Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Bialik & McKellar

Or McKellar & Bialik? What do you think?  Doesn't really trip off the tongue like Cagney & Lacey does it?  Caggers & Laggers was the first police procedural series that starred two women who were more or less credible. Apparently it is being re-run even at this moment on BBC. I missed the 1980s which was the era Cagney & Lacey was first broadcast, so never got sucked in but millions of people did and half a generation of young women apparently modelled their roles on them. Cagney (Sharon Gless) also became quite a BLT icon (on dit pour les filles et les garçons tous les deux) and was given an award for this in 2009. I've been banging on recently about role models for young women in science, and you could do worse than Danica McKellar and Mayim Bialik.

They have more in common than the fact that they were born at opposite ends of 1975.  First off, they are both smart enough to hold their end up in Numb3rs, although they never were asked. I don't/won't have television in the house, so only catch that medium while crouched over my laptop watching youtube clips, but I did sack out on the couch watching episodes of Numb3rs from a borrowed box-set with Dau.II before she left home.  It was very good and apparently they took pains to make sure that the complex mathematics they scribbled on boards made sense to people to whom it could make sense. Although I must say, that after a dozen episodes it got to be sufficiently samey that I knew why we don't have a television.  McKellar & Bialik continued to channel each other by starting their acting careers in their early teens in 1988.  I've not only never seen but until this weekend I'd never heard of their starring TV series Blossom and Molloy for Bialik and The Wonder Years for McKellar.  They must have pushed some 'favorite' buttons because both young women were employed doing those shows until they got to be old enough to vote.

But it's pretty obvious that they didn't let all the tedium of hanging around on set waiting for the umteenth take of the next scene go to their heads because the space between those ears were full of more substantive stuff.  McKellar went on to read Math at UCLA and published a nifty finding (the Chayes-McKellar-Winn Theorem) in theoretical physics with her professor and another really smart student.  She graduated at the top of her class - summa cum laude as the Americans (as if they are all fluent in Latin!) term it.  She first bounced over the horizon for us when we bought her math-for-girls books Math Doesn't Suck and Kiss My Math for Dau.I and Dau.II when they were watching films through their teenage years.  I recommend them!

Bialik also went to UCLA but majored in neuroscience and Hebrew (is there no end to this woman's talent?) and went on to do a PhD in medical neuroscience, "Hypothalamic regulation in relation to maladaptive, obsessive-compulsive, affiliative, and satiety behaviors in Prader-Willi syndrome" as you ask.  She also got married and had a couple of kids. For her, the juggling led her to leave professional science and she now plays the part of Amy in the current geeky sit-com The Big Bang Theory, which if you're under 30, have a television and can spell astrophyicist, you will have seen. TBBT is, like Numb3rs, careful to get their science correct and it can do no harm that one of the people on the set speaks the language. A pal o' mino sent me this link to Bialik talking direct to camera about her life and times.

What I like about these stories is that while both women have made it under the terms of media razz-ma-tazz they have both chosen to devote a significant chunk of the lives to science.  For them those two worlds have been given parity of esteem.  For young women who never had the time, inclination or opportunity to break into Hollywood it encourages them to believe that science just might be thrilling.  If they believe that they might give science a go and then we can trust to science's engrossing fascination to do the rest.  So thanks and bonnets off to Mayim and McKellar!  Yes, I think that M&M combo rings well.
The Blob's women in science: Florence Nightingale - Barbara McClintock - Maude Delap - Cliona O'Farrelly - Lynn Margulis - Rosalind Franklin - Jocelyn Bell Burnell

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