Jordyn’s piece is part of Science and Us’s on-going publication, Humans of Scicomm. All stories and experiences are written by the respective science communicators. Links to reach out to Jordyn are located above. Thank you for your support!
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
That question may be geared towards children, but I often think about it as a young adult — especially since I still have considerably more growth ahead of me. As a tiny human, my younger self usually attached my answer to a particular job (i.e. scientist, movie star, or world-class trapeze artist) without any real knowledge of what the profession entailed. Something as insignificant as a little comic could persuade me to abandon my other life plans and start crafting my identity as a famous graphic novelist. Thinking ahead was more akin to playing mental dress up rather than deep existential thought.
However, as I got older I started to think beyond the superficiality of fancy titles and uniforms. The days of hearing “you can be anything you set your mind to” quickly dissipated and my parents’ stark realism eventually replaced the aspirational phrase. Grades were taken more seriously, and higher education was emphasized as the new metric for success. As an Asian-American growing up in a predominantly Asian community, I wasn’t fazed by these changes, after all, it was part of our culture. What surprised me was the fact that they abstained from creating a specific vision for my future. I was so used to hearing anecdotes of people having the stereotypical higher degree professions being pushed upon them by their parents, I hadn’t noticed I had the agency to actually pick out what I wanted to do without parental influence. Of course, I was grateful that they trusted me to find my own path, but a small part of me wished for a bit more coddling. Their recognition of my independence gave me a new responsibility of researching and decision making that I didn’t feel prepared to do. Where would I even begin?
I started to ask my teachers, mentors, and relatives how they found their careers and found a pattern. I needed to focus on finding what I liked and expand on that rather than building myself a straight path to one specific profession.
This was my license — and privilege — to try as many new things and put myself in as many new situations as possible.
My new mentality led me to my first job as a Teen Advocate for Science Communication (TASC) at the California Academy of Sciences. This was my *official* introduction into the science communication world and it immediately turned me into an active participant in the community. I like to describe myself as an ambivert — oscillating between intro and extra — but the requirement of prolonged visitor interaction on the museum floor was still a bit nerve-racking. After a few sessions getting to know my cohort and learning that rejection from indifferent tourists wasn’t the end of the world, my nerves gradually dissolved and transformed into genuine enthusiasm. I actually liked learning more behind and explaining exhibits, dancing in the evolution-themed flash mobs, and dressing in sea creature costumes for science education.
Nerdy, but fun.
Despite my clear enjoyment of science, I felt hesitant to seek out more classes that might lead me down a STEM pathway due to my academics. I convinced myself that math, a subject that I feared greatly due to my lackluster ability, and science were mutually exclusive, and in order to excel I would have to be outstanding at it. So instead I veered more towards my high school’s arts and social science courses like world history and technical theater. I became increasingly involved in arts activities whether it be working on theater productions, designing posters for my extracurriculars, or creating pieces for fun. Somehow I wanted to incorporate my art skills in a professional capacity.
However, my experiences with STEM were far from over. Even though I didn’t feel confident that I could pursue a career in the field, it didn’t mean I couldn’t try out a few science classes or watch a few videos outside of the classroom. Explainer channels like Kurzgesagt, Vox, AsapScience, and more started filling up my subscription bar on Youtube as I took my budding interest in the subject beyond the scope of the school curriculum. I even took a few advanced science courses at school. The most significant of which was my environmental science class. As I learned about climate change, agriculture, and environmental justice, my passion for science fully reignited.
This kickstarted my research of all sorts of science-related careers — just not ones with an advanced math component. I was lucky enough to participate in an internship where I could shadow a career in local environmental regulation. I was included in forums where I directly heard citizens complain about air pollution from nearby plants and learned about how technology in a monitoring station collected air quality data. I even got to put my technical theater skills to the test as I turned my new knowledge into an educational skit for a summer camp! When I saw those kids excited to learn about pollution’s toll on a pair of animated lungs I had illustrated, I realized that I had been striving for what I had found at Cal Academy all those years ago: science communication.
That semi-epiphany was what brought me to Science and Us’ virtual Makeathon this pandemic-ridden summer. Not only was it something to do during quarantine, but creating my project was an opportunity to branch out into a new side of the scicomm world that only the internet could bridge. Even though I’m still unsure of what my future holds, I’m glad that I know science communication will be part of it. Hopefully, another virtual Makeathon will be there too! :)
Jordyn Kosai was the first-place winner of our first-ever Virtual Makeathon held in June 2020 centered around the topic of biology. To view her digital work titled “A Non-Human’s Guide to Communicable Diseases: Earth Style”, click here.