Tessa Fisher is a Ph.D. candidate researching whether math can be used to better determine if there's life on other planets, and possibly the world's only trans lesbian astrobiologist. When not doing science, her hobbies include burlesque dancing, singing in her city's LGBT women's chorus, yoga, writing LGBT-positive science fiction and fantasy, and listening to her wife gush about theoretical physics.
Charles Wallace is a Ph.D. student interested in the history and philosophy of biological systematics/taxonomy, especially as it pertains to the insect clade Dictyoptera (roaches, termites, mantises). He has two beloved cats and two pretty well-managed anxiety disorders.
What is Assigned Scientist at Bachelor's (ASAB)?
Tessa: What I tell people is that it's a podcast dedicated to interviewing and highlighting the research of trans and non-binary scientists.
Charles: The only thing I'd add is that it's also secretly a podcast about Star Trek. That’s our secret mission, to discuss every Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode worth talking about. Which, crucially, is not the same thing as every good episode of DS9.
Tessa: Yeah, I was about to say …
Charles: Yes, because we have recorded an episode on “Profit and Lace” [ST:DS9, Season 6, Episode 23 – an objectively bad episode].
What's the origin story of ASAB, and why did you want to create it?
Charles: I love podcasts and I listen to them constantly. I’ve wanted to make a podcast for years, but it took me a long time mostly because I didn’t want to make a vanity project—I wanted to make something that I thought would be genuinely interesting to other people.
I also routinely try to locate more podcasts with at least one trans host, and it’s tricky. I know there are trans people out there podcasting about all kinds of topics, but searching, for example, “trans podcast” mostly turns up shows about gender or being trans. I like those and I listen to several, but I also want to hear trans people talk about every other thing I care about. I wanted to make something unambiguously trans that was also really only incidentally about being trans.
Thinking about what that could be, I got really into the idea of an expert guest interview show, exclusively interviewing trans and non-binary scientists. I brought this up to our mutual friend Theo, and said I was hesitating because I didn’t want to do it without a co-host, mostly because I have social anxiety and it’s always easier to have a third person in a conversation.
Tessa: I’m your emotional support extrovert.
Charles: [laughs] Basically, yes. And so that's the point when you come into the picture.
Tessa: Yeah, you know, Theo messaged me, and they were like, "Hey, my buddy Charles has this really cool idea for a podcast and I was trying to think of people who might be a good fit for it and you were the first person I thought of," and I'm like, "Hell yeah, this is what I'm all about."
Which episode would you recommend a new listener start with?
Tessa: One that comes to my mind is the phosphine on Venus episode [Episode 9], because we had multiple guests, even though we’re discovering the phosphine on Venus thing may not actually be happening. But, you know, it was a really fun conversation. We’ve also had a couple guests who have been especially good at explaining what they do in very simple terms, like Erin Barbeau [Episode 5], Sam Long [Episode 11], and Carolyn P. Hutchinson [Episode 19].
Charles: Yes, all three have worked in education and/or communication, and are clearly great at it. That said, I don’t love naming favorite guest episodes, because literally everyone we’ve had on has been wonderful.
Tessa: Yeah, absolutely.
Charles: I think my other favorite episode is the one we did on the DS9 episode “Rejoined” [Episode 6], because that introduced two of the recurring themes of the podcast: being queer in space, and profound existential dread.
Tessa: I mean, what else is there?
What's been challenging or surprising about making ASAB?
Tessa: We’ve been able to mostly avoid any technical problems, at least chronic ones. Mostly it’s just scheduling and making sure we have enough guests and figuring out how to alternate episodes.
Charles: Yeah, the only major technical challenge has been preparing the transcript for each episode, especially because the automatic transcription tool I use really cannot recognize most scientific terms. Is there anything that’s surprised you about making ASAB?
Tessa: I think the diversity of fields that we’ve had represented has surprised me—that we’ve had everything from bioanthropology to astrophysics.
Charles: Yeah, I would say also just the number of trans scientists. When we were first working on ASAB I literally just searched “trans” on 500 Queer Scientists, and I was amazed and delighted by the number of people who came up. That would have been unthinkable to me even a decade ago when I started transitioning.
Tessa: Oh yeah, absolutely. I mean the fact that we were able to find three other trans scientists to talk about exoplanet habitability and phosphine on Venus—I’ve been at conferences where I’ve been the only out LGBT person there, period. Finding out there’s more than just one trans person even within my tiny little sub-niche has been really heartwarming.
What would you like LGBTQ+ scientists to know about ASAB?
Tessa: That they should listen, and if they’re trans and/or non-binary, they should be a guest on the show. We have an ASAB Interest form here, and can be contacted by email at email@example.com.
Charles: Yes, also that our standards for “scientist” are quite broad. We want to talk to people in research, of course, but also journalists, photographers, educators, anybody. If you’re trans and you’re in the roach-breeding hobby, we definitely want to talk to you.
We also send a rough edit of the episode to guests before publishing, in case there’s anything they want us to cut out. Even if someone were to record a whole episode and then ask us not to release it, we wouldn’t. I missed sending an episode to a guest pre-publication once and felt bad enough that I will never forget again.
Charles: I just really want to encourage people to watch DS9.