ep.028 No Boundaries w/ Gabby Salazar

You need to read the book No Boundaries!!! I chatted with one of the authors, National Geographic Explorer and conservation photographer Gabby Salazar. In our interview, Gabby shares why girls need to see women in STEM and how “No Boundaries” can inspire girls right now!

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I want to introduce our special guest today – we have Gabby Salazar. Gabby, thank you so much for joining us! 

GABBY: Thank you so much for having me. It’s exciting to be here to talk about this book and about women in science. 

So Gabby, you have a fascinating job. Could you share a little bit about who you are and what you do? And then that’ll lead right into this book.

GABBY: So I’m a conservation photographer, which means that I take photographs of environmental issues and create stories about them, showing both the problem and also potential solutions to the problem, and people that are doing the work to solve a problem – like deforestation or marine plastic pollution. I’m also a doctoral student at the University of Florida, where I actually study using techniques from psychology and anthropology on how these images or these types of images influence people’s attitudes and behaviors.

I didn’t even know this was a thing, but I’m so glad you’re doing this. So you just wrote a book with another fascinating woman, Clare Fieseler, about a bunch of fascinating women. It’s called No Boundaries: 25 Women Explorers and Scientists Share Adventures, Inspiration and Advice.

I love this book. I can imagine you love it, too, and I’m wondering why you and Clare felt it was so important to write this book.

GABBY: That’s a great question. Clare and I are both National Geographic explorers. We do different types of work, she works in marine biology, but we’re both photographers and interested in science communication. We’ve always kind of recognized that women, especially women that are working today in the sciences and in exploration, are underrepresented in the media. So there’s a lack of relatable, accessible female role models for young women. And we got to talking a few years ago about how we didn’t see as many women experts quoted in magazines, and we also recognized that they weren’t represented in other forms of media, and we wanted to do something about that. Because, as scientists, we also looked at the research and we saw that one of the key reasons that girls cite for not going into STEM fields–science, technology, engineering and math–is that there are a lack of female role models that are relatable to them. So rather than highlighting women for history, we wanted to highlight really amazing women who are doing incredible research today, all over the world.

That is amazing. And I love that you’re like, Hey, you know what, I don’t see this. We’re not going to wait around for somebody else to do it. We’re going to do this. This book is full–like I said, 25 women (there are more out there) but this one shows 25 women all over the world. Could you name a few of the various types of scientists and explorers that you featured here?

GABBY: Absolutely. We feature women from 25 different fields of study. And the reason for that is just like you said at the beginning of the interview where you didn’t know that what I do in my research is something that could be done as a career. We recognize that young people don’t know all of the possibilities. And so we have a paleontologist, a linguistic anthropologist, a long-distance hiker. We have people from academic disciplines like astronomy and planetary science, but we also have women who use their athletic abilities, like Mallory Dimmitt who’s an expedition leader who leads big expeditions across the state of Florida to raise awareness about conservation issues, just to show that you don’t have to necessarily have a formal degree to contribute to science and exploration. There’s all kinds of talents and ways we can make a difference and contribute to knowledge of our world. 

It’s amazing. And this book is honestly incredible. It’s got stunning photos, inspiring stories, mind blowing facts. I’m wondering what does the title No Boundaries mean to you?

GABBY: We wanted girls and boys who read this book to see their future as this broad wide open space for exploration that wasn’t kind of confined by the many different boundaries that we sometimes think about. Those boundaries can be like our own anxieties about Can I do this? Am I smart enough? like imposter syndrome. They can be boundaries that are set on us by society or by our parents or by the cultural norms at the place where we live. And they can be boundaries set on us by whether or not we have the money to pursue a career or we have an opportunity to pursue a certain job or path of study. So we wanted to have stories in the book that address all of those boundaries and all of those kinds of barriers, and show how women have overcome them so that they provide these kinds of very direct relatable stories. And there’s also a ton of advice from different women telling you exactly how they got there and what they recommend based on their experiences for young people that want to be an anthropologist or an ecologist or a conservation biologist.

What a remarkable resource. So something else that I think is really neat about this book is beyond them sharing their stories about how they got into their field of study and what they do, it also has applications for girls to do at home, like Jean Beasley who is a citizen scientist. After her it says how you can help in your own community, like this is about a beach cleanup.

GABBY: We really wanted the profiles and the stories to kind of spark curiosity. And then we wanted to provide that extra little information if you wanted to take it to the next step. If you really loved reading about Munazza Alam who is an amazing astronomer, then we wanted to have those tips about how to go outside and look up at the night sky yourself and start thinking about other worlds and planets, what the stars mean, and how to observe them. It was really important for us to push people to go beyond just that initial curiosity.

I love that you said curiosity. It’s something that I’m very passionate about. And I think it’s important for girls to understand you don’t have to wait until college to start thinking about what interests you, what sparks your your flame, what you’re passionate about. And you don’t have to limit yourself either–literally No Boundaries here, girls! You can explore it all and find what lights you up the most and follow that trail.

GABBY: And you can also change your mind. We have women in the book who also change their mind like Jenny Adler who is a cave diver and conservation photographer. She goes to school to get a PhD and thinks she’s going to just study ecology. She ends up realizing that science communication is her passion. She talks about how deciding not to pursue the PhD was really tough for her because it was a big shift, but it was ultimately what she wanted to do. There’s also examples of women who have tried different things, and then they changed their minds and gone on to do really successful projects and really amazing work. So you can be curious and just try things and follow your passion and see where it leads you.

Oh, that’s so great. Okay, so social media has created an obsession over likes and streaks and influencers. How do you want the women featured in this book to influence girls?

GABBY: So I think one of the big takeaways for me, and a theme that Clare and I tried to put throughout the book, is a theme about persistence and overcoming challenges and failure. That’s something that we don’t often see on social media, right? We don’t see failures, we see successes. We see the pretty things, we see the curated moments. We really wanted to make sure that the book included lots of examples of where these women who are amazing role models have actually failed to get a grant or failed to get into the school. They come upon lots of rejection letters or have to write someone three months every day in a row in order to get an internship. Persistence is the thing that I’d love for girls to take away from this, even though social media makes it look like everything is easy. Life has challenges, and being a woman in science and exploration is challenging. But if you’re able to stick with it and overcome those little failures, the payoff is enormous.

It can still be done. Your future is not about having a million followers or being an influencer with some brand. There are so many more opportunities for you girls. So where can girls find your book No Boundaries?

GABBY: Girls can find the book on most major retail retailers: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, the big bookstores, look for it online. We hope that they find as much inspiration from reading it as we did from writing it.

I agree. Before we wrap up, I want you to share where people can find and connect with you and Clare.

GABBY: Clare and I are both on Instagram: @GabbyRSalazar and @ClareFieseler. And you can also find me on my website, GabbySalazar.com

Awesome. Gabby, thank you so much! This has been an incredible pleasure. I am feeling inspired already and I appreciate you writing this book!

Pick up your copy of No Boundaries by Gabby Salazar and Clare Fieseler here!

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