Most of you might recognize her as Sheldon Cooper's equally awkward girlfriend on The Big Bang Theory. Some of you might even pinpoint her for the quirky, '90s golden child who wore oversized sunflowers on her head from the TV sitcom Blossom. Or, if you really want to throw it back, a "Hey, isn't that the girl from Beaches?" might even come to mind.
But really, Mayim Bialik is just a girl with a Ph.D. trying to make science look cool.
Last night the two-time Emmy nominee graced the Wolfe University Center as guest speaker for "The Big Bang Theory - Making Science Cool and Fun" lecture series at the FIU Biscayne Bay Campus. The series was focused on Bialik's journey as an actress and neuroscientist and how the two somehow intertwine -- divinely. "Everyone's got a story to tell," the acting savant humbly states. But hers was the story that would highlight the night.
The Lecture kicked off with a little background check. She delved deep into her Jewish roots. The arrival of her immigrant grandparents from Eastern Europe to Elis Island, being raised with the Jewish language of love - Yiddish - and her sincere affinity for attending a reformed synagogue instilled social justice as a fundamental life component.
Photo by: Nycole Sariol
"I learned to survive," she said when speaking about her less than picture-perfect upbringing.
It wasn't until Bialik and her family uprooted their Long-Island life for betterment in California that things started to look up.
"My parents opened something called the 'Yellow pages'," Mayim jokes (This is where Sheldon would lean over and ask "Was that sarcasm?") "Some of you might not know what that is, so I'm going to explain," looking into the sea of FIU undergrads, she briefly explained the primitive manuscript of phone numbers and its function.
"My parents looked up agents under 'A' and typed a letter on a typewriter. True story. You know, that box with keys and at the end that goes 'DING!'" the sarcasm further unraveled. "They typed a letter, put it in an envelop with a stamp, and the agents that were interested based on the letter, contacted and met with me."
Soon after, the then-Bette Midler and Barbra Streisand doppelgänger landed guest spots on classics like Webster and MacGyver which carried her to the most pivotal role of her career -- playing a young "C.C" Bloom (ironically played by Bette Midler in adult form) in the 1988 film, Beaches. The roaring success of of which inevitably gave Bialik her own show, Blossom. The move transformed Mayim into an official child star.
After Blossom ended, Bialik ditched acting to focus on a little something called school -- but a good student she was not. Posing as a role model for all of those who never make the Dean's List, Mayim admitted that she "was not a great student by any stretch of the imagination." In fact, she was unanimously known for her careless errors and was known as a bit of a hopeless case in the math and science arena.
So if math and science were never naturally her thing, why a career in neuroscience?
"I just felt like that's the level of understanding of the human experience that I'd like to have. Every sensation we have, every emotion, every psychological process has a root in voltage that needs to release a neurotransmitter. I think that's amazing and I wanted to study that," says the UCLA graduate with both a bachelors and Ph.D. in neuroscience.
Bialik, however, hit a real bummer moment after the birth of her two sons. She realized that a career in neuroscience would never give her the flexibility to be a full-time mom. So, she went back to the red carpet as thick-framed Amy Farrah Fowler on The Big Bang Theory by way of CBS.
Mayim's role as the brainy neuroscientist with no verbal filter and frumpy wardrobe seemed almost too appropriate given Bialik's repertoire (minus the frumpy part). Her even nuttier A-sexual, on-screen boyfriend, Sheldon Cooper, played by three time Emmy-winner, Jim Parsons, added to her real-life equation.
"I'm a scientist who went to grad school. I know tons of people like this," she jokes of Parson's obsessive-compulsive character on the longstanding show, which is wrapping up its seventh season.
Once the audience grew to know Bialik like the back of their hand, the vegan-enthusiast offered some Q&A snacks to a handful of desperately curious FIU students. Questions and answers were slung around about time management advice, stigmas against female-scientists, and Orthodox Judaism. But when it came time to talk about pursuing a career in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), the actress-turned-scientist had this to say:
"There are women who work in STEM fields who lead exciting and creative lives. You can work with animals, you can work with the environment, you can work with other people. STEM careers can be very flexible in terms of time and how you plan your life. Don't listen to all the college kids who like to party; leading a clean life and avoiding partying for as long as you can is extremely important. There's plenty of time to be dumb."
Although Mayim is talented as hell making us slap-happy every Thursday night as Amy Farrah Fowler, she'd still rather pick a neuron over the clapping of a slate.
"I consider myself a scientist more than I do an actress, for sure."
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Case in point: scientists are the new movie stars. Deal with it.