Maggie Burruss, a university student and science communicator who grew up in Dallas, has beef with the STEM community.
The biology major claims she is intrinsically motivated to stop the gatekeeping of academia. And she’s using one of the hottest social media apps of the moment to do so.
Burruss has garnered attention for her mission through the fast-growing video-sharing networking service, TikTok. Under the username mags4science, Burruss has amassed more than 4.2 million likes on the platform breaking down high-level scientific concepts into bite-size posts.
Creating content for around 500,000 followers in between her courses, Burruss simultaneously fills the roles of student and teacher for her audience of young adults.
According to Burruss, the most fascinating science is tragically kept behind convoluted jargon and steep paywalls, making science seem like a cryptic land in which few are permitted to enter.
By using TikTok as a vehicle to translate academic language to be understandable, Burruss is able to turn a democratized platform into an equal-opportunity playing field for her audience.
“I’ve always felt that science is for everybody,” Burruss says. “I’ve discovered a gift of mine for rewording topics in a way that makes people feel like they aren’t being talked down to. My audience feels like don’t have to dedicate their lives to a Ph.D. just to learn about the coolest topics.”
Despite her age, Burruss has already collaborated with the Discovery Channel and been endorsed by science communicator, entrepreneur, and author, Hank Green.
“Unfortunately, there’s a lot of gatekeeping in STEM, which manifests itself in the same way that hazing does for frats—like you must be academically strengthened by, and made resilient by, your struggles to be allowed to join,” Burrus says. “That’s how it is in the STEM ideology, which is backwards and unhelpful, especially for minority groups who have been institutionally and socially discouraged from pursuing STEM.”
While her video topics range from dark matter to time travel, Burruss manages to teach through an activist lens. For instance, she has spoken on gender and sexuality through a scientific perspective—in honor of Pride Month in June, she posted daily videos to promote LGBTQ+ women in STEM.
“As an LGBTQ woman in STEM myself, I want my audience to see that I can have this fun, gay quirk to me and still be a rational analytical scientist,” Burruss says.
“It’s an incredible compliment because he was a remarkable science communicator, who is doing wonderful things,” Burruss says. “I hope one day my identity will be separate from that man, but at the moment, it brings me joy to be compared to such an icon.”
Burruss attributes her lifelong interest in biology to her upbringing.
Both of her parents are scientists and encouraged her to make the next discoveries in the field, even if it meant leaving Texas for New York.
“I am of better use in the Northeast,” she says. “Not saying that I don’t love Texas, but I think that Texan government officials would find themselves to be comforted if they were to listen to the words of scientific experts. I hope officials encourage STEM education as foundational, especially in a state as reliant on industries like energy, health, tech, or agriculture.”
For now, Burruss is operating on the mindset that stupid questions don’t exist. Her content consistently pushes the message that no curiosity is bad curiosity.
“Science is not only a field of study but also a way of learning that has the ability to save lives and connect all things,” Burruss says. “Science is just the study of curiosity, which I think is one of humanity’s best traits.”
This story was updated on Oct. 3, 2020, 9:01 a.m. Burruss’ TikTok handle is @Mags4Science, not @MagsForScience.
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