What Does a Science Communicator Do?

By: Emily Calandrelli  | 
Emily Calandrelli in a red dress, smiling and holding a model of a planet.
Emily Calandrelli is the host of "Xploration Outer Space" and author of the Ada Lace Adventure series. Morgan Demeter

As part of our "How My Job Works" series, Editorial Director Nicole Antonio spoke with Emily Calandrelli about her work as a science communicator. What exactly is science communication, you ask? In the case of Emily, aka The Space Gal, it means teaching the world about space exploration and inspiring kids to embrace STEM. 

Over the last 10 years, she's hosted TV shows such as "Emily's Wonder Lab" and Emmy-winning "Xploration Outer Space"; written and published seven children's books, including the Ada Lace Adventures series (we love an Ada Lovelace nod); and given talks at Google, Pixar, MIT, Texas Instruments, CERN and dozens of U.S. schools. Read on to see what Emily had to say about the field of science communication.


What Do You Do as a Science Communicator?

Every week, every day, every month is different, and it all depends on what I have going on that month. So right now, for example, I just finished a really big book deadline for my next science experiment book, which is a book filled with science experiments [for kids]. When I'm writing these books, my kitchen is filled with science experiments everywhere. I am constantly testing and writing and testing and writing and testing and writing, and so I can be found in my kitchen at all hours of the day. 

And then, when I'm not testing and I can just be writing, I'll usually be in a coffee shop. That's where I write my speeches, that's where I write my TikTok videos, that's where I write my books. And then when I go to film, sometimes I just film in my car, sometimes I come back home and I film here. I'll [also] travel for speeches, so I'll be gone for a couple days at a time to go do a speech or go film an episode for my show. 


So it's a mix of coffee shop writing and science experiments in my kitchen and flying off somewhere to film a project or to go do a speech. It's constantly different, and it's constantly moving, and there's no routine whatsoever, and it's always chaotic, and I love it.

How Did You Get Your Start?

I studied aerospace engineering for nearly a decade and … also tagged on a second master's in something called technology and policy, which is a program that is meant for people with a technical background to learn about policy, to learn how to explain the importance of science and technology to policymakers. That skill set helped teach me how to explain the importance of science and technology to everybody — to kids, to families, to people without a background in this stuff.

Young children sit on the floor and raise their hands.
Getting kids excited to learn at a young age is essential in fostering future generations of curious minds.

I was graduating from grad school … and I got a call from a production company that asked if I wanted to be the host of a new space TV show. I had not had any production experience, any TV, any on-camera experience before, but I had done a lot of outreach. I had been in my community talking to kids, talking to adults about why NASA is worth our tax dollars. And so there were videos of me online that the production company found, and [they] saw that I could speak about complex topics in a way that the general public could understand. They asked me if I wanted to be the host of this new show (which turned out to be "Xploration Outer Space"), and that sounded like an adventure. That changed the entire trajectory of my career.


From there, I started writing children's books, doing more TV shows, and then my social media kind of blossomed along the way.


What Professional Achievement Are You Most Proud Of?

"Emily's Wonder Lab" is a show on Netflix. It's geared for kids ages 4, 5 and up. It's a science experiment show, and I filmed it while I was nine months pregnant. 

A lot of the feedback was from people with a scientific background who said, "We love this show, not only because it's fun for kids to watch, but because it teaches the scientific method." It encourages kids to be confident in their ability to question the things around them. It frames failure as not a negative thing, but a part of the scientific process, and then it gives agency to kids to be able to be involved. 


It's easy to make a very flashy science experiment show; it is hard to make one that actually teaches kids something about science. To be a pregnant woman teaching a science show on Netflix — it's just the type of representation that kids don't normally see on TV.

What Are the Biggest Misconceptions About Your Work?

In Hollywood-type stuff, or really in any kind of social media partnership, you'll have somebody who comes from more of a marketing angle and not a STEM background, and they'll assume that because you are a science person, you are equally capable in all fields of science. 

Emily has advanced degrees in mechanical and aerospace engineering, aeronautics and astronautics, and technology and policy.
Morgan Demeter

They will ask me any question about dinosaurs and geology and everything across the board. And I'm like, "I am an aerospace engineer. I could answer many questions about space." And even then, people will ask me very detailed questions about astrophysics. 


But with that being said, there are few things that I would be incapable of learning quickly. Like, no, I am not an expert in immunology, but if you have a question about it, I feel confident enough that I could research it well enough to give you an answer you'll be happy with. 

I think it's really funny, because a Hollywood exec will be like, "OK, so tell us this in-depth answer about the geology of the Earth and the history of dinosaurs." I'm like, "Space. I know about space." But I'm sure I could Google it and find a decent answer for you. But that happens quite a bit. They just assume: You have a master's in science, that means all science. 


Advice for Aspiring Science Communicators

For scientists and engineers in general, I think it's really important to have that communication skill set because, yes … that's very nice to be able to tell your family what you do and have them understand it. And it's also very important to be able to communicate the work that you've done to your management so that they can reward you for the value that you bring, and it's also really important for management to be able to explain science and technology to the people who fund those projects. 

The people that I follow on TikTok and on Twitter and on Instagram who are just killing it … are currently in school, and they're just using what they find interesting in school and making a video about it to share with others. And I think it's a really easy way to practice that skill set, because it takes time and effort, but it's not going to cost you a lot of money to post something like that. You can do it really frequently and iterate and fail fast and get better at it. I think it's a really, really easy way to get better at science communication.


The Future of Science Communication

Scientific communication is hard when there is uncertainty, because people want a direct answer. They want yes or no. They don't want "maybe." They don't want "yes, if." They don't want "no, but." They want yes or no. 

I think we've found an opportunity for science communicators … who did a good job explaining the science that was coming out [during the pandemic], but I think the government could use those scientific communicators a little bit better. They could fund them a little bit better. They could give them resources and a platform to leverage their communication skills. 


A phone on a grey surgical mask displays a red screen with white text about a COVID-19 news update.
Finding reliable information — keyword "reliable" — was a difficult task at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Because so often in these fields, we have traditional scientists who are at the top of their field talking about the scientific data that's coming out, and it sounds like a different language to so many people. We need people who have expertise in communication and also the background in the science to be able to communicate these things. 

There were a number of really great Instagram profiles (like @jessicamalatyrivera and @science.sam) that I followed throughout the pandemic to get my information to understand what I should be doing, what my kids should be doing and all of that. And I think we're going to start finding science communicators, not just in immunology, not just in space, but in climate change and in geology and in the pharmaceutical industry and all these different fields.

Sometimes people will say, "Who's going to be the next Bill Nye? Are you going to be the next Bill Nye?" I love Bill Nye and I don't think anyone can fill those shoes. But we don't need to, because in this next generation we need a thousand Bill Nyes that look like the population that we're trying to communicate to that have expertise in various fields. And I think that the future will be the government actually leveraging that skill set to help them communicate important things to the public. Companies are already starting to do that, and I think we're going to see that a little bit more.