bees 

Ecolog Listserve

Entomological Society of America 

Women in Entomology SciComm Stars (as listed by Meghan):

The Bug Chicks (@thebugchicks)

Isa Betancourt (@Isabetabug)

Christy Pitto (@CrawlieswithCri)

Nancy Miorelli (@SciBugs)

Eleanor Rice (@VerdantEleanor)

Gwen Pearson (@bug_gwen).


Next Gen:

Smore Magazine

Website: smoremagazine.com

University of Alberta Women in Chemistry group

Website: ualbertawic.ca/logic-retreat/

Registration for LOGIC: logic2018.eventbrite.ca

Twitter: @UofAWomeninChem

Email: wic@ualberta.ca


Follow Superwomen in Science on social media!


N: Today we’re talking about entomology!

.C: Welcome back to our 12th (or second) episode, depending on how you look at it (laughs).

N: (laughs) Second of season 2, 12th overall… it makes sense.

C: We’re super excited for our episode today, it is all about bugs! So we learn about so many cool things, including the field of entomology.

N: Mhm. Yeah. I’m really excited! I had no idea what the field of entomology was… maybe like a year ago I saw it popping up on twitter, but definitely nothing before that, and have no idea what an entomologist does, so super cool to learn about that.

C: Surprisingly I did know what an entomologist is? But it’s surprising because I hated bugs and I hated spiders when I was younger.

N: I was terrified of bugs as a child. And I feel like I don’t even actually know why I was scared of bugs, I don’t know if I thought that it was a thing, you know, “girls are scared of bugs”, and everyone else was and I just became, but that’s definitely not a thing, and that’s actually what we’re going to talk about in our discussion today, how bugs are for girls.

This was a big trend online recently, and it’s really sweet story. You may have already heard it, but we’re really excited to share it.

So basically, there was a young girl named Sophia, who really loved bugs, but was getting bullied, and kind of put down at school, specifically for her love of bugs and playing with them at recess. And so her mom wrote a letter to the Entomology Society of Canada, and talked about this, and reached out for support, saying ‘I really want to support my daughter and her love of bugs, but I don’t really know what to do’, and so she asked them for some tips and for some help.

C: So the Entomological Society shared the letter in a tweet, and Science Twitter being the amazing place that it is, show such an outpouring support.

N: And they created the hashtag #BugsR4Girls, and they just, yeah like you said, got this overpouring support from all these different women in entomology who were sharing their stories, sharing pictures, sharing encouragement, and just increasing visibility of women in entomology to help support Sophia.

C: Mhm. And she actually responded herself, Sophia, and she said “I see myself growing up to become an entomologist. It’s going to take a lot of hard work, but the more hard work you do, the better the thing you’re working for is.”

N: That’s adorable.

C: So sweet.

N: That’s so great! Also, she’s like on the path to becoming an entomologist, because she actually co-authored an academic journal article, with the person who shared the first tweet [Morgan D. Jackson]. Yeah they wrote this article in a very academic fashion, talking about the science of how this entire thing happened. So they talk about the science of twitter, and sharing the tweet, and how it got picked up, and also why that’s really great for the field of entomology, and how that’s – as a society, the entomology society – achieving their goals of interacting with the public and supporting their mission and values and type of thing. And in that Sophia wrote two paragraphs that are so adorable. It says “Outcomes and Benefits for Sophia, in Her Own Words”. And (laughs) it starts right off with “My favorite bugs are snails, slugs, and caterpillars, but my favorite one of all is grasshoppers.” And it goes on in an adorable, rambling paragraph, just about loving bugs.

C: I’m so sorry, I just kept reading and she says “Last year in the fall I had a best bug friend and his name was Hoppers.”

N: (laughs) Oh my god is that the grasshopper?

C: Yeah.

N: Yeah, she goes on to say, she talks about “It felt good to have so many people support me, and it was cool to see other girls and grown-ups studying bugs. It made me feel like I could do it too, and I definitely, definitely, definitely want to study bugs when I grow up, probably grasshoppers.” So definitely inspired by Hoppers.

C: She also adorably tells the story of when she first found Hoppers? She says “When I first found Hoppers, I was kind of scared because that was the first time I held a grasshopper. When I grabbed him, he peed on me, and I thought he had bit me and that was my blood, so I flinged him and he landed somewhere on the stairs, but I found him and I was still a little bit scared, but I realized the he still liked me”. So cute.

N: And it keeps going: “I’d find him on the porch, or on the roof of my bug cage…”. Oh my god Her best bug pal – or what did she say? Bug friend?

C: Best bug friend. Oh my god. I’m crying a little bit. I love that so much. To finish off, let’s end it with something Sophia said: “If somebody said bugs weren’t for girls, I would be really mad at them, but I wouldn’t do anything, I would just not talk to them. I think anything can be for anybody, including bugs”.

N: Yeah. That’s so cute.

C: So wonderful. Science twitter does what science twitter does best, and really rallied behind this young girl and her love of bugs!

N: Yeah. This is obviously a very very heartwarming story, and so it got picked up by so many different media outlets, like Buzzfeed… basically everything online kind of, was sharing this #BugsR4Girls, which also is just awesome, because it’s again increasing visibility, defying stereotypes, and just normalizing the idea that women can like bugs, can study bugs, and that also the field of entomology is in fact a thing, which I mean, I didn’t even know. It’s just so awesome to see science in such a spotlight, particularly stories that are highlighting girls in science. So, this is awesome, love everything about it.

C: Yeah.

~Musical interlude~

N: Today, we’re reading about Maria Sibylla Merian, a scientific illustrator and entomologist.

Born in Germany in 1647, Maria Sibylla Merian combined science and art to become one of the greatist scientific illustrators of all time.

In the 1600’s, Europeans did not have a basic understanding of insects. Most people thought they were simply disgusting, and not worth careful study. Maria could not have disagreed more. At a young age she started collecting insects to study how they behaved. Her stepfather taught her how to use paint, which she used to illustrate the different stages of her favourite insects’ lives.

Maria was particularly interested in butterflies. At the time, no one really understood the connection between caterpillars and butterflies. In 1679, she published a book on metamorphosis, filled with scientific notes and illustrations.

Then Maria’s life changed drastically. She left her husband and took her mother and 2 daughters to Holland. They joined a strict religious group that had ties with a Dutch colony in South America called Suriname. The mismanaged religious group fell apart, but Maria’s interest in Suriname stayed with her.

Curious about new insects, at the age of 52, Maria braved the rainforests of South America. She documented never-before-seen bugs in the face of dangerous rain and heat. Unfortunately, her trip ended early when she contracted malaria, but she had already made the illustrations she needed to create her greatest book. ‘The Metamorphosis of the Insects of Suriname’ was published in 1705 and became a hit all over Europe!

Maria’s work helped future scientists to classify and understand insects, and her beautiful, detailed illustrations amaze and educate people to this day.

~musical interlude!~

C: Today we have a super fun interview for you with Meghan Barrett. Meghan Barrett is a PhD student at Drexel University studying pesticides, how temperature impacts bee mating behavior, and insect neuroanatomy. In her spare time, she uses her old English/Creative Writing major to spread stories about the wonders of insects around the web and learns about evidence-based teaching from the Drexel PROFESS program.

N: We’re really excited that we can finally share this interview with you – or that we finally got a chance to interview Meghan, she actually messaged us such a long time ago, and then just because of logistics, and I mean, the computer breaking down, and all these problems kept popping up that we had to delay this interview with Meghan. But we finally got a chance to do it and it’s so wonderful, she’s so passionate about her science, and really shares such a great creative perspective on the field of Entomology in general. I think you’re really going to enjoy this interview, and we can’t wait for you to hear it!

C: So Meghan thank you so much for coming on our podcast. I’m so glad we could finally get you on here. We wanted to start off by asking you a very important question. Do you wear a labcoat?

M: Oh yes, I guess it depends actually on what part of my work I’m doing. So when I’m in Arizona in the middle of the desert, I’m not wearing a labcoat, it’s very hot so I’m wearing sun protective gear. Most of the year I am not in Arizona so I am wearing a labcoat coat.

N: Nice!

C: Very Cool

M: Yeah, I like to do the field scientist by night, lab scientist by day thing.

N: That is awesome! Can you briefly explain your field of science to us?

M: Yeah, so as a second year grad student I feel like I still have more fields of science than I should. But my broadest definition of my field is entomology, which is the study of bugs. I do two types of research in that. I do fundamental research and applied research. Fundamental is kind of just gathering knowledge on topics related to bugs, and applied research is trying to research something that will solve a particular typically human problem.

So as far as my applied research I am working on a pesticide that my lab has developed.  It’s pretty environmentally friendly and it’s very human safe. It’s FDA approved, so we’re doing tests on that pesticide and another pesticide called demanitol that’s also human safe. So that’s my applied work. Something I never thought I would be doing but I find really rewarding and cool. My fundamental work is mostly neurocology, or cognitivocology depending on who you’re talking to or what specifically we’re talking about. What specifically I end up doing is looking at how and why organisms brains change in response to different environments. So think of those cavefish, I think that’s a pretty common example. The ones that went into caves and lost their eyeballs over time. Well, they also lost parts of their brains that deal with input from the eyes, and so those are the kind of changes I would be looking for.

N: So what is your current work? What are you currently working on?

M: Well as I was telling Nicole before we even got started, my PI’s motto in life is to have lots of irons on the fire, so as many projects going as is physically possible. So right now I have two pesticide trials going, one looking at ant taxa, or I should just say ant genera. And I’m looking at camponotus which are Carpenter ants,formica which are mound nesting ants and tetramorium which are pavement ants. And I’m looking to see how they all respond to the pesticide, and under what conditions they survive better or survive worse with the pesticide. So different water treatments and things like that. So that’s on going, it’s actually almost completed.

I have another project that has to do with army ant brains that we’re just wrapping up, looking at soldiers, different species and how their brains differ from the worker cast. I don’t know if everybody’s very familiar with ants. I guess I should probably talk a little bit about them since they will probably come up more than once. Army ants live in the tropics, or the ones we’re studying live in the tropics, eciton, and they are these really cool ants that have a raiding behavior. A saying about them is “When army ants are out raiding you can tell before they even get to you because the rest of the forest is running away from them.” So you can see the rest of the forest move away from you. They are a cornerstone species, a keystone species, birds actually follow them called ant birds to try and steal food from them while they’re out raiding. They are really really neat, and also a little bit scary looking. So the non reproductives, or the ones that aren’t reproducing are divided into two categories typically, that we are interested in at least for this project. So regular workers which are out foraging, they have smaller mandibles, they’re typically smaller bodied, and then soldiers which typically have these huge, sickle shaped mandibles, and are much larger bodied. And actually their mandibles are structured in such a way that they can’t really feed themselves in many cases so the workers have to feed them. So very different morphology is what we say. They look very different from each other. And we wondered that since they complete different tasks, hence the different morphology on the outside, if there might be some differences in their brain architecture or their gross anatomy as well. So that’s a project that we are just now wrapping up and kind of getting to the stats so hopefully a paper will come out of that soon.

And then I’m in the middle of developing my thesis proposal which is in a third area that I didn’t mention. Thermal ecology, which is how organisms respond to increasing environmental temperatures. #Climatechange. So I’m working on bees which are my true love. I do a lot of ants and wasps and termites and spiders and things but bees are where I first really fell in love with insects. So I am happy to move back to them. And I am looking at centris pallida, which is a species in Arizona, and they have males that are highly dimorphic so big males and little males. I am wondering if their different behaviors are going to cause them to respond to environmental temperature changes differently. That’s pretty much everything current.

C:That’s a lot of stuff!

N: That’s awesome. So what first got you interested in science? You mentioned that bees were kind of your first love, and something that you’re really interested in, but what first drew you to even start to look into entomology?

M: Yeah, I didn’t take a very traditional path. A lot of entomologists or wildlife biologists will talk about how they loved snakes when they were like six, or how they’ve always loved frogs and that’s why they’re doing what they’re doing. I didn’t dislike being outside by any means, but I definitely wasn’t that interested in studying wildlife. I actually really wanted to be a neurosurgeon. I was very passionate about helping people, and I thought I would be a good surgeon because I work well in high pressure situations, and I had a real interest in the human brain. So when I went to undergrad I knew I was going to be a surgeon in the way that all seventeen year olds know they’re going to do something or another.

And I went to Suny Geneseo as my undergrad institution, and while I was there I kind of as a side extracurricular way to bring in some money for textbooks, started teaching freshman biology lab as kind of a TA, and really fell in love with teaching. I don’t know why that surprised me because I always liked tutoring my fellow students in high school, but I hadn’t really considered that as a career path, and then I just really loved teaching freshman bio lab, And by the end of my Sophomore year I’m starting to think about taking the MCATS, it still hasn’t quite hit me that I like to teach and that could be a career option. The professor who oversaw the total course, Dr. Fiesner said “Hey you seem to really enjoy this, you’re really good at it, maybe you should try research because that’s how you could end up in academia and end up teaching.”

I really put it off for a really long time and research opportunities were really limited at my undergrad, and so by the time I finally did get around to asking people if I could be in their lab, one of the only labs that had open space was this ant lab that I kind of had an in with one of the students who was like “Yeah I can probably get you a spot even though there is not really many spots left for research” So I went to my interview with Dr. Apple and I think it went something like her saying “How do you feel about ants and me being like “Ummm… well they’re very small. I think. I don’t think much about them honestly but I guess I could if you wanted me to.” And I don’t know what she saw in me, but then she was like “Yeah sure, come work in the lab”.

So I started out working on ant multi satellite data trying to figure out how many ant queens lived in an ant colony of a particular type. It was interesting and I took the social insect seminar along with it that was even more interesting, and as part of that we had to do a literature review. I started learning about honey bees because that’s how everybody gets into bees the first time, and how they dance with each other to communicate, and show foraging sites and nesting sites, and things like that. I was just blown away at this idea of bees dancing to communicate. I hadn’t really thought about insects in a complex way, that they could have really complex interesting behavior, and so that is one of the first times that I really realized that insects could be so small and so dramatic. That’s a big word for it sometimes, very dramatic. So a book came out, shortly thereafter, called “Bees in Your Backyard”. And my PI Dr. Apple, she got me a copy of that book and I was still working on the ant project but she had noticed that I thought bees were cool. This book has beautiful pictures, it’s by Joe Wilson. Everybody should get a copy because it’s gorgeous. And it goes through all the bees that are in the United States and North America and where they live, most likely. It just has gorgeous pictures and fun facts about them. I was blown away, you know, there’s like four thousand plus species of bees in the United States. Honey Bees actually invasive so it’s one of the few non native bees to the United States. There are bees of every color, every size, every level of fuzziness and cuteness, with long tongues and long antennae, and short tongues and short antennae. Metallic and not, and social and not, I mean the diversity is hard to explain you know? It’s just incredible.

And so I read that book and lost my mind about it. And was like “I need to work on bees next year” and Dr. Apple was like “Well, nobody in our lab works on bees, or even at this school, but I guess if you wanna figure out how you’re gonna do it, you can do it.” So my senior year, I did a survey of all the bees that were in our area, to kind of start bee research off at the school, because you can’t really do research on stuff if you don’t know what you have. So I did that survey, and while doing it learned a lot about the identification of bee diversity, bee habits, and habitats, and I just really loved it. So even though I’m now working a lot on ants and wasps because that’s what we have in the lab right now, I’m really excited I get to keep working on bees for my thesis.

C: It’s so great to hear you talk about things you love because that obviously motivates a lot of your work. Is there anything else that motivates your work as a scientist?

M: I think it more has to do with just the level of complexity and how fascinating that is. Have you ever read Patrick Rothfuss? He’s an author that writes high fantasy, or the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the level of detail is just astounding and you feel completely immersed in the world. And to me, insects have become sort of like a high fantasy novel. Where there’s spies, and underground cities, houses made out of flower petals, and you can just constantly be exploring new areas. I mean it’s a book that hasn’t even been written yet. It’s a high fantasy world and you could be the first to discover some new piece of it, and write the next piece of it. And I think I find that very appealing, because I’ve always loved fantasy as a genre. And this isn’t fantasy obviously it’s real life. But it has that same sort of dramatic feeling to it.

You know the ants that I studied in undergrad, those very first ants, were a slave making ant species. So the larger ants go and raid the colony of the smaller ants and steal their brood, bring it back to their nest and then raise the brood to do work for them in the colony. The first time I saw one of these raids happen, you know, you’ve got the big ants running in this long column to the little ants nest. And they are running into the hole and you’ve got these,little tiny formica glacialis ants just exploding out of the nest, each one of them carrying a little egg trying to save it, running up blades of grass, and so eventually you have this scene in front of you of these giant reddish formica ants running back and forth and back and forth fighting all the little black ants, carrying these brood all the way back to their nest, and you’ve got blades and blades of grass each with one little ant at the top of it clutching one egg. And it’s a desperate, beautiful, dramatic, picture of war. And so I guess it’s that sort of fantastical dramatic interpretation of the natural world that keeps drawing me in, if that makes any sense, is that it’s just wonderful and powerful in ways we don’t even understand yet.

N: Yeah, I think that that’s so beautiful. That’s such a wonderful description of just doing science in general. And what I really love about that is that we often have this idea that science is cold and rigid and you know, objective facts, and that was just such a wonderful description of the wonder and creativity and beauty within science. And so that was really great. I loved that. Do you have an influential person, theorist or theory in your field?

M: Yeah, I think there’s so many people that are influential, I don’t think you can BEE a person who loves bees and not talk about Mitchener. He wrote this giant tone called “The Bees of the World” as well as many other influential works. He basically was one of the pre-eminent bee biologists, who discovered many species, described many behaviors, just kind of is the name in bee biology. And then somebody, I don’t know that everybody would pick him out as the name in the field of neurocology, but to me this individual is very influential because the first neurocology paper I ever read was written by this individual.

Dr. Ophelia Gronenberg at University of Arizona, this first paper I ever read was one of his I think 1999 papers on ants and ant brains and neurons. I know this is going to sound kind of stupid but I didn’t really realize ants had brains, you know, I had just gotten onto the train of “ants do things besides be annoying and small and steal food from people and be in your kitchen.” and so I just sort of passed that hurdle of “ants are more than crumb stealers” and I read that paper and was like “Wow they have brains and the brains are in sections that do things and we know things about those things. Look at how cool and interesting this brain actually is!” How do they see that? How do they see an ant brain? Ants themselves are small. Their brains are even smaller. So I would say Gronenberg is a pretty influential name for me in the field of neurocology.

Although many people might actually name my advisor as pretty influential, Dr. Shawn O’Donnel came up with the distributed cognition hypothesis. Which is a relatively recent hypothesis for eusocial insects, that describes how they may differ from primates and vertebrates in the way that being social affects their brain organization. So, he’s kind of  hot topic right now.

C: So you talked about your supervisor being a big name. Has he been a mentor and has he helped with your experience?

M: Has he shaped my experience? Oh tremendously. I think that Dr. O’Donnel is very different from me in the way that he thinks, and in a way I aspire to be more like him. In undergrad I think a lot of the learning that I did and I think this happens to a lot of students in undergrad. Most of the learning I did was like “Memorize this information” Or “Memorize this pathway to gain information.” and it asked me much less frequently to come up with my own questions, or extend the knowledge of a particular area, I only had three research experiences in undergrad and they weren’t very bold experiences. A survey is a pretty easy question to come up with I think “What is near me?” Is an easy question to ask. And so I didn’t have much experience with, just asking a lot of questions, and Shawn asks a lot of questions. And I really admire that because not every question is a good question, and he is able to parse out which are good questions and which ones aren’t pretty quickly. But I think I’m still learning to question more and extend further into new areas, and I think that’s really critical to do as a PHD and beyond, is to constantly be questioning “Okay, we’ve done this, we’ve learned this, where do we go from here?” and so I really value that I can go into his office and talk about a paper that say I’ve read and think is really interesting and by the end of the meeting together the two of us will have come up with a list of 25 questions of where that paper can go and what else I can look into. And I like that I’m learning how to do that from him.

N: Awesome.

C: Is there anyone else? Have you had any other mentors that helped shape your experience in entomology?

M: Yeah, I think Dr. Apple, I couldn’t possibly not talk about Dr. Apple. Because, I’m most grateful to her, she completely changed my trajectory from med school, to “I like these bugs so much that I’m gonna work on them for the rest of my life” I think that it was her passion for science and her confidence that I could do the science, because I don’t think I had very much confidence in myself as a researcher when I started in her lab, and I don’t think she cared that I didn’t have very much confidence. She just decided to have confidence in me anyway. And that ended up working out really well, I think for both of us, but particularly for me, that she let me be so independant, and set my own schedule, and make my own failures, and my own successes, and it was always pushing me to domore and be better.

N: That’s such a great mentorship style, particularly for science. If somebody wants to get onto the field of entomology, what do they have to do?

M: That’s probably a hard question for me to answer, because I definitely didn’t take the traditional in any route to entomology, so I think if one was trying to be more purposeful, looking for research experiences wherever you want to go to graduate school is really critical. There’s a listserv called ecolog. It’s a really good listserv, there’s a lot of stuff that comes through it but it’s basically like every job, every research opening for undergraduates, graduates, post ops, and professors is posted to this listserv. If you google  ecolog listserv it should come up. You can subscribe to email, for individual which I do not recommend because there’s probably about 25 sent everyday. Or you can do not individual so you can have it all lumped up into a daily digest. It’s going to be about a lot more than just entomology but sometimes you’ll find that it’s like a forestry service position that deals with invasive species that are bark beetles, or something like that. So there can be tangentially entomology related things and then things not at all related to entomology. I think that’s a really good resource for people who are looking to get into the field because it actually shows you what’s out there, what careers you might be going for. You could be a restoration specialist, all kinds of different things. And then it also shows you research opportunities across the country. So like summer RAU programs that you might not know about or hear about if you aren’t part of this.

Then the other thing I would recommend is the entomological society of America. That’s ESA, and there’s multiple ESA’s so make sure you pick the entomology one. And being apart of ESA as a student is not very expensive, it gives you access to entomology journals so again you can see what’s out there in regards to current research that’s happening and where you might go and who you might work with. There’s also conferences in each of the different regions, like the eastern branch conference is coming up in Indianapolis which is only two hours from me so I’m going. So you can go to those if you’re a student and meet actual entomologists and see their work, and present your own work as an undergrad researcher. I think most important is just trying to get that research experience.

You can also, I think, I just started learning about museums because Drexel University where I go is attached to the academy of natural sciences of Philadelphia. I think Drexel owns the academy actually, is I would say how attached they are. So they have a wonderful entomology collection, it’s massive. And getting to work with the curators there, or assist them in any of that work is another way to get into that field and get a foot in the door. But I do think research is really the way to go and going to conferences so you can meet people and network a little bit. And conferences are not scary. Entomologists I think are particularly not scary as people. It’s hard to be scary and study bugs all the time I think. You just can’t take yourself too seriously, and I think that’s a good thing for anyone interested in getting into the field. Pretty much everyone is friendly, wants to talk to you, wants to hear about what you’re interested in because we already feel a little bit like many people in the world find bugs to be scary or gross, or not necessary perhaps even, and we are out there to change that narrative, so the more allies we have, the more people that are interested in bugs, the better for us. So we’re always happy to talk about bugs and how we got to where we are.

C: Great, so what are your hopes for the future of women in entomology?

M: I think it’s similar to many other fields. In biology we don’t have as much problem with just equal representation of the graduate student level, so we are getting women kind of into the field in a preliminary sense, but we are struggling to help women to the tops of the fields. And that’s not because they are not qualified women, as I’m sure we’re all aware. It’s because of disadvantages that we experience in multiple different ways.

And so I would really like to see more women in entomology who are at the top tier or the top level of entomology. You know, some kind of female Charles Michener. A big household name that is recognized, okay, household name might be a stretch for any entomologist. But a big name entomologist who also perhaps communicates a lot with the public, when I think of scientists who are communicating with the public right now who are into entomology, I think of writers like Steve Buckman and then I think of names like Ian Wilson who’s kind of a really big guy in entomology. And I would really like to see some women who are big names communicating with the public. Lost woman on twitter is actually one who I follow that I think does a really great job. There’s a lot of entomologists on twitter that are women, that do a wonderful job with their outreach. She’s just one in particular that comes to mind.

But I think that women particularly can provide a unique perspective on entomology because of the way, right now at least that we have this kind of binary gender socialization. Women are non threatening I think in most cases, we visualize women as non threatening. And I think that gives women a unique opportunity to show that bugs are non threatening. Especially because we always show women shrieking at mice and shrieking at snakes and shrieking at bugs and that’s kind of the classy idea that women are scared of these things and so we should all be scared of these things. And so I think that having fearless women, I mean not that you really need to be that fearless to interact with bugs, but to have that passion for insects, be showcased by women I think would be very helpful to how bugs are viewed by people. Particularly by children.

So the academy has a beehive on the top floor. Honey bees, everybody’s favorite. A lot of times small children will come over, I like to sit and watch the bees because I’m, you know, into bees. Sometimes children will come over and I think they think I work there, which in a sense I do if Drexel is the academy. And they’ll be like “Wow, how cool is this?” And they will be pointing at things like ”What’s that one doing?” and I’ll answer their questions for them. And a lot of times their parents will come over and go “Eww gross, bees” and “Eww gross, bugs” and the kids kind of slink off and go look at something else. And so I think a lot of this distaste for insects is learned. Insects can be naturally wonderful and interesting to children. So I think that it would be nice to see more women in entomology doing outreach. I think that we’re more likely to be approached by children in particular, and not be seen as threatening while we’re doing that outreach and that work.

But I would also just like to see more women in science. I don’t think the burden of outreach needs to fall on women. I think there’s a lot of burdens that fall on women. And so as much as I think that women can do extraordinary outreach, I would really REALLY like to see women at the top of the field. Women led expeditions, you know, women’s papers that are the focus of big publications talking about what papers are great in entomology. I think that there are a lot of women in entomology who are doing great work and I would like to see them celebrated more.

C: Yeah, that’s wonderful. So where can people find you on social media? Twitter, instagram, a website, anything like that?

M: Yeah so, I have a twitter. It’s bee_bytes so like a computer stylized byte. That’s the name of an outreach project that I’m working on where I write bite sized bits of information about bees across the United States, so people can get to know their neighbors. So that’s my Twitter. My website is my name it’s Meghan-Barrett.com and then I do have a facebook, although I don’t really know how you look people up on facebook. Barretts Bee Bytes

C: We will link everything down in the show notes too.

N: Well thank you so much Meghan, this was such a great interview!

M: Thank you so much for having me

N:No thank you, is there anything else you want to say that you didn’t get the chance to say?

M: Bees are amazing. Everybody should get to now the bees that live in their backyard. You will be so surprised by what’s out there. I was so surprised. I compare a lot of times entomology to receiving your letter to Hogwarts, because as soon as you start to see what’s out there it never goes away you just are seeing all these things that nobody else around you is seeing. It’s kind of magical. So like I’ll be walking down the street in the city and I’ll see ants that other people aren’t seeing, I’ll see two bees chasing each other, but everyone else is just walking by completely immersed in the concrete and the glass and the steel. And I’ve got access to this whole other magical little wonderland happening around me because I’m an entomologist. I would encourage everybody that this is a letter to Hogwarts you can send yourself. So since you probably won’t be able to get your real letter to Hogwarts unless you’re really special, buy yourself a copy of Bees in Your Backyard because it’s amazing and they have a poster that goes with it that is also amazing. And then you can get to know all of these secrets that are out there and impress your friends with it too. Yeah, they are really beautiful and really important.

N: Wonderful

C:Alright, well thank you so much Meghan for this interview

C: What a great interview. We hope you enjoyed it, we had so much fun. Afterwards Meghan gave us a list of women entomologists that are doing really great work on twitter, so these include: The Bug Chicks, Isa Betancourt (@Isabetabug), Christy Pitto (@CrawlieswithCri), Nancy Miorelli (@SciBugs), Eleanor Rice (@VerdantEleanor) and Gwen Pearson (@bug_gwen). So all of their links to their twitter accounts are down below in the shownotes.

~Musical interlude~

C: So, today for our highlight of an organization that helps the future of women in science, we’re talking about Smore magazine.

So Smore is an unconventional magazine that aims to empower girls to engage their curious minds and turn their “Can I?” into ” I Can!”.

N: So Smore celebrates the women of science by featuring them on its covers and making science fabulous and aspiring to young girls.

C: Their message to help young girls imagine that she has the power to change a lot of things-and not just how she looks has resonated with a lot of parents who are desperately looking for youth media that is much more than a fluffy magazine discussing hair hacks and beauty tips.

N: By introducing tween and teen girls to persistent and passionate women of science who have discovered, invented and built everything from robots to business empires Smore is giving girls the opportunity to embrace their intelligence unapologetically and challenge the “brilliance is male” mindset.

C: As a woman in science and an immigrant, the founder Dr. Sarita Menon believes there could not be a more urgent need for such a magazine than now. This ad-free magazine was funded through Kickstarter and is seeing its subscriber base grow rapidly.

N: So the magazine is named Smore for two reasons: (1) It stands for “science more” (2) every time kids say Smore, the name would stir up happy science learning thoughts, very similar to the delectable treat stirring up warm memories of camping.

C: So Nicole and I are both looking at the beautiful latest version, that features former guest Melissa Marquez on it, and it is just such a wonderful magazine.

N: There are so many cool thing, oh my god. I wish I had this as a child. It has Science in the News, Science like a Girl, Space & Tech.. just all these different headings, it’s just jam packed with all this really cool information. But it’s also like, I don’t know, organized really cool – like it doesn’t look like it’s trying to be like “get interested in science”, it’s just a really cool magazine.

C: Yeah. An it has all the stuff that tweet and teen me would have loved, it has quizzes, it has comics and jokes, and everything that I would have wanted to read when I was a teenager.

N: Mhm. That’s awesome. So we’ve linked the website for Smore magazine, and so you can go on their and look into subscribing or ordering a copy magazine. And yeah, we definitely recommend it, and we can’t wait to see what other awesome things and women that they highlight.

C: Yeah! And make sure to subscribe soon because their next feature is someone who works with butterflies.

C: So for our final segment today, we kind of fit something in that’s not about bugs. There’s a super exciting opportunity for women in chemistry who are at or around the University of Alberta. So we talked to Meagan Oakley and Sorina Chiorean about the University of Alberta Women in Chemistry group, which they co founded. So Sorina is a third year PhD student in chemical biology, and Meagan is a fourth year PhD student in computational chemistry. So the Women in Chemistry group focuses on providing a chance for young researchers to interact with established female role models in chemistry through informal coffee meetings. This May, they are hosting a retreat in Edmonton, aimed at professional development and promoting diversity in science, called LOGIC.  I got to talk to them about this really awesome opportunity and I’m excited for you to learn more.

Well thank you for joining me Meagan and Sorina, I’m super excited to talk to you today. So can you maybe explain to our listeners what LOGIC is?

S: Sure, and it’s great to be here, thanks for giving us the opportunity to talk about our initiative. It’s great to see the support we’ve received from the community. We started this group, maybe less than a year ago actually, maybe around April or May of 2017, and it’s been great to see the support we’ve received.

So LOGIC specifically stands for Leaders Overcoming Gender Inequality in Chemistry. And it’s going to be a 2 day retreat, that we’ve organized on May 26-27. And it’s kind of linked to the CSC, which is a very big Chemistry conference, it’s a national event and all of Canada as well as international speakers come, so we’re hoping for quite a big audience.

And for us, LOGIC is a platform for women to be featured and tell their own experiences in their diversity in chemistry. So just how they’ve talked about different career paths, and different ways that chemistry has played a part in their career goals. So we’re hoping to get lots of input from the non-traditional chemistry roles. Usually people thing of the chemistry researcher/ academic professor, and there’s so much more to chemistry, so we want to showcase that.

And it’s actually been going for a few years, so we’re not the first to host this. It unofficially began with Dr. Laura Schaeffer from UBC in 2014, and then the University of Toronto gave this name of LOGIC last year, and we thought it was good and decided to keep it. And we’re hoping to have a different take on it than they did, and our theme is “paving a path to a career in chemistry”, like I mentioned, showcasing different careers opportunities that chemistry can provide.

C: That’s awesome. So you’re both co-presidents of your women in chemistry group, right?

M: Yeah, so we’re co-founders, and I guess co-chairs of this women in chemistry group at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.

C: Very cool. So what motivated you to host this LOGIC with your group?

S: So what we decided, since we just launched this women in chemistry group, we kind of chatted with other women in chemistry groups across Canada. So specifically, there are ones in Saskatchewan and one in Toronto. And since Toronto was pretty successful in their retreat, they kind of helped us come to terms with us hosting our own. And they’re being really helpful, providing lots of support and everything.

I personally think that it’s really important to promote women in science, and LOGIC is that type of platform that we can give to have people share their own experiences and tell their own stories about their pathway in science. Because not everybody’s path is the same. Some people can learn from other people’s pathways, some people become really motivated when they hear “oh, I ended up in conservation”, or “I ended up..” in any where else than the traditional sciences.

C: Yeah, that’s so cool. And what a great way to showcase it, by spending all this time with all these really great women.

S: Exactly.

C: So how can people get involved in LOGIC?

M: There’s kind of two ways. For students and people near by we have volunteer opportunities. We are quite a small group, compared to some of the other ones. We have 5 executives, and we’re looking for lots of volunteers to help out with planning, as well as on the day of. So if anyone is interested, you can contact us at our email WICK@ualberta.ca, and we also have a website by the same name. And on those you can also find more information about the retreat, like schedules, speaker bios and more details about the venues. And additionally if youre interested in attending we have two options. First, if you’re already going to the conference there is a section in the CSC registration to check that off. And there’s kind of two tiers: we have a student price that’s more budget friendly, and a young professional price. We have a networking event on Sunday, May 27 in the early afternoon. And we’re hoping if people can’t attend the full two day retreat we do have a separate EventBrite page, which is also on our website, where you can sign up for a very reduced price just to attend the networking sessions, and we’ll have kind of light refreshments as well as quite a few industry collaborators that are helping us out with that, so it’d be great opportunity if you can’t make the full two days but you’re interesting in coming to check us out, seeing some different chemistry careers as well as non traditional roles.

C: That’s so awesome. If there’s anyone listening to this who is interested in getting involved with their women in chemistry group, do you have any advice for them on how to host their own LOGIC conference or retreat?

S: Just do it! The current Canadian women in chemistry events that we know of personally are only in Toronto and Saskatchewan. So those are student run, women in chemistry groups.  We would love to see more groups pop up across Canada. As people listening to this might know, the national chemistry conference moves from city to city each year, and that’s not very conducive for us to host LOGIC in Ontario, or for people in Ontario to host it out here. So having that kind of group and that network would be great to have in general. We’re also working with the U of T women in chemistry and the Saskatchewan women in chemistry to create this Canadian women in chemistry network, so I think our first initiative is to try to promote the creation of these student groups. We have had such a great time forming our student group. The kind of events that we like to host is to take the visiting speakers that come, so mostly female speakers, and we sit down with them and have an informal discussion. We say “what is it like as a women in chemistry, what career path did you take, did you take the straight path into academia?” And those are things that everyone can benefit from, not just women in chemistry, but everyone in chemistry, it’s more of a professional development opportunity. But also to hightlight the fact that there are huge strong women in chemistry that deserve more recognition.

M: We would welcome anyone to message us, or the U of T group, which is more established so they might have more tricks about it, we’re quite small. But it would be great, if someone is interested, even just 1-2 people, you can get together. It took us a bit to get the logistics ready, but we had our first event within 3 weeks, so it was very fast. We were like “you know what, let’s do this”, and we got a few people together, and then recruited a couple others to be on our executive group, and then bam, student group. The support we’ve received has been great, so if anyone is interested in that kind of support we’d love to pass on what we know. And I’m sure Saskachewan and U of T would, like they were with us, be very willing to pass on their own kind of support system. I think that’s a big part of why we wanted a network, is to support one another. Everyone has their own expertise, their own experiences, so it’s nice to ask someone who’s already done something. And they can tell you “that’s a horrible idea, don’t do that”, or “it’s great, this is who I talked to”. And that was a thing with LOGIC, we had a tough time at the beginning getting sponsorship, and then we got significantly better at writing grants. And that’s not, I mean, it’s great for our purposes, but it’s also a kind of self thing? I feel like I’ve benefitted a lot from having a group like this, because it’s a different – everyone gets so focused on their research that we forget about the outside world, so it’s great to meet different people that I never would have talked to because I’m in chemical biology, so I would never talk to someone from materials, that’s not something I’m interested in. But in this kind of communication network you see more of the world, and it creates a better opportunity to ask questions to people who have a different expertise than you.

S: So we’re on twitter at @UofAWomeninChem, so you can follow us there. We post a lot about the different events we have going on, and we repost a lot of interesting articles about diversity and chemistry, that kind of thing.

C: Awesome! Well thanks so much for joining me, I can’t wait to get this out their! And I hope anyone listening near University of Alberta is motivated to go to your event.

M: Yeah thanks so much.


C: Thank you so much for listening to the Superwomen in Science podcast!

N: Just a reminder that we’re reading from Rachel Ignotofsky’s book Women in Science

C: And a big BEE thank you to our amazing guest Megan Barrett.

N: Make sure to follow us on Soundcloud or iTtunes, Stitcher, Google Play, anywhere you find your podcasts, to hear our podcast every three weeks! So search us in the podcast section, download, rate, and subscribe! And review, if you feel like reviewing, because that really really helps us out.

C: You can find us on Facebook at Superwomen in Science Podcast and on twitter @ Superwomensci, AND on instagram, which is a super legit place to do your science communication.

N: A transcript of this episode can be found on our website superwomeninscience.wordpress.com! Which also has all of our shownotes, all of our links that we talk about throughout the episode. And we also have a little “contact us”, I don’t know, tab, up at the top, and that’s how Meghan got in contact with us! So send us messages, we love reading them, so get in contact.

C: Tweet us if you’re an entomologist! So, tweet us if you love bugs, if you talk about ants, or bees, or caterpillars,  but don’t tweet us if you talk about spiders, we don’t want to hear about that. Tweet us if you want us to talk about your field of science!

Thank you!

~ fade out with music and an overwhelmingly large amount of bloopers!~

One thought on “Episode 12: Entomology with Meghan Barrett

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