A former biology teacher-turned-illustrator is educating and entertaining kids and adults alike on the internet, one intelligent and chucklesome science comic at a time.
Katie McKissick is the brain and hands behind the science webcomic blog "Beatrice the Biologist".
And there’s something to tickle everybody’s funny bone.
"I hope to help more people realize that science is not boring, scary, or dull, but that it is quite fun, funny, and fascinating," McKissick tells The News Minute over email.
McKissick, who is based out of Los Angeles in California, initially wanted to create comics for high school students and "perhaps adults who might feel alienated by science".
"But since people who don’t like science don’t tend to go out looking for science blogs, I felt I needed to change my focus. I started thinking about 20- and 30-somethings like myself and my friends who like science humor. I also try to write about topics in a way such that someone who already knows about the concept finds it funny, and someone who has never heard of the topic learns something new," she says.
The ideas for her popular comics come from a blend of "aimless daydreaming", conversation with friends, reading books and memories of her students.
"Sometimes I’ll get a complete idea for a comic all at once, and other times I’ll think of a topic I’d like to cover and I’ll roll it around in my head to find the right way to approach it. I particularly enjoy addressing common misconceptions and finding very silly ways to address them," she states.
While the situation for women in science has improved significantly since the Victorian era, women still aren't well or equally represented in the sciences, especially in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
McKissick says that most of the sexism she has faced in science was during her student life. And sadly, it came from her teachers.
"With one exception," she shares, "all of my teachers and professors were men, and some of them were incredibly dismissive of their female students – myself included."
These experiences partly encouraged her to become a science teacher. "I wanted to be the role model for my students that I never had.”
The portrayal of women in the field of science in popular fiction is not very different either; too often it is reduced to that of a sidekick or portrayals that reek of stereotypes.
"We’re making progress," McKissick says, "but there is still lots of room for improvement. In fiction, it still seems like scientist characters are always male by default unless there is a specific reason the character must be a woman.”
She adds, “Women in science also face a lot of judgment based upon their appearance. We’re judged harshly if we are perceived to care too much – or too little – about how we look. It’s as though there is the tiniest sliver of an acceptable range we must occupy. It can be exhausting! But the modern female nerd knows all this and trudges forward anyway, finding solace among like-minded people and the hope that things are always getting better."
Several of her comics have been shared thousands of times on Facebook and while both men and women make up her audience in equal numbers, some of her "most loyal and vocal fans are men".
She is however yet to figure out what exactly the audience connects to, in each of her comics, with responses varying from lukewarm to wildly popular. "In general, the short and sweet ones do the best, such as “amoeba hugs.” They’re often fatal, you know."
Though McKissick isn't a trained instructor, barring a few art classes she has taken "here or there", she comes from a very artistic family, where she is, self-confessedly, " the least talented of the bunch".
A multi-tasker, when McKissick is not drawing comics, she can be found co-hosting "an irreverent science podcast" called Science Brunch or researching the lives of famous and not-so famous scientists, along with her friend Mae Prynce. She is also a contributor to Symbiartic, the science and art blog on Scientific American.
(All images credit: Katie McKissick)