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110. The End of the Universe

Published on
June 14, 2022
Show notes

In Episode 110, Quinn’s talking about the end of the universe.

His guest is Sarafina Nance, Ph.D. candidate at Berkeley, astrophysicist, author, and women’s health advocate. She also hosts Constellation, a TV show by Seeker.

How the hell is the universe gonna end? Is it soon? What does it mean for each of us? What if it only feeeeeels like the universe is ending? What does that moment teach you?

Sarafina’s dedicated her life to studying and understanding the farthest reaches of space -- and our very (very) tiny place in it. And she’s taken that understanding to heart, fighting and surviving in a field of study that doesn’t make a lot of room for women of color, and a personal health battle that couldn’t have come at a worse time.

Learn Sarafina’s story, the mental tools she’s used to not only persevere, but flourish, and how to take on the end of the universe, in this incredible conversation.

Have feedback or questions? Tweet us, or send a message to questions@importantnotimportant.com

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Transcript

Quinn:

Welcome to Important, Not Important. My name is Quinn Emmett, and this is Science for People Who Give a Shit. We give you the tools you need to fight for a better future for everyone, the context straight from the smartest people on earth, and the action steps you can take to feel better and support them. Our guests are scientists, doctors, PhD students, nurses, farmers, policymakers, activists, journalists, CEOs, even a revertant. This is your friendly reminder that you can send questions, thoughts, and feedback to us on Twitter @ImportantNotImp, or you can email us at questions@importantnotimportant.com. You can join tens of thousands of other smart people and subscribe to our free weekly newsletter at ImportantNotImportant.com. Also, check out some of our merchandise at ImportantNotImportant.com/store. This week's episode is talking about the end of the universe. I promise it's an awesome time.

Quinn:

Our guest is the fantastic Sarafina Nance. She is a... boy, she is a PhD candidate at Berkeley, an author, a health advocate, science communicator. She's a dog mom. All of that truly, truly undersells her journey and her accomplishments to the Nth degree. That's what I want to focus on today, is how she got to where she is and why. Let's go talk to Sarafina now. Our guest today is Sarafina Nance, and together we are going to get a little meta and have some fun. We're going to talk about how the universe ends for each of us, for all of us, and if we can do anything to prepare for it or even prevent it. Sarafina, welcome.

Sarafina Nance:

Thank you so much for having me. I'm excited to be here.

Quinn:

Yeah, for sure. If you could quickly for the people tell us who you are and what it is you do.

Sarafina Nance:

Sure. I am a graduate student in astrophysics at UC Berkeley. I do science and communication. I am a women's health advocate and I write books. Yeah, I do a lot of things, all science related.

Quinn:

Anything else you want to add to that?

Sarafina Nance:

I host a TV show called Constellations on Seeker. It's about astronomy. I have a dog. His name is Comet. I'm a dog mom.

Quinn:

Amazing.

Sarafina Nance:

Yeah.

Quinn:

We'll take it. That's fine, that's enough. I feel like that's enough. It's crazy. Awesome, thank you for that. Thank you for joining us. A reminder to I guess you and everybody out there, we will ask some action oriented questions. Then what we like to do is get into how our community can support what you've got going on.

Sarafina Nance:

Great, thank you so much.

Quinn:

Because we learned early on that folks, even the nerdiest most invested folks, can only listen to, for example, enough conversation about climate change before you want to close your eyes and drive into traffic. We finish with action steps that people can actually do something about, like specific data driven stuff.

Sarafina Nance:

Great.

Quinn:

It helps the thing, but it also helps people feel a little better.

Sarafina Nance:

Yeah, absolutely.

Quinn:

Awesome. Sarafina, we like to start with one important question to start this fiasco. Sarafina, why are you vital to the survival of the species?

Sarafina Nance:

Whoa, that's a big question. Let's see.

Quinn:

Be bold.

Sarafina Nance:

I think it's really important to ask big questions that anchor us and our perspective in the context of the universe, so we can understand a little bit more about where we come from, how we got here, and whether we're alone. How we can sort of traverse the cosmos and explore the rest of the universe. Sort of these big questions that to me inform our humanity are really important to evolving as a species, and retaining a semblance of humanity as we move forward.

Quinn:

I like it. It works, I'll take it.

Sarafina Nance:

That's a lot of words.

Quinn:

Well done. That's perfect.

Sarafina Nance:

Cool.

Quinn:

You will never be faulted for a lot of words on this podcast. All I do is just ramble on and my editors are like, "God dammit, another one."

Sarafina Nance:

Cool, glad I'm not alone.

Quinn:

Let's get into this thing. Let's start by setting some context for folks. Sarafina, how is the actual universe going to end?

Sarafina Nance:

The universe goes through different stages as it evolves. Towards the end, the fate of the universe is basically that it is going to continue expanding and accelerating that expansion forever. At that point, so we're hundreds of billions of years in the future, the space between each celestial object is going to get bigger and bigger and bigger, and stretch until you have isolated stars and you have isolated planets. And everything sort of cools and fades away until we're left to be plunged into darkness.

Quinn:

Sounds like my typical Friday.

Sarafina Nance:

Yeah.

Quinn:

That's hundreds of billions of years, which is good. That's helpful. Let's get a little more intimate with it. Talk to me about our galaxy. Is it correct we're going to run into Andromeda? Is that right, or something like that?

Sarafina Nance:

Yes. There is going to be a collision of galaxies sometime in the future. It sounds sort of dramatic, and it can be. But it's basically that stars within our galaxy and stars within the Andromeda galaxy could be basically wrapped in each other's orbits and pull things apart, or merge things together. The shape of our galaxy will change.

Quinn:

Okay. Then at some point, our sun is going bye-bye, right? That's a little bit sooner.

Sarafina Nance:

Right.

Quinn:

What's the story there?

Sarafina Nance:

Our sun is too small to explode as a supernova, but just big enough to basically swell as it gets older and older. It'll become what we call a Red Giant. Then basically consume all of the inner planets as it swells. Earth will be set on fire and sort of gobbled up by the sun. Then the sun will sort of get out to the orbit of Jupiter as it swells to this Red Giant. Then it'll fade into what we call a White Dwarf, which is sort of the cores of stars.

Quinn:

Got you. What's the timing on that? Is that like Thursday, or...

Sarafina Nance:

No, another several billion years from now.

Quinn:

Okay. I just have to answer to my kids when they're just like, "Hey..."

Sarafina Nance:

Yeah, no.

Quinn:

"This lady said everything is going to go boom. When is that happening?"

Sarafina Nance:

Very far in the future.

Quinn:

Perfect, perfect, perfect. Okay, I feel like that gives us a little context for this thing. How old were you when you first started to kind of grasp all of this? I guess the line between becoming curious about how the stars and the galaxy and universe works, and again, sort of grasping the timeline and how enormous these things are and the scales.

Sarafina Nance:

I think when I first remember asking those questions and thinking about scale, I was in kindergarten or first grade, so like five or six. I went to an Episcopalian school. I remember learning about the concept of a God and hearing that God created the universe. I'm not religious, but at the time, that's what I was told.

Quinn:

Sure.

Sarafina Nance:

I remember asking my parents, "Well, if God created the universe, then who created God?" Sort of going on and on from that. My parents, in great parenting fashion I guess, just kind of looked at me. They were like, "That's a good question." I was hooked. I was like, "I have to learn more and think more and understand more about the scale of the universe." That's really exciting to me.

Quinn:

Does it scare you at all?

Sarafina Nance:

That's an interesting question. I remember the first time I was interning out of an observatory in college. I was talking to people about the composition of the universe and how we only know four percent or five percent of all matter in the universe, and how exciting that was. People looked at me like I was an alien. They were like, "Aren't you terrified that we don't know all of this?" My answer is, that didn't even occur to me to be scared.

Quinn:

Yeah.

Sarafina Nance:

To me, that is some of the most liberating, freeing thoughts of we know so little, and there is so much yet to be explored. As someone who I think is really curious and likes exploring, that's just so exciting to me.

Quinn:

Yeah, I feel like that makes sense. I like the use of liberating in the sense that it just goes... it's a little bit like... have you been in an earthquake yet in your time in California?

Sarafina Nance:

I have, yes.

Quinn:

Look, hurricanes, terrifying. Wildfires, cyclones, tornadoes, the whole thing, right? Scary stuff.

Sarafina Nance:

Yeah.

Quinn:

But when the ground moves, your fundamental assumptions about your sense of control in your life and in the world, and just how the world naturally works.

Sarafina Nance:

Right.

Quinn:

Really go out the window real fast. Because our stupid lizard brains are really not down with, the ground can become wavy for an undetermined period of time.

Sarafina Nance:

Yes.

Quinn:

Out of nowhere.

Sarafina Nance:

Yes.

Quinn:

And we still can't predict it. It's a tough one, but it's also a little bit... I imagine it's a little bit like being out at sea when the sea is really going ape shit. You're just going like, "I'm very small."

Sarafina Nance:

Right.

Quinn:

I can understand in certain moments how that's terribly scary, especially if 40 footers are crashing over your head or you're in one of these earthquakes. But at the same time, with the scale of our solar system, the galaxy, the universe, and the time scales, I think that's probably where that liberating feeling comes in because you're like, "I'm not going to be here."

Sarafina Nance:

Exactly. I think I struggle with anxiety, and I struggle with really feeling like I want to control my surroundings, because that lowers my anxiety. I think my love and passion for the universe, and feeling so free when I think about the context of how small we are in the grand expanse of the cosmos. To me, that is sort of a perfect balm for my anxiety because it reminds me that we are so small. We're transient. We're not going to be around for very long, and all of our problems, all of our struggles and pain and happiness, is just a blip in the universe. That for me personally is incredibly reassuring.

Quinn:

Yeah, I totally get that. It's funny, my children are very curious. They're very lucky, they're very privileged that mom and dad can buy books, and fill the house with things that help them quench their curiosity and stoke more of it. But they can also really overthink things, so it's the same thing. When they're just like, "The sun is always going to be here?" I'm like, "Actually, no. In about five million years, same thing, it just keeps growing. It takes us over." They're just like, "Quick question. What?"

Sarafina Nance:

Yeah.

Quinn:

"And when? You said we're going for ice cream, but you also just said the sun is going to explode."

Sarafina Nance:

Yeah.

Quinn:

"I'm going to need more detail." Because their concept, and we know this about how they think, I mean first of all that their brains aren't fully developed. But also to get more biological about it, how children perceive time versus how we perceive time because it keeps going faster, and the way we forget things. All that stuff. We keep pulling the thread and finding out all of the things we don't know. When you're just like, "The sun is going to explode," they're like... They only know how a week works because I have it on the whiteboard on the fridge.

Sarafina Nance:

Right.

Quinn:

In five billion years, you can say it's some magical number, but they don't know what that means.

Sarafina Nance:

Right, yeah. I think to some extent, it's impossible to really understand these huge numbers.

Quinn:

True.

Sarafina Nance:

A billion years, five billion years, 10 billion years. What does that really mean? We can't really, as humans, put that into any meaningful contexts that our brain can understand. But having something so big, it's like going out to mountains and you look up at this huge peak. You're like, "Wow, my brain cannot even wrap my mind around this sort of gargantuan scale that is right in front of me, but it's there."

Quinn:

Sure.

Sarafina Nance:

That perspective, even if we can't fully grasp what it means, is still I think to me grounding and meaningful. Even if I don't fully understand the difference between a million years, a billion years, 10 billion years. That's one of the biggest challenges I think of being an astronomer, is having to deal with these gigantic numbers and scales that we don't think about on a daily basis here on earth. We think about what happens in the next minute, or hour, or 24 hours. If I have to think about things in a year, I have an anxiety attack.

Quinn:

Sure, yeah.

Sarafina Nance:

I'm like, "I can't process what's going to happen." But having sort of the big, big, big numbers anchor me helps a little bit with putting my day to day into perspective.

Quinn:

I get that. I can see how it's this balm for anxiety as someone with also whiteboards, and to do systems, and jobs, and kids. I try to keep things organized. My wife, she just basically ignores me at this point with all of it, and understandably so. I'm just like a guy who lives there now. We are almost incapable of understanding the raw data of the time and the distances. First of all, just how big our own galaxy is. Then you're just like, "Oh, and there's a trillion more." Or how big the universe is or how it's going to grow. It's almost a self awareness of our limitations, and then just letting go, right?

Sarafina Nance:

Right.

Quinn:

And going, "I actually can't understand that. I can talk about it in this relative way, but..."

Sarafina Nance:

Right.

Quinn:

That's the nice thing because there's not a lot of other things... all our lizard brain is doing, especially this past year, is trying to control all these things that we can't control. That are still, and we talked about this a lot here, these externalities. Things that you are directly exposed to, whether it's your kids at school, or your investments, or your job, or your family, whatever it is, that should feel like they're within your control. But it is nice to look at these grander things and these pictures that pop up all over my feed and just go, "Okay."

Sarafina Nance:

Yeah, I think letting go is really the key. That's the important thing. That's something that I struggle to do in my day to day life. I try very hard to control what I can so that I feel like I am worthy and succeeding, and getting meaning back to people around me. But really, at some point, you have to... I'm learning to fall deeper into myself rather than trying to deal with the externalities of things around me. Because by letting go of... we don't really have control. It's us acknowledging that we don't have control.

Quinn:

Sure.

Sarafina Nance:

That's the hard part. That is something that I am currently working on in my day to day life.

Quinn:

Good luck.

Sarafina Nance:

Yeah.

Quinn:

Let me know if you figure it out.

Sarafina Nance:

I will.

Quinn:

Please. It's a struggle, man. It gets immensely harder and easier once and if kids show up into your life. It's this whole, what's the great quote? Having a kid is like having your heart walk around outside your body. Instantly, you're like, "You can't go outside here. You can't do this. You can't climb on this chair. You should do this." It feels like you're saying "No" all the time but you have to tell them, "These are basic safety things."

Sarafina Nance:

Right.

Quinn:

"I'm sorry you're frustrated, but I'm trying to keep you from being electrocuted. It's not so fun." Then even in a bigger context, in a year like this, we just had to explain to our kids we're not going back to Los Angeles because mommy and aren't fully vaccinated yet. You won't be for a year, and this and this, and flights and all this. Again, it's very difficult for them to grasp the enormity of it. But it's also, again, this moment of... again, I try to keep taking a step back to look at the whole picture. But then dialing it in like, "Can I control this thing? Yes or no? Can I control this thing? Yes or no?"

Sarafina Nance:

Right, yeah. I think I am struggling with that when I think back to this year. I'm fully vaccinated now and I'm very, very lucky to be in that position. But when I grapple with the pain and trauma and struggle that so many people have experienced this last year, it's really overwhelming. It's like really trying to understand a tsunami as one person. At some point, it's too much. When you look at the numbers of the death toll, and the number of people who have been infected, it's not really reflective. It's a low bar for actually what the real numbers are. It is really difficult to sit with that. At some point, what I am doing is basically, and I don't know if this is the right or the wrong thing, but processing it in small bits instead of the whole thing.

Quinn:

Sure.

Sarafina Nance:

Because the whole thing is just traumatizing. There's collective global trauma from this experience.

Quinn:

Sure.

Sarafina Nance:

That I think everybody is just trying to process in their own way.

Quinn:

Again, it's so interesting to take this grander solar system wide, galaxy wide perspective of... there's that great quote which I'm going to mangle. Oh gosh, I don't remember who it was. I think it was when they took the... maybe it was either the Pale Blue Dot picture or the Earth Rise picture. Maybe it was Carl Sagan who in his speech said something like, "Everything that's ever happened is up on that tiny little dot," right?

Sarafina Nance:

That's Carl, yeah.

Quinn:

Then I thought about... there was a great book that came out a couple years ago George Clooney just made into a movie. The book was called Good Morning Midnight. What was the woman's name, the author? I can't remember, but it's great. The movie was really good too, but essentially it's two parallel stories. It's this scientist in Antarctica working on some things, I don't want to give too much away, and also this clinician in space that's on his way back to earth. Something happens in the Antarctica research facility, and all the other scientists bail, and he decides to stay and finish up. Something is happening on earth. Everybody go home. At the same time, the space mission loses contact with earth. It's so interesting if you stop right there and think, they just turn off the communications and none of the rest of the universe would have any idea that we had this plague, or we nuked each other, whatever it is. It just gets snuffed out that quick.

Sarafina Nance:

Yeah.

Quinn:

Again, it gives you that perspective. Again, the broader, broader, broader perspective.

Sarafina Nance:

Right.

Quinn:

That you can either really try to wrestle with or try to come to terms with by letting go a little bit, you know?

Sarafina Nance:

Yeah. I think here, reflecting on sort of that story and Carl's quote, it gives you some I think appreciation for how fragile the earth is and how fragile life is. And how incredibly beautiful it is that we get to experience it, and that we just so happen to be on this pale blue dot in the middle of an ocean of universe. I mean, it both helps to ground a little bit of these numbers. But it's also, when you think about how fragile life is, it makes it that much more painful to really try to conceptualize what's been going on.

Quinn:

Sure, but you hope it gives people, this is why I feel like we should send everyone the space to just turn around and have a look at the thing, because it gives you this perspective of, we've only been walking around on this thing for like 200,000 years.

Sarafina Nance:

Yeah.

Quinn:

We are basically just above chimps still. We could mess this whole thing up so fast, so fast.

Sarafina Nance:

Right.

Quinn:

You talk about, people go out and they have a look and they're like, "Oh, shit. Okay, got it."

Sarafina Nance:

Yes.

Quinn:

You wish you could plug that into everybody a little bit.

Sarafina Nance:

Yeah, the overview effect. There is this... I would give so much to be able to experience that. I read these news accounts and it's just like... I think I have a small fraction of it because I try to think about the earth.

Quinn:

Sure.

Sarafina Nance:

I try to think about the universe in that context. But I'm sure it's just a very small fraction of what it actually feels like to be able to see the earth.

Quinn:

Yeah. Someone the other day was like... I was on some kid's website because I spend half my day on those. "What do astronauts do on the weekend?" The astronaut is like, "Look through the fucking copula and look at earth."

Sarafina Nance:

Yeah, totally.

Quinn:

"Because it's amazing. What else are we going to do? Are you kidding me? It's amazing." You're like, "Yeah, that's pretty great.

Sarafina Nance:

Yeah. I would be completely glued to the window.

Quinn:

100%.

Sarafina Nance:

It would be impossible for me to look anywhere else.

Quinn:

Yeah.

Sarafina Nance:

My job would be looking, just that's it.

Quinn:

Great. "Where's Sarafina?" "She's looking out the window again, man."

Sarafina Nance:

Yeah.

Quinn:

"She hasn't done her treadmill today."

Sarafina Nance:

Nope.

Quinn:

I want to talk about two sort of pivotal, to use a terrible sort of segue moment, ways your academic and your sort of own personal health universe could have gone in a different direction. First of all, in 2019, you gave this perfect tweet about not just failing a quantum physics exam.

Sarafina Nance:

Oh, yeah.

Quinn:

But getting a zero, which I thought only I did in college, so thank you.

Sarafina Nance:

Oh, you did that too? I'm glad to meet someone else.

Quinn:

Yeah. By the way, I'm like a Pagan Atheist too, but I was a religion major. Mine were like essays, 20 pages. They were like, "Your score is zero." I'm like, "How is it zero?"

Sarafina Nance:

Oh no.

Quinn:

"There's got to be something. What are you talking about?"

Sarafina Nance:

Oh God, that's so painful.

Quinn:

But yours is something that matters. [crosstalk 00:23:58] Also, you're incredibly brave and transparent about sharing it. But you finished the tweet by saying, we'll put it here and we'll put it in the show notes, "Now I'm in a top tier astrophysics PhD program." Again, this was two years ago. "And published two papers. STEM is hard for everyone. Grades don't mean you're not good enough to do it." Which is so great. You didn't quit. Why didn't you quit? Because I imagine that moment was difficult. You're not some superhero who is like, "It's fine, I've got the next one."

Sarafina Nance:

No, I'm not. That's a good question and it's something that I spent a lot of time thinking about, especially recently. I think there's two parts to my answer. The first is, I love the cosmos. I really, despite all of the grades and despite all of the struggles with not being particularly good at physics or math, at least initially, I would have done anything really to be able to study the universe and to have the opportunity to learn more about it. That was really the drive. The initial passion was there.

Sarafina Nance:

The second thing is this idea of what I call learned persistence. Throughout my life, I never felt like I particularly belonged in STEM or in physics. Part of that is because I am a woman, a brown woman, someone who is not a genius savant who would just kind of guess it. I felt really out of place. Because of the sort of implicit and explicit stereotypes, and stereotype threats that underrepresented groups deal with when they are in an atmosphere like STEM, we're told over and over that we don't belong. Or it's implied that we don't belong. I've experienced that my whole life.

Sarafina Nance:

At some point, I basically had small moments throughout my whole life where I had to decide, do I want to keep doing this or do I not want to? It's easy to say, "This hurts too much. This is too difficult. This is not something that I want to really have to expose myself to." But I almost by necessity learned that if I wanted to continue to pursue my love, I had to push through and say basically "Fuck it" to the people telling me no, and to the grades. And say, "I'm just going to keep trying because this is something that I just love." At that moment when I got a zero, it really was another one of the stream of reasons why I shouldn't do something. I just said, "Well, I want to keep doing it. How can I make that happen?" And I did. That tweet was really... I think so many people, especially women and especially people of color, feel like spaces like STEM are not for them.

Quinn:

Sure. Well, we do a terrible job of making room for them.

Sarafina Nance:

Exactly, exactly. I see, and I experienced this, of wanting to leave at some point because it's too hard. Not because you're not smart enough, it's because the environment is not conducive to your success. That tweet was really to help show that everybody struggles. If you're passionate about something, we should make room for you basically.

Quinn:

Sure.

Sarafina Nance:

So yeah, it's hard. Getting a zero is like, Jesus Christ. How bad can you possibly be at this?

Quinn:

So fun, right?

Sarafina Nance:

That's really hard, but I went to my professor right afterwards and I was like, "What the fuck? I got a zero. Do I drop the class? Do I retake this? Do you think I'm an idiot?"

Quinn:

Right.

Sarafina Nance:

He was basically like, "It's all curved. You'll be fine. Just study for the final and next year you'll be fine." I was like, "Okay."

Quinn:

You're like, "Are you sure? Because I got a zero."

Sarafina Nance:

Yeah, just the big fat circle of zero.

Quinn:

Right.

Sarafina Nance:

There's no extra digits there.

Quinn:

When you say fine, I got zero.

Sarafina Nance:

Yeah. You do physics, right? You know math. But it was fine. I ended up getting I think a B in the class or a B plus because everything in physics is curved. I ended up doing pretty well.

Quinn:

Was it fun?

Sarafina Nance:

No. Yes and no.

Quinn:

Did you change anything after that? Your study habits, the way you thought about it, the way you looked at it, the way you operated within the space you had carved for yourself?

Sarafina Nance:

You know what? There are two things that I really I think grew to understand, three things maybe, grew to understand in college. The first is that when I started college, when I started physics, I studied for literally like 20 hours a day. I mean, I was like, "The more hours I put in, the better I will do on these tests." I didn't have a social life, didn't have any sort of friendship group. I was in a sorority that I never attended anything because I was like, "I have to do well." That did not translate to success at all. That was a hard pill for me to swallow. I did not understand how more hours didn't correlate to better grades.

Quinn:

Yeah, for sure.

Sarafina Nance:

That was the first thing. The second thing was finding a community, finding people in my program who I could study with and who could explain things to me in different ways that I started to understand better. I started to learn how to have a dialogue about physics. That is not something that I ever learned growing up. At some point, you learn to not just problem solve in problem sets, but to actually discuss how things fit together. It doesn't have to be about formula. It can just be about ideas. That was totally foreign to me, and it's a skill that I learned throughout college. Then probably the third thing is kind of going back to what we talked about at the beginning of this podcast, is letting go a little bit and saying, "I got a zero. I can let it sort of totally destroy my self worth, or I can just say, 'All right, that happened. Better luck next time.' And sort of move on." Of course, I didn't do a perfect job of that, but I've learned how to fail maybe.

Quinn:

Sure.

Sarafina Nance:

Which is really a concise way of putting it.

Quinn:

That's one of the greatest lessons of all, right? Whether it's in school or some sort of sport, or ballet, or whatever it might be, winning is great. But man, learning how to lose, how to fail on your own or especially with a team and handling that well as a team, and coming back the next day. I have found that there's a pretty noticeable difference between folks who experience that on the way up and folks that never really were in that situation. Whether they didn't put themselves in that situation or their parents didn't let them fail for whatever reason. Because boy is that a skill that's necessary for literally the rest of your life.

Sarafina Nance:

Yeah, right. It's part of being human. There's ups and downs. There's successes and failures. I think as much as failure hurts and I fucking hate failing, I really hate it.

Quinn:

Sure.

Sarafina Nance:

But I think that's where a lot of growth happens. It's uncomfortable, but in discomfort, you grow and you get to experience different parts of life and different parts of yourself that you wouldn't have been able to experience beforehand. It's easy to talk about. It's easy to say those words. It's really hard to deal with it, to live it.

Quinn:

It sucks in the moment. It's awful.

Sarafina Nance:

It's terrible, it's awful, but it's also important.

Quinn:

Yeah.

Sarafina Nance:

There wasn't one thing that I changed where I was like, "I decided to approach physics in this way after that zero." I let go a little bit and I said, "I'm going to trust that I have a community of people that I can have these physics conversations with."

Quinn:

Sure.

Sarafina Nance:

And I can start to sleep more.

Quinn:

So weird.

Sarafina Nance:

And start to eat at normal hours.

Quinn:

Right.

Sarafina Nance:

These things that go into making you just sort of general wellness.

Quinn:

Sure.

Sarafina Nance:

How to just be a functioning human. It worked out. Ironically, by the end of college, I mean that was I think my junior year of college. By the end, my trajectory in physics knowledge was exponential. By the end I was like, "Oh, I actually kind of get physics or at least parts of physics."

Quinn:

Sure.

Sarafina Nance:

I did the best that I had ever done in physics classes by my senior year. It was because once I sort of got the ground, the foundation of physics, and started to learn how to think about things, the concepts just became a little bit easier to grasp.

Quinn:

Sure. I guess there's a little letting go there as well, right? I mean, this is not apples to apples. But if 20 hours a day, and no social life, and eating like a rabbit in random periods of time equals a zero, again, that's not the baseline. But you can let go of that sense of, I need to do everything I can to equal this.

Sarafina Nance:

Right.

Quinn:

It's not basic math. That's not the way these things work. To talk a little bit about some other math you did, you also very transparently shared your inheritance of the BRCA2 gene. On top of a family history of pretty rough cancers, you chose to have a preemptive double mastectomy knowing the probabilities, which from what I understand are pretty high of developing breast and ovarian cancer.

Sarafina Nance:

Yes.

Quinn:

Especially with your family history. Could you, again, to give some context for folks, and there's been some other stories about this as well. I know Angelina Jolie wrote that whole thing when she did it.

Sarafina Nance:

Right.

Quinn:

Can you briefly describe for the folks at home, but especially the gentlemen out there, why women in your position, that conflux of factors, elect to have prophylactic surgery?

Sarafina Nance:

Yeah. My grandmother on my dad's side had ovarian cancer in her 50s, and then had pancreatic cancer in her late 60s and died of pancreatic cancer. At the time, we didn't know about genetic mutations.

Quinn:

Sure.

Sarafina Nance:

We didn't know about BRCA. Maybe the science was out there, but we personally did not know about it.

Quinn:

Sure.

Sarafina Nance:

When I was 23, my dad was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of prostate cancer. He was diagnosed at stage four. Typically, prostate cancer takes time.

Quinn:

A long time.

Sarafina Nance:

Yeah, and it's typically very treatable.

Quinn:

In fact, they tell guys who get it in their like 70s and 80s, "Don't worry about it."

Sarafina Nance:

Yeah. For him, he basically went from presumably healthy to stage four in like six months. It was sort of a shocking, and it was obviously really scary. My dad is my best friend, so there was a lot of pain there. Right after he was diagnosed, basically his oncologist and his team of doctors said, "I think we should get genetic testing." Because typically prostate cancer doesn't behave this way. He got genetic testing, came back positive for BRCA2. Right after he got his positive result, I decided to go get tested and came back positive. Which for me means I have an 87% lifetime risk of breast cancer, which to me that's like, "All right, well then I'm going to get breast cancer." It's not a guarantee, but it's very high.

Quinn:

No. But in a world where, and we've especially seen this this year, but humans again, our lizard brains, we're really bad at thinking in a probabilistic way. When we have overwhelming odds...

Sarafina Nance:

Yes, right.

Quinn:

Like, this vaccine will reduce your chance of getting it loosely 90%, that's pretty big.

Sarafina Nance:

Right.

Quinn:

And 87% is no joke.

Sarafina Nance:

Yeah, exactly. Then for ovarian cancer, it's like 30%. It's still incredibly high, relative especially to what it typically is. I think it's not that... something quite low.

Quinn:

Something lower than 30 something percent.

Sarafina Nance:

Like 12% or something, yeah.

Quinn:

Sure.

Sarafina Nance:

After I got my positive test result, I went through this period of frankly denial. I was 23 and my dad was sick. I was like, "I can't think about my own stuff."

Quinn:

Sure.

Sarafina Nance:

"Because I'm not able to." My brain just could not comprehend that.

Quinn:

Sure.

Sarafina Nance:

I didn't have to. I was very lucky in that I was young, I was healthy. I didn't have any symptoms or any sort of reasons why I needed to deal with it right at that moment. I moved to Berkeley, I started grad school. In my first year of grad school, I think I was 25, you're supposed to start screening for breast cancer if you're BRCA2 at 25. I went in to get my first MRI and it showed a spot, and I freaked out. I lost it. I went in for a biopsy, had to wait the full week of checking my phone every two seconds and thinking, what if I have cancer? What if I have cancer at the same time my dad has cancer? How do I...

Quinn:

Sure.

Sarafina Nance:

It was too much. It came back that it was benign, but they wanted to monitor it every six months. I was like, "I can't do this. I cannot go through this every six months, especially when I know that I can get a preventative double mastectomy and not have to think about breast cancer ever again hopefully."

Quinn:

Right.

Sarafina Nance:

I started doing a ton of research of... typical PhD student. I was like, "What does the data say? What is the science?"

Quinn:

Sure, right.

Sarafina Nance:

"How do I get some control over this situation?" I don't have any history in the medical world, but I started... I was on PubMed and I combed through paper after paper after paper.

Quinn:

Yeah.

Sarafina Nance:

I put together this like 10 page list of studies, and I went to my oncologist. She was like, "We could publish a peer reviewed paper based on this." I was like, "Great." I was just like, "I think I'm ready for this." She was like, "I agree. I think this is the right decision for you," which really helped. Having a woman, having an oncologist who was a woman, helped me feel like she understood a little bit about what I was going through.

Quinn:

Sure.

Sarafina Nance:

She was able to, I think, empathize in a deeper way perhaps than I would have had if I had a male doctor.

Quinn:

Sure. Just to pause right there...

Sarafina Nance:

Sure, yeah.

Quinn:

When we go through life, again, your dad's cancer, like you said, happened very quickly in a way that one usually does not. Yours obviously, now with so much more genetic testing, more and more women are finding out about this or people are finding out about ALS genes, whatever.

Sarafina Nance:

Right.

Quinn:

We're finding out so much more, which can be harrowing and scary, and often we don't fully understand, both personally and scientifically, understand the implications of some of these newer things.

Sarafina Nance:

Right.

Quinn:

Versus something like BRCA where we have, like you said, 87%. You have a pretty good idea of what that means. Versus again, I had ALS in my family, they're finding these new genes. They're like, "Listen, we think this is probably one of the more prominent buttons. We're not totally sure what it does."

Sarafina Nance:

Right.

Quinn:

But it's very easy to send people spinning out.

Sarafina Nance:

Right.

Quinn:

But when things happen, or you discover information that's a little bit, I'm trying to think of the best way to put this, out of the normal scope of how that condition or precondition happens. Yours was at 23. Your dad's was early. It can be harder to find folks who can empathize in a really direct way, support groups of people who went through it at 23 years old.

Sarafina Nance:

Of course, yeah.

Quinn:

Or your dad's age, or whatever. You had this wonderful oncologist who was a woman who could obviously empathize much more than a man could. But was there anything else out there socially that you found of folks who could help talk you through that?

Sarafina Nance:

Yeah. This was a hugely important part of my journey. Basically right after I decided to move forward with my mastectomy, I found this group online on Instagram called The Breasties.

Quinn:

Amazing.

Sarafina Nance:

Yeah, fantastic name.

Quinn:

Fuck, that's great.

Sarafina Nance:

It's so good. It's so good. They're completely organized around young people who are affected by hereditary reproductive cancers, so breasts and ovarian cancer primarily. I found two of my best friends from this group. One of them was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 28, just starting business school at Yale. Basically had to defer business school and go do chemo for a year, and have many surgeries. It's a completely different experience talking to young people and young women who are affected by this as compared to sort of... when I thought of breast cancer before all of this, I thought of sort of a 40, 50-year-old, which is still young.

Quinn:

Sure.

Sarafina Nance:

But a 40 or 50-year-old woman who has a life, is established in her own space. This was completely different. I felt like I was just starting. I'm just trying to figure out what I'm doing and where I am, and what I spend my time on. Suddenly I'm faced with having to think about life or death, and having to think about how to save my own life. People in their 20s typically don't have to think about that.

Quinn:

No.

Sarafina Nance:

Thankfully, they don't have to ask those questions. It was really challenging. It was really challenging to be... this was back when you could go out to bars.

Quinn:

Don't know what you're talking about.

Sarafina Nance:

Yeah, it's a totally different universe. I'd go out with some friends, and I remember feeling like they were talking about romance and guys and dating. I was like, "I feel like I can't understand anything of what you're saying because all I am thinking about is a mastectomy and dying and cancer."

Quinn:

Sure.

Sarafina Nance:

It was two different worlds. To be able to find a community of people who were young, who understand what this feels like, saved me really. I never understood the idea of a support group, because Breasties, that's not how they brand themselves. But it really is like having a community. Having a community is so important, whether it's in physics, in STEM, or in this. I found it to be life changing.

Quinn:

It can go a really long way. It can be painful and really can feel dissociative to have these people who would otherwise be your besties, your closest friends, the people who have listened to all of your other problems. Your romance, whatever it might be.

Sarafina Nance:

Right.

Quinn:

Who to no fault of their own simply cannot understand the moment you're in and the decisions, the information you're compiling and processing, and the decisions you have to make. It's not their fault, but that's why finding groups like that can make just an enormous difference.

Sarafina Nance:

Right, yeah. I think it was a journey to not feel betrayed a little bit by some of my friends, my former... not former friends, but friends who I was friends with before this diagnosis, who couldn't really show up in the way that I really wanted them to.

Quinn:

Sure.

Sarafina Nance:

But that's to no fault of their own. It's just that everybody is in a different place in their life. Everybody has different experiences and emotional capacities, and approach big problems and big scary topics differently. It was really, again, invaluable to be able to find people who intimately understood what it was like. Not even just from our own journeys and our own diagnoses, but also having immediate family members, parents, who were diagnosed. Some of them have died from cancer. Having that sort of parent daughter or parent son relationship is something obviously I understand in a very intimate way, because I deal with that with my own dad and his cancer. That just adds another dynamic and another part that really strengthens those relationships.

Quinn:

It does. I haven't been faced personally in my own body with something like that. One of my best friends died of cancer very quickly about 10 years ago. He was very young.

Sarafina Nance:

I'm so sorry.

Quinn:

Thank you. Grief changes over time for sure. It doesn't go away, but it changes a lot, especially when you have different perspectives and kids and life. Not anywhere near like your dad, but not dissimilar, he had a cancer that was mostly, to this point, because of the society we built, it was an esophageal cancer that metastasized. But that's usually over 65-year-old black men who have been smoking their whole life. That's the basic thing. He was a 29-year-old college soccer player, white guy, privileged, doing marathons.

Sarafina Nance:

Wow.

Quinn:

He was gone like that.

Sarafina Nance:

Wow.

Quinn:

It is interesting how just that in itself can give you a lot of perspective.

Sarafina Nance:

Oh, absolutely.

Quinn:

But also again, I was, gosh, when that happened, 25. To be clear, especially guys, in your 20s, you are... the best word is, I mean, you're basically a moron at that point, right?

Sarafina Nance:

Yes.

Quinn:

You're just an emotionally stunted moron.

Sarafina Nance:

You said it, not me.

Quinn:

I mean, I'll put it on a bumper sticker. That was me 1000%. That's how I always feel watching professional athletes, and they yell at like the 22-year-old point guard who went out to a club the night before a game. I'm like, "I don't remember 22. What are you talking about? I can't fault that kid. Are you kidding me?"

Sarafina Nance:

Yeah.

Quinn:

Anyways, it happened very early. It gives you a lot of perspective. It's also really interesting to, in the moment, have the friends who show up ride or die who don't understand. They're like, "I don't get it, but I'm not going anywhere.

Sarafina Nance:

Right.

Quinn:

And the ones who don't and the ones who can't, and it's not their fault. You can have some antagonism about that in the moment, you can take a step back. Anyway, it's a wild journey. Nobody should have to go through it, but kind of like getting a zero on the test. It's terrible to say, but I'm sure you wish you didn't have a double mastectomy and I wish my friend hadn't died.

Sarafina Nance:

Right.

Quinn:

But I probably also wouldn't have moved to California.

Sarafina Nance:

Right.

Quinn:

To chase a girl and make three kids. That's interesting.

Sarafina Nance:

Yeah.

Quinn:

You can certainly wrestle with that at times still, but yeah. It's interesting how that can kind of move us forward a bit.

Sarafina Nance:

I go to therapy every week. I love therapy.

Quinn:

The best.

Sarafina Nance:

One of the things that my therapist says that I am learning is how we have only part of the picture, right?

Quinn:

Sure.

Sarafina Nance:

There is a big, even to the basic scale of the universe picture, of what is out there. Our lizard brains cannot understand it, right?

Quinn:

Yeah.

Sarafina Nance:

We have a very narrow perspective of our own lived experiences. That's how we translate everything. That's how we derive meaning from the world around us. When I went through this mastectomy, that's all I focused on. It was like, I have this thing and it's really scary. Then I'm done with it, and it's my whole identity. Now I'm a year out, and I am able to start to live life in not just that narrow view, right?

Quinn:

Sure.

Sarafina Nance:

I'm a scientist. I get to go hiking and I get to do all these other things that are not shaped entirely at least by that diagnosis.

Quinn:

Sure.

Sarafina Nance:

It's hard in the moment to be able to see that. It's hard to be able to see the context. There is so much that... I am in a completely different place, both as a human being emotionally and professionally than I was before my diagnosis. Part of that is, I never could have anticipated. I never could have anticipated I would... it sounds so cliché, and I don't think I fully believe this, but it's not that I'm grateful that I had that.

Quinn:

Right.

Sarafina Nance:

It's not that I'm grateful that I had my mastectomy, but I can treat it as, this thing happens. It's part of life, and now I am moving on to a new chapter. It's informed by what happened to me. It's not good or bad.

Quinn:

Sure.

Sarafina Nance:

I think that's a perspective that's really important, whether it's getting a zero on an exam or having a mastectomy. These really painful, terrible things happen. It happens.

Quinn:

Sure.

Sarafina Nance:

And there is another moment. There is forward, right?

Quinn:

Yeah, the universe keeps distancing itself no matter what we do.

Sarafina Nance:

Exactly.

Quinn:

I think about it, my poor wife, we met literally at a Caribbean wedding over jello shots.

Sarafina Nance:

That's amazing.

Quinn:

We did long distance. We had met, she was in L.A. and I was in New York working crazy hours. My friend who died lived with me for a little bit. He lived near my office, so we'd drink and we'd talk every day about what we're going to do. All of a sudden, the guy is gone.

Sarafina Nance:

Wow.

Quinn:

My poor wife, we had met like five... I mean, long distance. You've actually had met like five times in your life.

Sarafina Nance:

Yeah.

Quinn:

Especially if you didn't know each other before.

Sarafina Nance:

Wow.

Quinn:

All of a sudden, this is not what she signed up for when she met a guy in board shorts at a Caribbean wedding. She was like, "Well, I'm going to show up because this is the kind of person I am." It's been interesting. Again, I'm not thankful for it, but we are also in the universe of our relationship that...

Sarafina Nance:

Right.

Quinn:

Some relationships don't go through some hard stuff for quite a while, and then you find out some shit about how you guys handle things.

Sarafina Nance:

Right.

Quinn:

That was like the prequel to our relationship.

Sarafina Nance:

Right.

Quinn:

It was literally the hardest thing.

Sarafina Nance:

Yes.

Quinn:

Again, I'm not thankful for it. But at times, I'm just very aware that we can handle anything, and that's interesting.

Sarafina Nance:

Right, yeah. I am very similar. My boyfriend and I started dating I think, what was it, like six months before I had my MRI.

Quinn:

Oh, jeez.

Sarafina Nance:

Then within nine months, I had my first surgery. He's like... it just so happened that this person was able to show up and be there in a way that was authentic to him and felt good.

Quinn:

Sure.

Sarafina Nance:

Obviously it was hard, but not every relationship could withstand that.

Quinn:

No.

Sarafina Nance:

It's interesting having to go through that pain and hardship at the very beginning of a relationship. In my opinion, it either makes or breaks a relationship.

Quinn:

Yeah, totally.

Sarafina Nance:

Now we're three years into our relationship, and it's completely... I feel like in some ways, we're a 20-year-old couple.

Quinn:

Sure.

Sarafina Nance:

Or sorry, 20 years together couple, because we've gone through so much. Not everybody goes through that at the very beginning and that's okay.

Quinn:

Nor should everybody, but at the same time...

Sarafina Nance:

Yeah, exactly.

Quinn:

Yeah.

Sarafina Nance:

It is interesting how, again, it's like you see only part of the picture when you're in it. Broadening that perspective and broadening hat picture and saying, "Really, nothing is inherently good or bad." That's a blanket statement, but for example, my dad, diagnosed with terminal cancer. Now he says it's probably the best thing that's ever happened to him because he lives a completely different life that he never would have lived beforehand, and he loves it. He practices yoga every day. He is on the beach. He has this completely different outlook towards life, and his own meaning in life now that he never could have accessed before his diagnosis. It's really interesting how people process trauma and derive meaning from it. Being able to just put one foot in front of the other, I think.

Quinn:

Yeah. Can we talk about Constellations?

Sarafina Nance:

I would love to talk about Constellations.

Quinn:

I have essentially... I don't want to say brainwashed. It's such a strong word that people use, but I have forced my children to watch Constellations and Emily's Wonder Lab on repeat, I would say. It's also the happiest they are. They're just like, "Yeah, yeah. Leave the room." It makes them so happy because there is so much, between the two of you, it is so effortless, and so passionate and knowledgeable of course. Why do you feel so uniquely suited to do that job?

Sarafina Nance:

First of all, my heart is bursting. That makes me so happy.

Quinn:

It's the greatest thing in the world.

Sarafina Nance:

So happy.

Quinn:

All I do is tweet Netflix all the day. Everyone is just like, "Renew Emily's Wonder Lab, fuckers. What are you doing?"

Sarafina Nance:

That is incredible. No, seriously, they need to renew that show. It's fantastic. Why do I feel uniquely suited? Oh, God. I mean, I'm not. There are so many science communicators out there who are excellent.

Quinn:

Sure.

Sarafina Nance:

Who are so good, so passionate, so excited about what they're doing, and they're knowledgeable. I feel like I got very lucky to be able to do this show. I'm one of many. There's a lot of really talented and wonderful people out there. I think one of the things that I like to bring to every science communication that I do, and really everything I do, is I am authentically me. I don't pretend to be anybody else because I get too much anxiety to try to pretend to be somebody else. I'm just going to be me, and if somebody doesn't like it, that sucks but that's fine because that's who I am.

Quinn:

Sure.

Sarafina Nance:

I think part of me being me is I fucking love space. I love talking about it. I could talk to a wall about space. I literally could talk to anything. It's like, "Sure, I'll talk to a camera. Whether one person watches it or five million people, it really doesn't matter." It's great, but I'd talk to anybody about it. Constellations in particular was really fun because it was a unique show in that it didn't just talk about science. It talked about the cultural implications of science, which I really liked.

Quinn:

Sure.

Sarafina Nance:

Because science is inherently human.

Quinn:

Sure.

Sarafina Nance:

We are humans doing it, so we need to talk about that.

Quinn:

They're inseparable.

Sarafina Nance:

Exactly.

Quinn:

We used to punish humans for scientific theories and things like that.

Sarafina Nance:

Right.

Quinn:

You can't take these things away.

Sarafina Nance:

Exactly. I think trying to pretend that science is pure and true and separate from humans is an incomplete picture.

Quinn:

Sure.

Sarafina Nance:

That's one of the things I love about the show. I was very lucky to work with a team where I could help develop the episodes and the scripts. That was really cool because I was like, "I want to do a whole episode on Beetlejuice." They were like, "Great, let's do a whole episode on Beetlejuice." It's been really fun to be able to not just get to talk about astronomy, but get to choose what I talk about and spend however long the episodes are, eight minutes, but really that's a recording time of like five hours, getting to share my coolest, happiest, most exciting parts about the universe with people.

Sarafina Nance:

Especially part of it was, we're stuck in our homes right now. We are trying to retain some semblance of life when life is so different right now. What can we do to experience the universe when we can't go into the lab, or we can't go to a telescope? The cool thing is all you have to do is go outside in your backyard and look up at the night sky, and it's right there. Part of the show was to give people tools to be able to just walk outside and say, "Oh, well I can look at the Big Dipper." And then go down a particular degree and say, "Oh, that's Saturn." That's really cool. People can start to access the sky in hopefully a little bit of a different way from watching that show. That was really exciting for me.

Quinn:

It's so rad. It's addictive and it makes you go like, "Shit, I want to know more about this." Which is just the greatest thing, whether you're an adult or a kid. We're in sort of this golden age of incredible kids entertainment, I guess we could call it, in so many different ways. I grew up on Sesame Street and all this stuff.

Sarafina Nance:

Of course.

Quinn:

Now you've got Daniel Tiger, and Emily's Wonder Lab, and Constellations, and all this stuff. You've got Muppet's and Snoopy in Space. It's amazing, but there's also just the lazy versions of... and my kids are socially altered. They think that blueberries are dessert and your show is the only thing on TV.

Sarafina Nance:

That makes me happy.

Quinn:

I turn them into bed at like 7:00. They're like, "The sun is out." I'm like, "Sorry." Their friends are up until 9:00 eating sugar.

Sarafina Nance:

Exactly, that's great.

Quinn:

The point is, it's easy when you're exhausted to be the parent who is just like, "Put on Frozen again," and go out of the room. By the way, Frozen is amazing, but it's amazing to have something like this where you could be talking to them about anything and they are into it because of the energy you bring to it.

Sarafina Nance:

Oh, thank you.

Quinn:

Which is so rad.

Sarafina Nance:

That is incredibly nice of you to say. I'm flattered.

Quinn:

No, no, no. They would kill me if I didn't talk to you at this point. I don't get to make decisions anymore.

Sarafina Nance:

Well, thank you.

Quinn:

Your history, your stories of academic setbacks if that's what we're calling a zero now, which I wish that's how I could have framed it in college.

Sarafina Nance:

Oh, yeah.

Quinn:

It's a setback instead of my parents being like, "What the fuck?"

Sarafina Nance:

Exactly.

Quinn:

These setbacks, taking this very mature, preventative action against cancer. It seems like we've talked about these common themes which are interesting. I kind of honed in on this sentence the past year especially of, all you can do is all you can do. Which is both letting go, but also putting whatever you can into the things that you can do.

Sarafina Nance:

Right.

Quinn:

You have learned to let go of some things, but also you fought like hell for your place in this world as a brown woman who was immediately judged by your look and your body, which you have had to change. You weren't accepted in this specific role that you wanted to be in, this part of the ever expanding universe, right?

Sarafina Nance:

Yeah.

Quinn:

But this part you have carved means so much to not just kids, but to you and I am assuming to so many other women, and young brown women in academia and elsewhere. Again, bouncing back to how the universe is going to die and the sky is going to go dark, versus your biology. We're all, what did Carl say, stardust.

Sarafina Nance:

Yeah.

Quinn:

But you are taking up a lot of room, which is awesome. I wonder if everything sort of we've talked about and you've learned, what lessons can you share about how to reconcile this inevitable end of the universe and letting go of that, and making the most of our what can be very brief time here?

Sarafina Nance:

I love the way you framed that. One thing I talk about when I talk about science communication or when I talk about mentorship and encouraging people to enter STEM if that's what they want.

Quinn:

Sure.

Sarafina Nance:

Or do whatever they want, is to find something you're passionate about. Don't let anybody tell you that you're not good enough to do it or that you don't belong in that space, because nobody gets to say whether you are good enough for something other than you. You get to choose what you want to do. Obviously all of that is couched in, there is systemic oppression. There is systemic racism. There is systemic homophobia and transphobia. A lot of especially marginalized people, that's an incredible difficult thing to do. It's incredibly difficult to say, "I'm passionate about something and I'm just going to keep following that no matter what." Because it's very painful.

Sarafina Nance:

Oftentimes, it's impossible. But I think finding something that you love and that you're passionate about is at least the very first step. To me, finding a community is hugely important. Finding a community in whatever intersection of your identity speaks to you is incredibly powerful because those people can support, validate, and lift you up. And help give you space to have a voice. I think those are the two most important action items, I would say. Finally, this is a little bit broader, but I think remembering how small we are. Remembering how everything changes. Everything is transient. We really don't have control over the universe, but because of that, we get to play and explore and find purpose. And not to take ourselves too seriously, right?

Quinn:

Sure.

Sarafina Nance:

We're just human beings trying to make our way through the world, and that's okay. That's what keeps me sane, I think, when I get so bogged down in whatever research problem I'm facing or whatever health problem I'm facing. It's taking a step back and finding myself reassured by the perspective of the universe.

Quinn:

Sure.

Sarafina Nance:

That's what I think fuels me and keeps me going.

Quinn:

I love that. Nitty gritty, are there any specific organizations or causes that you believe in or you support where folks could give attention or time or money to support whatever they're doing, whatever you're doing? We'd like to really be specific with folks so they can just mash their button against the play button or the donate button, or whatever it might be, and feel like they're doing something.

Sarafina Nance:

I love that. I think the two organizations, I already talked about The Breasties. They're a nonprofit. Highly recommend.

Quinn:

Greatest name ever.

Sarafina Nance:

Yeah. Highly recommend their organization, and the other one is Girls Who Code.

Quinn:

Yes.

Sarafina Nance:

They're fantastic. I think especially for girls and for young girls of color, it's really important. Both of those I'm really passionate about.

Quinn:

Awesome. We will definitely put those in the show notes. Okay, last couple of questions and I'm going to let you get out of here, because it's been like your entire day here. The sun has changed through your window.

Sarafina Nance:

I know, it's glaring.

Quinn:

Oh, Jesus.

Sarafina Nance:

No, it's great. I love it.

Quinn:

You're so kind to spend the time. Sarafina, when was the first time in your life you realized you had the power of change or the power to do something meaningful?

Sarafina Nance:

I think I was like 12. I had just gone to science camp, and this astronomer who came to visit told me I couldn't be an astronomer. I was like 11, and I was like, "Fuck you. I'm going to be an astronomer."

Quinn:

Do you have this guy's social security number or address or anything?

Sarafina Nance:

Dude, I know. I need to look him up. I need to be like, "Excuse me, sir."

Quinn:

Jesus.

Sarafina Nance:

"I just want to let you know I'm an astrophysicist now. You can go fuck yourself." No, that was probably the first time when I conceptualized, maybe people don't think I can do this thing and don't want me to do this thing. Also, I want to do it, so I'm going to do it.

Quinn:

I love it, I love it. Who is someone in your life that has positively impacted your work in the past six months?

Sarafina Nance:

Not my dog.

Quinn:

We can talk about the dogs. It can 100% be your dogs. I mean, Comet is amazing.

Sarafina Nance:

He is amazing. He helps me more than he knows. Actually, I would probably say Emily Calandrelli. I looked up to her for so long. We've become friends over the last year. We met almost exactly a year ago. It's been challenging finding women in this space who, no pun intended, who have the same dreams and passions and way of communicating, and total unequivocal support. There is no jealousy or bitterness or trying to tear each other down. It really comes from a place of love, and support, and elevating people. Emily is just fantastic at that. It's been really cool to get to know her and have someone as a friend and someone to look up to. She is really, I think, making the world a better place and making my life better. I'm very lucky.

Quinn:

Awesome, we'll take it. Sarafina, what's your self care? What are you doing these days?

Sarafina Nance:

I do yoga every day.

Quinn:

Okay.

Sarafina Nance:

I sleep at 10:00 P.M. every night.

Quinn:

Awesome.

Sarafina Nance:

We live right by a forest, so I get to go on walks in the forest with Comet almost every day.

Quinn:

Amazing.

Sarafina Nance:

I think really taking time for me. I never did that growing up, I mean in a conscious way. Claiming that time for myself is good. It's so important.

Quinn:

I love that. I'm so down with the forest bathing thing that they're talking about.

Sarafina Nance:

Oh, yeah.

Quinn:

It's the greatest.

Sarafina Nance:

It's lovely.

Quinn:

That's exactly how Los Angeles feels. I'm kidding, it's not at all. It's a disaster.

Sarafina Nance:

Yeah, I'm not sure about that.

Quinn:

What is a book that you read this year that has either opened your mind to something you hadn't considered before, something new to you, or has changed your thinking in some way? We've got a whole list, we put it on Book Shop, et cetera, et cetera.

Sarafina Nance:

Oh, cool. I would say Untamed by Glennon Doyle. It is this book about... I think the line is, "Be the cheetah."

Quinn:

Amazing.

Sarafina Nance:

Yeah. It's really sort of unabashedly claiming who you are and not letting yourself be trapped or encumbered by societal norms or expectations, and being fully, authentically yourself. I love her writing. I derive a lot of meaning from her own personal journey.

Quinn:

Awesome.

Sarafina Nance:

Highly recommend.

Quinn:

Rock and roll. That'll go on there. Sarafina, where can our community follow you on the internet?

Sarafina Nance:

Yeah, I am on all social... I don't know what all the social platforms are actually.

Quinn:

It's too much.

Sarafina Nance:

There's a lot. I don't know why I said that. I'm on two. I'm on my third Instagram @starstrickensf, so find me there.

Quinn:

Okay, rock and roll. Where can they find Constellations?

Sarafina Nance:

It is on all Seeker platforms. On YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, I don't know if there are more, but those are the big ones.

Quinn:

Okay.

Sarafina Nance:

Just look up Constellations. There will be all eight episodes of the first season.

Quinn:

Amazing. Thank you for sharing all this and for all of your time.

Sarafina Nance:

Thank you.

Quinn:

It's been four hours, so I apologize.

Sarafina Nance:

It's been a whole day.

Quinn:

It's been a whole day. Everything is over. Thank you so much. I really appreciate you for everything you're doing, for sharing with us.

Sarafina Nance:

Thank you. This was great.

Quinn:

And for all of your bravery and transparency about your journey. It's pretty awesome. It makes I think the journey probably a little easier for some folks, which is great.

Sarafina Nance:

Thanks, Quinn. I appreciate that. Thanks for all the great questions. I loved them.

Quinn:

Yeah, of course. Thanks to our incredible guest today and thanks to all of you for tuning in. We hope this episode has made your commute, or awesome workout, or dish washing, or fucking dog walking late at night, that much more pleasant. As a reminder, please subscribe to our free email newsletter at importantnotimportant.com. It is all the news most vital to our survival as a species.

Brian:

You can follow us all over the internet. You can find us on Twitter @importantnotimp.

Quinn:

Just so weird.

Brian:

Also, on Facebook and Instagram @importantnotimportant. Pinterest and Tumblr, the same thing. Check us out, follow us, share us, like us, you know the deal. Please subscribe to our show wherever you listen to things like this. If you're really fucking awesome, rate us on Apple Podcasts. It keeps the lights on. Thanks.

Quinn:

Please.

Brian:

You can find the show notes from today right in your little podcast player and on our website, importantnotimportant.com.

Quinn:

Thanks to the very awesome Tim Blane for our jamming music, to all of you for listening, and finally, most importantly, to our moms for making us. Have a great day.

Brian:

Thanks, guys.

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