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.
"Ultimately, though, she chose to go back into acting to allow her to spend more time with her sons, a decision she called intensely personal."
So a science or engineering career is too demanding and/or does not pay enough to support a family. And for this we need more STEM education, maybe we need less.
bobzz, I did not read in the article that science/engineering careers are too demanding (or pay enough) to support a family. Instead I read that Bialik choose to be at home to raise her children, this is in of itself also a courageous thing given the cultures view of careers vs stay at home moms.
If you had attended, you would know she decided to act for the SAG health insurance and it wound up turning in to a recurring role.
She also works for TI and is basically paid to be a strong female role model for young girls in school and she excels at that.
STEM for girls is a great thing, just like it's great for boys.
Good choice for speaker; glad she was tagged to inspire audience. The committee did a service to the community by choosing Bialik. Would have been interesting to gauge listeners as they exited; what did the EEs think about the keynote?
Its also completely inappropriate to have a non-engieer, comedy TV actor actress be a keynote speaker for an engineering convention. Apparently some of you think very little of your vocation to endorses such misplaced good intentions, just because it fits you political agenda or subjective world view. I wonder if the next AMA convention will have a fake doctor from Greys anatomy on giving non-sequitor speeches and be praised for their insight and intelligence.
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!
@resistion- I hear what you are saying. I thought about that a couple of times during her talk- it's kind of ironic that someone who makes a living as a TV star--the very thing that many people say we as a society glamorize way too much at the expense of honorable professions such as engineering--would be passionate about the virtues of STEM education. Let's agree on this--we would all like to make a living working on a sitcom. Here's a person who did that, still got a PhD, then decided to go back to acting because she could. Now that she has visibility, she's using it to push an agenda that says STEM education is a viable choice for many, many young people, including women. I respect that.
"then decided to go back to acting because she could"
Don't forget the boatloads of money. Such hypocracy!!
Code.org is the same thing, ex-presidents and rappers telling kids to program so that there are more (to paraphrase Sheldon) Oompa Loompas to design geegaws and whatchamacallits.
Professions are not inherently honorable, people are individually honorable. We see that whether its law physics, or engineering.
Most engineers have no desire to make a living on a sit-com. I'm not sure where you cam up with this putative objective statement.
Just because you endorse and respect Stem makes it neither objectively effective nor desirable. Please stop putting for your own personal predilections and affections as consensus inspired wisdom.
Yes, I see your point. And maybe for an audience of engineers even more so. But her typcial audience is more hetergeneous, and many young people in particular can relate to her and realize that if she thinks STEM is "ccol" maybe they should not completely dismiss a career in a STEM field.
She did earn a PhD in a field that is far from trivial. So she gets my respect for that, no doubt. That she decided to pursue something more frivolous - although lucrative! - does detract some. You know, a little bit like the Hollywood sweatheart, Reese Witherspoon, and her inebreated outburst at the poor traffic cop.
Well, this is the real world. Let's not be so hasty to put people on pedestals. That's my advice.
Don't for get that the role she is playing on television is of a neuroscientist.
Contrast this with Lisa Kudrow, who played the dimwitted Phoebe on Friends. She also studied neurobiology with her father and brother (who are well known in their field), though she gave it up to pursue acting.
With Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan or the millions of other actors or celebrities who wouldn't know a neuron from their nosehair, I find it depressing that you choose to criticize an actor who went on to get a PhD in neurology, then chose to bring up her children while playing a scientist in a very STEM-friendly comedy show.
Due to the essentially feudal - piratical - mercantile - show biz evolution and resulting social & cultural conditioning in English speaking countries, Scientists & Engineers are not considered cool here ( in contrast to, say in Germanic countries ). In the US we also have the additional problem of Scientists & Engineers doing their job so well ( at least since the Apollo program ) that their contribution is easily trivialized & ignored, very often their enormous contribution appropriated by the "English Major MBAs & Lawyers " better at PR. Also there is a surplus of good Scientists & Engineers as the best from the rest of the World are still attracted to these shores. Compared to scientists & Engineers, Medical Doctors do a better job of maintaining their social standing. Perhaps instead of passively keeping their nose to the Corporate grindstone, Scientists & Engineers here ought to think of self - promotion along those lines. That would produce the most convincing arguments for kids to get into and stay in STEM programs.
You know, while I keep hearing how science and engineering are not perceived as "cool," I've never given that a second thought. Assuming it's even true, I thought science was "cool" ever since grade school.
What's not cool is stupid people. So fundamentally, who cares what stupid people think? How has that ever mattered? That's what I don't get. Why do we obsess over the preferences of dimwits?
This woman is not an engineer and not qualified to speak at Design West. I also have no interest in another wistful idealist asking for special funding, handouts, or subsidies to promote their gender agendas. Its wonderful she did X,Y, or Z to support her situation, however I'm not fiscally responsible for her life decisions. She was a completely inappropriate keynote speaker, and having attended design west I made an concerted effort to avoid her speech.
While I'm sure she was paid to speak, I never once heard her ask for funding or subsidies.
She was talking about how she got in to the sciences.
I for one want to see more women in science and engineering. There is nothing about the male mind that makes it inherently superior in engineering and science.
Our cultural biasing starts very young when we give our girls tea sets, easy bake ovens and Barbie while we give our boys Lego, remote control cars and GI Joe.
I like smart women and there aren't nearly enough who make their way through life on their brains.
What ever you think of her current career choice, she didn't get her job because of her ass.
She is a spokesman because she is visible on a very popular TV show and a positive role model (at least in contrast to the neurotic males and ditzy blonde).
By the way, I've never heard anyone complain when a guy gets an engineering degree on full scolarship and then decides to go into pro football.
I think it would be useful for those who disparage her choice to be an actress instead of a research scientist if UBM cold post an MP3 recording of her complete talk, so those folks who write from ignorance might be enlightened. I, for one, think her talk was quite appropriate as a keynote address, and I was there.
Given that she specifically asked that folks in the audience NOT record her talk (so she could be more honest in her talk), I really hope that UBM does NOT have an MP3 of her complete talk. In any case, I found this one of the best, fun, light-hearted, wimsical, warm, heart-felt, and funny general talks I've listened to in a very long time. Yes, I like her character. Yes, we share a cultural heritage. And yes, I love the show. But the talk really was worth attending. Wish I was one of the lucky 25 or so that got to actually meet her after her talk. UBM, thanks for inviting her!
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!
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.
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.
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.