The keynote address on the second day of DESIGN West 2013 was delivered not by an inventor, high-tech luminary or even an engineer, but the Emmy-nominated star of one of television's most popular sitcoms.
There's a catch, of course. In addition to holding down a starring role on The Big Band Theory—a sitcom that has a big following among engineers—Mayim Bialik also earned a PhD in neuroscience from UCLA. Bialik treated DESIGN West attendees Wednesday (April 24) to a captivating hour-long discussion on topics ranging from her life in show businesses to her passion for neuroscience to a cause she believes in deeply, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education.
For more than a year, Bialik has served as a spokeswoman for Texas Instruments Inc.'s TI-Nspire CX math and science learning technology. Her stated role in this capacity is to inspire teens to pursue STEM education and careers.
Bialik, like many people, believes it is important to encourage more young people to develop an interest in and passion for science. She believes its particularly important to encourage girls to look at STEM, because she says cultural forces in the U.S. push girls away from science at a very early age.
Bialik poses with a TI calculator.
With so much focus now on the importance of STEM education, Bialik said she is encouraged that discussions about STEM are trickling up to the highest levels of government. "The fact that its being spoken about like that at the White House level is important," she said.
Bialik largely deflected questions on the nuts and bolts of getting more young people excited about STEM education, saying questions on curriculum and the structure of education were best left to more qualified people. But she did say she believes in a practical, very hands-on approach to the topic.
"Simply telling people that STEM is important and that you can get a career in STEM doesn't work," Bialik said.
Wait for the ramifications of this. Soon being camera-friendly will be a filter for invited STEM presentations and representatives. The substance of STEM - by this very highlighting of how show business could save STEM - has now taken the way back seat to style.
Agree Rick! It is refreshing to see some one like her message STEM for girls. We at IEEE recently started Women in Engineering chapter recently in Silicon Valley and I hope Ms. Bialik accepts to speak there one of these days!
I love the Big Bang Theory show. After a day at work as an engineer I like to sit in front of the TV and enjoy an episode. I also attended the Design West 2013 conference and deliberately did not attend this particular speech. Most likely the speech was good and I am sure the presentation was good. I do not want to judge Mayim personal carrier choices.
I did not attend the speech because I doubt its motivational value. I have kids and know that you cannot smoke in front of them and explain that smoking is bad for your health. They are not going to listen to you, but rather do what you do – they will smoke.
On Design West conference I expect to see people with experience in the industry that are willing to share their ideas. Mayim may have a good experience in the show business but I doubt she can influence anybody in the industry.
I saw a movie one of the evenings after the conference. It cost me only $10, not the $2000 I paid for the conference.
The fact is she's trying to get people excited about engineering. That's the point. I AM HAPPY... You should be too. These are true things she said. She could have a job making socks for ducks for all I care IRL... I use a lot of texas instruments products. I love their processors ( I don't use their DSP chips though)... What kind of crazy person doesn't enjoy seeing shameless promotion of good things? Not everyone has the same hooks to get into the business. I have that series of calculator too. I enjoy TI's product line. In fact the latest device I am purchasing is a HD3SS3415 PCI-X 3.0 switch... And thanks to people like this, there are more people joining the ranks and buying devices so the ecosystem improves, and what I take, becomes easier/more accessible... So if you think WAH WAH doesn't affect me not an engineer. It does, because more people GET INVOLVED... That's the point. Thank you... I'm a man also.
Interesting to notice the kind of reactions observed in this thread. Specially from those who almost felt betrayed by Bialik who had the material to be a true scientist but choose otherwise (I also can relate to that).
But, to say that she chose a less "noble" path (acting over science) sounds a bit arrogant as well. We cannot have good scientists without good educators as well, and those are even harder to come by.
Though she took a PhD that she didn't end up making use of (directly) in the end, she took it anyway even though everyone seemed to point to her that she wasn't cut for it. Isn't that something to be proud of?
When finally faced with a choice between the two paths she followed her heart (I choose to believe so). Is that a bad thing?
Armed with the scientific knowledge from a PhD and the influence of a TV person she really has a lot of potential to influence the world in a positive way, and for that I don't feel in any way that she is wasting her education!