31 5 / 2013


When Heather Hsu contacted me months ago asking if we would be interested in flying to Chicago to film the Field Museum’s annual Member’s Night event, I had no idea that, first off, people cared enough about the show to grant us such an amazing opportunity, or secondly, that her generous contribution would result in a career opportunity for me.  And I was incredibly surprised when I called the Field to ask their permission to film there because I wasn’t even sure if they would allow it, so when the person on the other line responded with we’ve seen your show, my stomach somersaulted.  This is the Field Museum we’re talking about, here. The Field that I had read so much about in books, the Field with their 25 million specimens and artifacts.  The Field had seen my show.  At least, some of the employees had, but still.  Hailing from a small campus museum in Montana, it was like Picasso showing up to your gallery opening, like Benedict Cumberbatch saying he likes your fanart.  The Field Museum.  

Imagine my surprise when they were not only willing to let us film there, but they offered to set up behind-the-scenes tours.  Picture my astonishment when those tours spanned three days, and they invited me to join their after-hours get-togethers.  It’s better than going to an amusement park and not having to wait in lines.  It’s better than meeting your favorite author and getting their autograph.  It’s better than a first kiss.  It’s better than cake and brownies.  I thought I was dreaming.  I’m still not convinced I’m not in a coma.  

This time last year I did not have a job, I didn’t know if I would be in graduate school, and all I had was a blog with a small community of loyal fans and followers who shared my love for natural history museums.  I dreamt of one day getting a job in a museum somewhere, anywhere.  I was holding out for the UM Zoological Museum to offer me part-time and, well, I’d figure out the rest.  So picture me sitting in a conference room with staff members of the Field as they offer me a job there.  And not just any job (I would have totally been fine with any kind of job), but they want to help us continue making our show in their museum and oh my god they want to send me on field expeditions. And then later that night Richard Lariviere, the Field’s President, shook my hand, leaned in and said, I hope to see you move to Chicago.

There has never been a single shred of doubt in my mind that this is absolutely everything I have ever wanted to do, could have ever conceivably dreamed of doing, and to know that it is happening to me is an absolutely surreal experience.  That being said, as soon as I got back to Missoula I went to the Museum, shut the door, sat on the floor and cried.  Because that’s where it all started - in that room, sitting at the single work table with Dave.  Two and a half years ago I stepped in there, blissfully unaware of what the future held for me, completely oblivious to the world of possibility the collection I was standing in was about to offer.  

I owe so much to that museum.  I’m nervous for its future with both Dave and me leaving, but I remain confident that there are others like us out there who are willing to pour their life into that collection. This community has restored my faith in humanity; I’m reassured that passionate people exist who know the intense value of these museums, and like myself, refuse to let them go by the wayside.  I know where I leave a space, there will be someone to step into my role, and that position will be as gratifying and enlightening for them as it was for me.  

So, I’m moving to Chicago.  My first day of work at the Field is July 8th.  Rest assured Michael Aranda will continue to film, edit, and produce The Brain Scoop - this project would not be the same without him.  And, I’ll be awfully surprised if that damn raccoon doesn’t find a way to hitch a ride in my moving van. 

The Brain Scoop is very different from anything I’ve ever done. One day I met this person with a shining passion and personality and access to a cornucopia of peculiarity and my first thought was “This could be a show.”

I was terrified to say that out loud, though, because I didn’t really know how to do it, I didn’t know if it would be terrible when actually executed, and I  didn’t want to get Emily’s hopes up and then be like “turns out that the thing we made was terrible and no one liked it.” So I was super careful about the whole thing and it took a long time for me to feel like Nerdfighteria felt the same way I did about Emily and the Museum.

People might not know this but Emily was a nerdfighter long before I met her during a Crash Course Bio shoot. She actually applied for the first job I ever hired someone for. She didn’t get it :-).

Emily is also a Harry and the Potters fan, which endears her to me a great deal. She’s a real-live nerd…with the passion and peculiarity to prove it. 

When the Field Museum offered to transfer Emily over that was a bitter-sweet pill for me. Emily has become a friend…we play board games and D&D (she plays a 13 year old halfling thief named Corndog who recently saved the whole party from a horde of goblins) so she will be missed socially. And there’s also something really special and wonderful about the creepy little collection at the University of Montana. 

Of course, it was clear to me from the instant that the Field offered her a job that she wanted nothing else in the world. This made negotiating with them very hard. It was like “Emily will work at your museum if you give her twenty five jelly beans per month and a cupboard to sleep in…BUT I think what she DESERVES is…”

Luckily the Museum was very into being fair.

Nonetheless, that process (which took a few weeks) was, of course, torture for Emily. As we discussed what the best possible relationship between the Field and The Brain Scoop would be, Emily was just like “STOP TALKING! I WANT TO GO TO THERE!” It was very stressful for her to have those loose ends and I felt (and still feel) bad for that. But yesterday, we got all the deal points down on paper. It was a 2 and a half minute call…and it felt like the phone line was electrocuted because of the excitement on both ends. 

There are a lot of YouTube shows and networks being “acquired” right now, but there has never been a more amiable, logical, or valuable partnership in online video than this. I’m really proud of that. But mostly, of course, I’m proud of Emily and Michael who…in four months, created the most popular museum YouTube channel IN THE WORLD. 

Because of them, and the Field Museum, and of course the show’s diehard, loving, evangelistic fans, it’s only going to get much, much better from here.

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    If you don’t already watch The Brain Scoop, I HIGHLY recommend it
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