...what scientists did to stay connected during the pandemic?

Ever Wonder? / March 31, 2021

...what scientists did to stay connected during the pandemic?

Image
Dr. Sian Proctor at analog site
Image attribution
Courtesy of Dr. Sian Proctor

It’s been a little more than one year since the COVID-19 pandemic started and the California Science Center closed to the public. By the time you hear this, though, the Science Center will have just reopened our doors to our guests—running at 25% capacity, now that LA County has moved into a less-restrictive tier and more people are getting vaccinated. As we reflect on the past year, we wanted to share a short story from our archives that kept us hopeful as we return to a more normal day-to-day.

A few weeks ago, we spoke with Sian Proctor (@DrSianProctor), an analog astronaut and geoscience professor at South Mountain Community College in Phoenix, AZ. During our conversation, we learned that Sian is not only an accomplished scientist, but she is also an artist!

Do you ever wonder what scientists did to stay connected during the pandemic?

As an analog astronaut, having spent many months in enclosed simulated space station environments with only a handful of other researchers, Sian knows all too well the challenges of being isolated from loved ones for long periods of time. When the pandemic began, Sian describes how she accidentally became an artist and started a postcard club—sending monthly science-themed postcards to people she follows on social media.

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Transcript

Perry Roth-Johnson (00:05):

Hello! This is Ever Wonder? from the California Science Center. I'm Perry Roth Johnson. It's been a little more than one year since the COVID-19 pandemic started and the California Science Center closed to the public. By the time you hear this, though, the Science Center will have just reopened our doors to our guests—we're running at 25% capacity, now that LA County has moved into a less-restrictive tier and more people are getting vaccinated. As we reflect on the past year, we wanted to share a short story from our archives that kept us hopeful as we return to a more normal day-to-day. A few weeks ago, we spoke with Sian Proctor, an analog astronaut and geoscience professor at South Mountain Community College in Phoenix, Arizona. During our conversation, we learned that Sian is not only an accomplished scientist, but she's also an artist! Do you ever wonder what scientists did to stay connected during the pandemic? As an analog astronaut, having spent many months in enclosed simulated space station environments with only a handful of other researchers, Sian knows all too well the challenges of being isolated from loved ones for long periods of time. When the pandemic began, Sian describes how she accidentally became an artist and started a postcard club—sending monthly science-themed postcards to people she follows on social media. It's a wonderful story...take a listen.

Perry Roth-Johnson (01:31):

I know that many astronauts have talked about how living in isolation while they're in space has in a weird way, sort of prepared them for this social distancing era we're all experiencing during this pandemic. But I understand that COVID has also brought out the artist in you.

Sian Proctor (01:46):

Yes. You know, I've been fortunate where I feel like a lot of my life experiences have prepared me pretty well for COVID. I'm naturally an introvert. But having lived in you know, in The Colony, which was an apocalyptic build show for the Discovery Channel and then doing analog, um, experiences and even going to see for a month or two months at a time where you just feel isolated away from your family and things like that. Uh, and so when COVID happened, it was one of those things where I was like, okay, this is interesting territory. And because I'm an explorer, I needed an outlet. I needed, you know, creativity, I needed something that would help me, because I wasn't getting my normal traveling and being out there in nature and novelty, I'm really novelty driven.

Sian Proctor (02:44):

And so, as a goodwill to people who I was in contact on social media, I was like, I'm going to send you postcards. And so, I was sending people postcards around the world. They weren't my postcards; they were postcards that I bought. But they were, you know, a little message. They were all science postcards. And I typically sent them to scientists, especially people of color who are on Twitter, like Black Lives Matter that, you know, they might be black and STEM, you know, those hashtags that kind of bubbled up. And so, I was reaching out to a lot of people and saying, "Hey, I just want to send you a science postcard". And someone said, "Well, where's your postcard?" "Where's one that you created?" And I was like, "Oh, I don't know. Wait, I'm not an artist. Wait, what? Me create? Uh, okay, I can figure this out." And so, I decided that I would challenge myself to create a postcard to send to people. And in the process, you know, I started doing collage art in the beginning, but it just expanded where I posted, you know, some of the things that I was putting together and everybody was like, "Wow, this is really great! You know, you should, you should continue to do this." And then I was like, "Huh, I want to be a space artist." But really still having that doubt of like, I don't have any training in this. I don't know what I'm doing. But, as I go down that journey of discovery, my own self-discovery, not only is my confidence boosting and I'm getting better, but people are out there supporting me and saying, "Yeah, this is amazing". You need to go keep going down this journey". Uh, and that's the thing is that when, you know, even when we have our own self-doubt, there's so much out there for training and learning and just pushing yourself to take on new challenges. And when you do that, you learn so much about yourself, but it's even more powerful when you share that journey with others and social media allows you to do that. And they're there to help encourage you and keep you going. And so, my postcards and my art is all about Afrofuturism and so redefining the narrative of people of color in space and, you know especially black women and our narrative. And what will the future look like? And, so I do that through my art and my poetry, and I'm hoping that, you know, more people will sign up for my postcard club and that eventually I'll just be sending postcards out every month around the world. Inspiring people through not only the art on the front, but the words in the poetry that I put on the back.

Devin Waller (05:34):

What an amazing thing to have right now, during, especially during this time when people need that sense of connection. So, you know to, to explore this area of art and also to make those connections and bridge those connections with people is really wonderful.

Sian Proctor (05:51):

I tell you the people who are getting my postcards in the mail love it because they don't know when it's gonna arrive in the mail. And they don't know what the image is going to be. And they don't know what the poem is going to be at the back. So, it's this little monthly gift of, of just inspiration and, and, you know, the people who are getting them are just like, "This is great. I love it". And I'm like, "Really?" And they're like "Yeah". You know, I have people who have like joined the postcard club with for their kids, their daughters. They're like, "We want our daughters to be inspired. So, you know, we signed up so that they can get a postcard from you every month." And I'm like, "Oh, that's so nice!"

Devin Waller (06:34):

Where can people see your work and join the postcard club if they wanted to?

Sian Proctor (06:40):

Well actually, it's my Patreon. And so, it's "Dr. Sian Proctor" and Patreon is P-A-T-R-E-O-N. And so, it's, uh, it's a place where people can go and support artists or creative people and, and that's really nice.

Devin Waller (06:57):

Wonderful.

Perry Roth-Johnson (06:58):

Well, that's our show, and thanks for listening! Until next time, keep wondering. Hey everyone! We have a special request: we want to hear from you! Please fill out our Ever Wonder? podcast listener survey, and tell us what you think of the show, our guests, and any other feedback you'd like to share. It will only take a few minutes, and you'll help us make future episodes of Ever Wonder? even better. You can find the survey in the show notes or at bit.ly/everwondersurvey. Ever Wonder? from the California Science Center is produced by me, Perry Roth-Johnson, along with Devin Waller. Liz Roth-Johnson is our editor. Theme music provided by Michael Nickolas and Pond5. We'll drop new episodes every other Wednesday. If you're a fan of the show, be sure to subscribe and leave us a rating or review on Apple Podcasts—it really helps other people discover our show. Have a question you've been wondering about? Send an email or voice recording to everwonder@californiasciencecenter.org to tell us what you'd like to hear in future episodes.