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Mayim Bialik

Onetime child star Mayim Bialik earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience, then returned to acting on TV hit The Big Bang Theory —playing a scientist. It’s given her a unique view of women’s roles, in STEM fields and in general.

Why This 'Big Bang Theory' Star Got a Ph.D. in Science

Mayim Bialik tells Neil DeGrasse Tyson about transitioning from acting to neuroscience—then playing a scientist on The Big Bang Theory.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: So in your childhood, were there any science influences?

Mayim Bialik: There were a few. In junior high school I had a physics teacher who was very eccentric and would sometimes fall asleep while showing us slide shows, but he was a brilliant physicist. I went to a very unusual school: The 1980s sitcom Head of the Class, about a group of very smart and precocious children, was actually based on the school I went to. After junior high I had tutors on set because I was on this show Blossom from the time I was 14 to 19—

NT: No, you were not “on the show”—you were Blossom, to make that clear.

MB: Um, yes. OK. [Laughs]

NT: This saddens me. That one single person made a life difference to you—but how many students are missing that one person?

MB: The first answer is: Many girls are. I’m sure we could run the statistics on it. And that’s because of a historical difference in the representation of women in these STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math] fields and probably a cultural bias on the part of teachers and administrators. I think there’s been a shift in education since I was in school in the ’70s and ’80s, but then it was like, Oh, you’re not naturally good at math? Better try English—how’s your Chaucer?

NT: There are people who presume that unless something comes easily to them, they should never pursue it as a career—without realizing that some of the greatest achievements you ever attain are because you busted ass to reach that point.

MB: Yeah. If I had not gone to college, I might have kept acting and been happy like that. But I loved going to UCLA and doing something that was very challenging academically. I loved doing research with adolescents with special needs—that was seven years of my life. It was exciting to get my Ph.D. in 2007. But in terms of time to raise my two sons, the flexible life of an actor was better than the long hours of a research professor.

NT: Fast-forward to 2010 and The Big Bang Theory. Who would have guessed how popular this show would become?

MB: Not me! I had never seen it before I auditioned.

NT: On the show you play Dr. Amy Farrah Fowler, who’s a neuroscientist.

MB: She’s actually a neurobiologist … but I get to say neuroscience things.

NT: How much of your professional self do you bring to your character?

MB: Since the job of an actor is to present a character even if you’ve never been in that profession, I guess I have the easiest job—I don’t have to stretch that far.

NT: I try to imagine someone pitching the show idea to network executives: “Let’s have six scientists, and they’ll talk but you won’t know what they’re talking about, and they’ll crack jokes and they’ll laugh, but they won’t explain it to you.” I think it was low-hanging comedic fruit because no one had tackled it before.

MB: For sure. All the shows that I grew up with were about attractive people, and who had sex with who on which week. Meanwhile, our show is about the people who watch those shows.

a woman and a man in a lab

The cast of geeky-scientist characters in the sitcom The Big Bang Theory includes neurobiologist Amy Farrah Fowler (Mayim Bialik) and her boyfriend, physicist Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons).

NT: Might there ever be room in your show for a female character who’s more sexualized—but also a full-on scientist?

MB: We did an episode where the Bernadette character, a microbiologist, poses for a “sexy scientist” photo shoot and Amy has a very big problem with it.

NT: I remember that episode. Your character, Amy, sabotages the photo shoot.

MB: That’s right. When I do advocacy for STEM careers for young women, I’m often asked, What do you think about [the sexy-scientist stereotype of] the white shirt open with the black bra underneath? And you know, I don’t knock women or scientists who want to do that. For me, that’s not the way that I choose to portray women in science. I don’t think that’s the only way to generate interest. It might be the only way to get a certain population of men interested in women in science … But it’s not a personal goal of mine to further that notion of women scientists.

But then I got older and understood. Marine biology, working with animals, working in the environment—all those things are science. You like engineering? You want to do coding? Knock yourself out. There are many STEM careers that involve a lot of variety and a lot of creativity. And that’s what I think we need to try and communicate to girls as young as possible.

NT: That was awesome! That’s like the whole show right there.

MB: Thank you. And I didn’t even have to take my clothes off to do it.

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mayim bialik phd interview

Mayim Bialik: “I Started Crying When I Realized How Beautiful the Universe Is”

She’s best known for playing neurobiologist Amy Farrah Fowler on The Big Bang Theory , but the award-winning actress has a rich life outside of her acting career, as a teacher, mother — and a real-life neuroscientist. Steve Levitt tries to learn more about this one-time academic and Hollywood non-conformist, who is both very similar to him and also quite his opposite.

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Episode Transcript

Mayim BIALIK: I struggled all the way through undergrad. And I struggled all the way through grad school as well because I’m not a natural science learner. I’m a person who wants to understand deeply the mysteries of the universe. And even if you’re a stay-at-home mom after that, even if you become an actor on a TV show, the knowledge that I have as a scientist has transformed my understanding of my religious life, my parenting life, and really everything about the world that I live in. 

*      *      *

Steven LEVITT: I am so excited to get to speak with Mayim Bialik today. I’ve never talked to her before, this will be the first time we’ve met. But in a strange way, I kind of feel like I know her, having watched her on Big Bang Theory for so many years.

Welcome to People I (Mostly) Admire with Steve Levitt.

LEVITT: I’ll be totally honest with you, I’m not sure that I have much to talk about with a typical Hollywood star, but I’m hoping that Mayim is going to be different. She’s got a Ph.D. in neuroscience and she really seems to play by her own rules. And I just can’t wait to get to know her a little bit and let’s hope I’m right and she’s interesting. We’ll find out.

Steve LEVITT: Such a pleasure today to talk with Mayim Bialik, renowned actress, neuroscience Ph.D., a bestselling author, a mother of two teenage boys, a producer, and a director. And all of that’s incredibly impressive. But the real reason that I wanted so badly to talk to you is because it seems like you’ve managed to succeed by breaking all the rules, by being true to yourself, and by being authentic. And I don’t see very many people who have the courage to be him or herself and to make their way in the world. So, I’m just really excited to talk to you today, Mayim. BIALIK: Thank you. I’m very, very honored to speak with you. LEVITT: All right. Already, by the time you were, I don’t know, maybe 10 or 11, you were an incredibly successful child actor. You had tons of roles on TV even before you landed the role of Blossom and were on primetime network TV for five years. You were maybe 15-years-old when you started that. BIALIK: I was 14 to 19, yeah. LEVITT: 14. How does all that get started? BIALIK: Let’s see. I actually don’t have a typical child-actor story in that most child actors start when they’re toddlers. That was not my story. I wasn’t raised in the industry. I didn’t have Hollywood parents. My parents are actually first-generation Americans. I did not grow up with money. So, I went to public school in Los Angeles. And I was part of the busing program of the 1970s and 1980s where kids from not-so-great neighborhoods were put on busses early in the morning and they sent us to neighborhoods with more opportunity. And some of those schools had enrichment programs like drama. And what I found was that I really like being on a stage. So, what I said to my parents is, “I really, really like this. And there’s kids on TV, and why can’t I be that kid?” And I was cast in a movie called Beaches about a year after I started acting. And I played Bette Midler ‘s character as a young girl and got a lot of, I guess, notice for that. It was from that that I was cast in Blossom . And to be perfectly honest, no one looked like me on television. There was something called all-American kid in the 80s; I did not look all-American. I had the blond hair and I had the blue eyes. But I was a very prominent-featured child. I’m a Polish-Hungarian mix. So, I ended up getting character roles, which is the euphemism for the roles they give to people who don’t look all-American. LEVITT: You talk about character roles, but you seem to have been working nonstop on TV. That must be rare. There must have been hundreds of kids showing up to each of these auditions. And you just kept on getting the parts. BIALIK: I mean, I didn’t get more parts than I did. You know, this is part of the reason that my parents really weren’t interested in me going into acting is it’s an industry of rejection. It’s an industry of being told, “You’re too this, you’re too that, you’re not enough that.” I mean, it’s really a ridiculous way for anyone to live — an adult, much less a child. But I definitely was successful enough that I needed to, at some point, do a homeschooling program starting in high school — starting in 11th grade. But otherwise, honestly, I lived a pretty standard-issue life. I still had to do chores. My parents were very strict. Most people didn’t — I don’t wanna say they didn’t like me, but I was a strange kid. And I was a strange teenager. And I’m a strange adult. LEVITT: What was strange about you as a kid? BIALIK: I mean, I was bookish. I’m a rule-follower. I wrote with a glass pen and an ink well. And I read Dostoyevsky and Sartre at 15. I was a very tortured soul. And also, I had a very strong and terrifying sense of mortality. Since I was 10-years-old, I’ve cried on every birthday. I grew up in a home, to be quite honest, riddled with the shadows of the Holocaust. There’s mental illness on both sides of my family. I had O.C.D. as a child and also probably a very high level of anxiety. I had a lot of psychiatric challenges really all through my teen years and into my 20s. And it’s something I live with all the time LEVITT: It’s amazing that you felt at home in front of the camera, because I think many people who would share some of the challenges you just talked about are absolutely terrified of public speaking. BIALIK: So, I actually am a very nervous public speaker. I’m also a very nervous performer. My therapist has many opinions about why I like to be — we like to say, “You can hide on a stage.” And I also wasn’t the kind of kid who liked acting because I liked the applause. I really liked getting it right. LEVITT: It’s interesting you say that about hiding on stage because I was the exact opposite kid. I was terrified of speaking in public. So, for instance, in college, I did not raise my hand once in four years. I didn’t volunteer to talk. But then after I had some success in academics, people wanted me to speak. And I learned how to — I created a persona that I would go into that I would be onstage and present. And then, one day something happened that was very eye-opening for me. I didn’t fully understand this whole persona thing until I was going to give a TED talk. And as I was waiting to go onstage, the person who introduced me introduced me by saying that, among other things, I was the father of a child who had died. And my son had died at the age of one maybe a year earlier. And I had gotten very good at putting on my public speaking persona. And when she made that comment, I was shocked back into my regular, I’m- Steve-Levitt persona. And if you watch that TED talk, you can see for the first like 30 seconds, I, literally, don’t know where I am or what I’m doing because I’m struggling to try to get out of my own body and into this fake persona that I live in. BIALIK: First of all, I’m very sorry for your loss. You touch on a very significant aspect, not just of an actor’s life, but it really is true. We wear masks and we’re sort of acting all the time. I think some people do it more seamlessly than others, but that notion of having to find yourself in yourself again is terrifying. And it is something that performers do under exceptional circumstances as our job. LEVITT: So I’ve watched a lot of the videos you’ve put up on your YouTube channel where you talk about things happening in your life, whether it’s the decision to homeschool your children or growing older, and it seems to me that you’ve made a choice over time to reveal a lot of yourself to the public. But not in a senseless way like reality TV, but in a very thoughtful way where in measured doses you really open yourself up for people to see. For instance some of your videos after the Covid lockdown, when you’re clearly in the Covid doldrums. Or when you decided to talk many years later for the first time about being divorced. How do you approach your relationship with the public? BIALIK: Well, I’d like to thank you for making a distinction between sharing willy-nilly and what I consider to be mindful meaning even if my audience doesn’t always agree, the decisions behind the scenes are often heart wrenching and complicated. But what I have tried to do is really highlight, in a lot of cases, mental health, and also a perspective of someone who really exists because of the resources I’ve been able to have access to to support my growth as a human being, and not just a human doing, as we say. One of the things that I’ve decided to gear my life towards right now, definitely motivated by being at home and seeing how we’re all being impacted, but I’ve decided to start a podcast. And we’re calling it, Mayim Bialik’s Breakdown , both because it’s just going to be fun to say, “I’m Mayim Bialik and welcome to my breakdown,” but the notion being that I’d like to break down a lot of our preconceived notions and misperceptions about mental health. And the idea is to present a topic, a specific topic, around mental health and have either an expert or someone who’s an expert because they are living it, to understand where mindfulness plays into these things. What are the holistic things that many people dismiss as hippie-dippy? What’s the science behind them? What are the things that we can actually do to have a better understanding of our mental health so that we literally can live without breaking down? I’m a person who feels very, very deeply all the time. It’s a superpower and it’s also a curse. LEVITT: My wife has a term. She uses the word “sensitive” to refer to people like you as you’ve described yourself and her. I don’t know if it’s a clinical term or not, but there’s some people that are very empathetic to the suffering of others. BIALIK: Yeah. They call us highly sensitive people, H.S.P.s. In children, they’re often called “indigo children.” I actually wasn’t so much like this as a child. I was very analytical. I was a problem-solver. But as an adult, I’m one of those people who — and I don’t think there’s necessarily anything mystical to it. There are people who have said to me, “Wow, you have a lot of information about people from knowing very little.” It is a strange superpower. My younger son seems to have inherited it. It can feel very burdensome, I’ll be honest. And, also, beautiful. LEVITT: I actually have the opposite gift, if you want to call it a gift, of being a little bit on the spectrum. So, I have a hard time actually remembering that other people are alive and are not merely created on the planet to entertain me and my existence. And so, that also is both a superpower and a curse. But it seems to be, if you’re sensitive, being an actor is a crazy choice. Isn’t it? BIALIK: Yeah. I mean, honestly, I left the industry for 12 years to get a doctorate in neuroscience, partly for this reason, less so that it was necessarily triggering and more that I’m a person who really wants to be appreciated for what’s inside. And the industry does not really highlight that. It’s not made to. It’s not supposed to. I don’t mean to sound pretentious about it. I’m an artist. I’m a person who feels a strong need to create, to write, to perform, to emote, to make you feel something. That is really where I tend to thrive. It’s where people seem to want to employ me. And it is all the other parts of the industry that are the most trying for me: the publicity, the demands on women, the obsession with appearance and youth. And I’ll be perfectly honest, I am grateful for my job beyond explanation. But for someone with social anxiety, I absolutely live in a career that does not match my personality. And I do not feel filled up from being around people and talking about myself. I do not get filled up from being complimented, from getting dressed up, leaving my house. These are all things that have really nothing to do with the fact that I can play dress up really well. Right? I can pretend to be someone I’m not in a way that makes you believe it and feel something. To me, that’s my job. LEVITT: It’s interesting you call it a job because you did say earlier in the conversation how when you were acting in school plays, it was really fun. Did it transform from being really fun to being a job? BIALIK: Absolutely. Because when you are a child actor — and this is the reason I am not a huge fan, honestly, of people getting their children into acting  — you are not allowed to have a bad day. You’re not allowed to be grumpy. You are really responsible for managing your emotions in a way that makes other people happy. And that’s actually exactly what we want to teach our children not to do as humans. And it’s precisely what you’re being taught to do as an actor. And thinking from a strictly, consumer, capitalist perspective, it’s absolutely necessary. If you want to stare meaningfully into a cow’s eyes before you slaughter it, you’re not going to slaughter many cows in a day. The way we get things done is to essentially depersonalize them. I mean, Marx and Engels figured that out a long time ago. So, you essentially become part of a system that is an industry. And on any given day, if you’re sad, if you’re— I mean, my first TV acting job was the day that my grandfather was buried. My grandfather died the night before my first TV acting job. LEVITT: Wow. BIALIK: And, you don’t get a hiatus for that. It’s a job. LEVITT: Yeah. Usually, if you ask people who’ve succeeded at something, they always will say, “Oh, yeah. Follow your dream.” And they’ve been the winners in this big lottery. But it sounds like with you, you are almost saying, even if you win “the lottery,” it’s not as pure of a victory as people might perceive. BIALIK: I mean, correct. And I happen to be a person of faith. And what I have found that my tradition teaches is that there is not an amount of money in the world that makes you not want more. There is not an amount of possessions in the world that makes you feel done consuming. And at the end of the day, and when you are buried, your gravestone will not tell any of those things.We live in a hyphen. We live in the hyphen between the year that we were born and the year we died. And that’s — I once heard a rabbi say, “What will you do with your hyphen?” That’s the purpose of my being on this planet is to figure that out, not to make money, and not to make you happy, and not to win an award. There are things that we do in life that we hopefully will find pleasure and joy from. But we’re one of the first generations to actually have that luxury. Also, falling in love with someone? Also, pretty recent in human history. So, when my older son says, “I really think I am really into Shakespeare ,” I said, “Great, when you can drive yourself to auditions, you’re welcome to go and pursue that. But what’s your other skillset that you’re going to do in the meantime?” Because I don’t mean to sound like a terrible mom, but I’m not really into, “follow your passion.” It’s like we all need to get things done on this planet. And the life of a struggling actor is a life of having another job and living off wages that are often not sustainable. It means putting off having children if you’re a woman because that completely curtails your hireability. What kind of life do you want? LEVITT: So, you’ve written that as a young teen, you believed science and math were for boys. And actually, I suspect that has to do with you being this highly sensitive type, that you picked up on subtle cues that society were giving off that I think I would have been too tone deaf to have heard. But then something happened, obviously, that shifted you out of that mindset. Do you want to explain what that was? BIALIK: Yeah. I mean, part of it absolutely was this cultural notion. And boys in the 80s and 90s would say to your face, “Girls are stupid. Girls can’t do math and science.” We didn’t know about girl power back then. So, there was definitely a lot of that. Also, I didn’t have any real role models. I didn’t see any women who were scientists. That’s not how our culture represented it. I will also say that everyone learns differently. And the way that math and science were being taught to me was not working for my brain. Do I think that the way it was being taught doesn’t work for a lot of girl brains? I’m going to go ahead and say yes, because I think that we need to have a different way to approach how we teach. Because contrary to a lot of current belief, male and female brains are different. We do have different skills. And while those aren’t absolute, there’s absolutely different ways to teach that can please more male and female brains. LEVITT: How would you teach differently? How should we be teaching STEM stuff differently? BIALIK: Well, so it actually leads into how I got interested in science. I had a female tutor when I was 15-years-old on the set of Blossom . She was at that time 19. She was a dental undergrad at U.C.L.A. and she came from a prominent Persian-Jewish immigrant family. And she came from a family of girls where they were all encouraged to do science or math or be doctors or be dentists. And this was the first time that I heard a person, and a woman yet, talk about science as if it were poetry. No one had ever said to me, “The world is this unbelievable place. And look at the details that we can understand as humans.” The only place I had gotten that was in my religious and spiritual upbringing. The world is this unbelievable place. The reason it’s unbelievable is because of science. Right? That’s its own divinity, is what I learned as a teenager. So, one of the things I think about teaching STEM is I think we need both male and female voices in the mix. I think that a lot of people think that a career in science and math is an isolated kind of lifestyle. The kind of lone scientist in a laboratory is what many of us are taught. And I think that for girls who tend to be more social, meaning more engaged in social interactions and more verbal, that doesn’t sound interesting, to sit alone in a laboratory. But if, as a young girl, I had been told, “Oh, you love animals? Listen to the dozen careers in math and science regarding working with animals. Oh, you’re interested in saving the planet? Look what it’s like to be an environmental biologist. Wouldn’t it be cool to get to take samples from ponds and animals?” You have to present the full variety of the possibility of STEM in order for us even to see where men and women want to fall in terms of their interest. And those are things that I was absolutely missing. And I was so grateful to meet this woman — Fariza was her name — because no one had ever also taken the time to teach me the way I needed to learn. And I was getting lost in those big classes in my highly-gifted magnet. I was getting lost in those classes where the boys were finishing their math requirements in eighth grade because they were so accelerated and so fancy. I couldn’t even get the basics. And no one took the time to say, “We’re leaving all these kids behind. And most of them are the girls.” So, having a one-on-one tutor and having someone say to me, “You get to learn about the cell; we’re going to draw it; we’re going to model it” — I still remember the parts of the cell from the lessons when I was 15-years-old. I can learn it. I needed to be told how to. And in the 70s and 80s, also, we knew nothing about different styles of learning, at least not in public schools that I went to. We knew nothing about learning disabilities, that people learn differently. This is one of the greatest revolutions in the educational awareness we have. Not everyone learns the same. LEVITT: What did Fariza end up doing? Did she become an incredible dentist, or did she go on to do something else? BIALIK: She did. She became a dental surgeon. She has four children. We’re still in touch. And she changed my life. That was it. That woman changed my life. And just for me to have, again, a female role model, a woman who was accessible to me. She was young. I mean, she was as hip as I was, which was to say that I was nerdy and started crying when I realized how beautiful the universe is. That’s who I needed to hear it from. And she not only gave me the skillset to become a scientist. She gave me the confidence that even if it’s hard for me, I still deserve to have a shot. LEVITT: I think we’re still so terrible today at communicating the value or what you can do with a STEM career. Why do you think it’s so hard for us as a society to bring that message to people? BIALIK: I think that — I mean you might have a better answer than I do. I’m assuming you would. But I think that a lot of people do see STEM careers as laborious or expensive to excel in. And I also think that we have a huge component of this country that is lacking access to the education required to pursue those jobs. And that’s where we’re getting this disproportionate representation of individuals in the STEM fields. I mean, honestly, for me, a lot of it does go back to: what does our society value? And the fact is, we value a very shiny productivity. I think that especially now, I think there’s a lot of drive to make a lot of our lives very sexy and successful in ways that I don’t think are always smooth paths. LEVITT: I have come to believe that the way that we teach what an economist would call a production function of teaching is archaic. Another way of organizing education would be to use technology and essentially to do away with the traditional role of the teacher. So, it seems to me that there are people like you who are thoughtful and who are brilliant communicators and who are respected for other things they’ve done in their lives. And imagine if you could be teaching 11th graders neuroscience. Not in one classroom, but literally the entire country. If we had a system set up where there were 100 or 200 amazing teachers whose words were broadcast to every student. My own personal view is, number one, that would be transformative because I know other people can teach economics far better than I could ever do it. It’s wasteful both of my time and of the student’s time to suffer with me when there are others who could do it better. But also, I think it gets at the point you made about access and how that could really level the playing field for — people who are not as privileged as you and I have been. BIALIK: First of all, I think we should talk about this off the air, because I think it’s an amazing idea. And it’s like — I’m sure you didn’t want a global pandemic where we have all been stuck in our homes and our children are needing to learn through technology. But I actually have taught a bit online during this pandemic. And I did teach neuroscience. I did two separate sessions. We had thousands and thousands of people. It’s a beautiful, beautiful and also very, very doable thing. I think that you know best what the limitation is going to be. How do you pay for this and who pays for this? We’re still really creating a class system and a prison of our class system. And that’s something I would love to see remedied. You’re absolutely right. LEVITT: I also think what we teach should be up for reconsideration. And I think we teach a lot of the topics we teach because it’s what we taught in the early 1900s. But like you said, we’ve learned an enormous amount about the mind and about what makes people content and maybe even about the soul. And I think that curriculum has not kept up with that. And if I were to redo curriculum, I think I would radically change away from learning facts towards maybe self-understanding as the goal of a high school degree. BIALIK: Well, my children happen to be homeschooled. Which is unusual from two graduate people who are raising them. My now ex-husband has a master’s in political theory. But one of the reasons that we did homeschool our children — well, the first reason was that we couldn’t afford private school. I was in grad school when I had my first son. And the public schools in Los Angeles are very, very different than they were when I was a kid. And we had two very atypical developing children. And we knew that if we put them into any sort of standardized school, they’d be forced to do therapies, which we did not believe were necessary because we wanted them to progress in their own way and their own pace. That being said, one of the other reasons that we homeschool is that we want to raise thinkers and not regurgitators. And while there are places in the country where you can have that experience, the city that we live in really does not have the ability to do that. But what I’m interested in also is what I’m interested in other people being able to have access to, which means not raising children who essentially are soldiers — soldiers of education. LEVITT: I was about as good a student as a person could be through high school and college. But it wasn’t until my first day in the real world on the job in management consulting, where my boss— actually, he gave me a stack of documents that had some numbers about F.D.A. submissions, new drug applications to the F.D.A. And he said, “So, by the end of the week, I want you to tell me how our client can get their drugs approved faster.” And I said, “But I don’t know anything about the F.D.A. and how do you want me to do it?” And he looked at me and he said — it shows how old I am. He looks at me and says, “Look, we’re not paying you $32,000 a year to tell you the answers.” And I remember I broke out in a cold sweat. And it was the first time, really, that anyone had asked me to think rather than to regurgitate. But what I realized is that I love to think. And I had never taken the luxury of thinking because it didn’t serve me, because thinking wasn’t helpful for getting an A. Regurgitation is what you needed to do. So I couldn’t agree more about the regurgitation versus thinking. BIALIK: Steve, we just became best friends. Look at that. LEVITT: Well, that’s an accomplishment because when a highly sensitive person and an autistic person can be friends, it’s like the possibilities are really infinite. 

You’re listening to People I (Mostly) Admire with Steve Levitt and his conversation with actor and neuroscientist Mayim Bialik. They’ll return after this short break. 

LEVITT: So, whenever young people ask my advice about getting a Ph.D. in economics, I almost always try to talk them out of it. Getting a Ph.D. sounds fun and romantic. BIALIK: It’s not fun. LEVITT: It seems like it will open all sorts of doors. But the truth is, really, it’s brutal. And it’s hard. It destroys many people’s self-confidence and sense of self-worth. And people who love a topic as an undergrad often end up unloving it by the time they finish their Ph.D. And in the end, six or seven years later, your job prospects aren’t even very good. So, does that describe your Ph.D. experience at all? BIALIK: Yes, it literally — I mean, it near broke my spirit. And imagine also giving birth to a human in that time. Literally, near broke my spirit. LEVITT: Do you remember what drove you into a Ph.D. program? You’ve already said that you weren’t that great a student at U.C.L.A. in science. What kind of a person subjects herself to the punishment that comes with doing a Ph.D. in a subject where you weren’t even that good as an undergrad? BIALIK: Well, what I said was that things didn’t come as easily to me as other students. So, I didn’t party. I studied all the time. I went to every office hour. I was a very diligent student. But organic chemistry was the death of me. And I will say, though, I excelled in physics. I excelled in calculus. I did great in biochemistry, not a very precise lab technician, but I really, really loved, loved what I studied. It just took a lot of extra effort. I think that your assessment of me, Steve, is absolutely correct. I don’t do things the way you’re “supposed” to do. And I would be hard pressed to find any region of my life that feels in any way typical. I was born different. I was born butt-first. My mother will tell you I was backwards from the beginning. And I missed being creative, but still did a lot of creative things. I led a Jewish a cappella group at U.C.L.A. at our Hillel for years and I composed music for that group. I still did a lot of fun, creative things. But what I ultimately realized is that the level of understanding that I wanted to have of the universe was the level of the electrophysiology of the neuron. That is where I put my life, really. LEVITT: So, you wrote about Prader-Willi syndrome. Can you explain what that is and how you got interested in the topic? BIALIK: Yeah. So, I studied secretions from the hypothalamus, which is a structure about the size of four peas, right in the middle of your brain. And the hypothalamus connects to the pituitary gland, which a lot of people have heard about. And that region of the brain has been implicated in obsessive-compulsive disorder, specifically for oxytocin and vasopressin secretions. And those might sound familiar because oxytocin is the feel-good hormone. It’s the one that happens when you have an orgasm. It is also what is necessary for the milk ejection reflex, for labor, and for human bonding. So, it’s a very, very important hormone. And individuals with Prader-Willi syndrome have very high rates of obsessive-compulsive disorder. And Prader-Willi syndrome is about one in 10,000. It’s a spontaneous mutation on chromosome 15. It was the first evidence of genomic imprinting, which means if you’re missing this region from your father, you get one disease. And if you’re missing this region from your mother, you get a different disease. So, it’s a very special syndrome. And individuals with Prader-Willi syndrome have puberty problems, sleep problems. They often have skeletal issues because they are lacking growth hormone, cardiovascular issues, and also a bunch of psychiatric features that occur with that. It’s a fascinating population. They tend to be very, very combative. They will do anything to obtain food because they specifically do not know when they’re full. And their drive to pursue food will lead them to all sorts of very, very aggressive and often very violent behaviors. But their obsessive-compulsive disorder is separate from their desire to pursue food. And that was the population that I worked in. And I did what’s called a pilot study where you’re taking a pretty small number of people — I think we had 26 in mine — to see if we can make correlations between their behavior and the amounts of oxytocin and vasopressin in their saliva and in their blood. LEVITT: This sounds highly empirical. It sounds like you went out and found the folks with Prader-Willi syndrome. How did that work? BIALIK: Yeah. So, the reason that I studied Prader-Willi syndrome is I’m a vegan person. And there are not many neuroscience departments that do not involve working with animals. So, the kind of choices for those of us who want to work with humans is often the field of mental retardation. And that is how I found my advisor, is that she studied all sorts of different syndromes of mental retardation. And when I read about Prader-Willi syndrome, I thought, “Well, that needs not just a geneticist, but a neuroscientist.” So, that’s how I picked it. And part of learning to work in these kinds of fields is getting connected with the organizations that want to be helpful in essentially providing data. So, I worked with the Prader-Willi Syndrome Association of the United States. That’s P.W.S.A. And essentially, we would recruit. I would go to fundraiser walks, and I would take a phlebotomist with me, and we would collect samples. And then, we would also have them do behavioral tests. And I would do the testing for that. There’s a scale of obsessions and compulsions and they would do a variety of tests. LEVITT: And what did you find? And has it been the basis of a strand of research or not so much? BIALIK: Well, this is something that in my field is very, very typical. We found enough correlations that would merit further study. And that’s about all you can hope for in a pilot thesis study. So, what we found is that there were some correlations between those hormones. We also looked at cortisol, which is a stress hormone. But essentially, you would need a much larger scale project to be able to have really strength from a larger sample size. So, yeah, I remain a particular kind of expert of a very, very specific thing. LEVITT: You made this decision not to pursue a postdoc, essentially to get off of the track to have kids. BIALIK: As a woman at that time, it was extremely unfavorable to choose to have a child. It was like a scarlet letter. And I think it was very, very difficult. But I knew that as a scientist, I knew I wanted to have my first child before 30. That’s just how some of us science geeks who know a lot about statistics and eggs like to do things. LEVITT: It seems to me another example where, at least in economics, there is enormous social pressure not to do that. Was that difficult? BIALIK: Very difficult. I mean, I would say it was one of the most difficult decisions of my adult life for sure. I got pregnant with my first son after I finished my course requirements. I wrote my thesis, literally, laying down while nursing. And I got pregnant with my second son the week that I handed in my dissertation. That’s our mazel tov baby. And I took my doctoral hood about seven months pregnant. Yeah. But this was a case of really listening to my God-given instincts as a primate mama. I really wanted to be with my children. And especially because I trained in the field of psychoneuroendocrinology, I was studying the hormones of attachment and bonding. I wanted to be with my kids. Did I feel like I was an overqualified block stacker? Of course, I did. And I can’t say that my children might not have been better with someone else parenting them. But this is who God gave them. This is who the universe gave them. They gave them me. I’m their mom. And I wanted to be there for those years. You get one life to live. This is not a dress rehearsal. This is it. And that’s ultimately why I left academia, was to be home with my kids. And I taught Hebrew. I taught piano. I taught neuroscience for five years before running out of health insurance and figuring, “Gosh, if I can just get my Screen Actors Guild insurance, at least we’ll be insured.” I had no idea I was going to be on a TV show again. That was not the plan. This is a crazy life. LEVITT: Well, I’ll tell you what’s the craziest thing of all, is that someone who’s trained as an academic ends up opting out because acting is the safe choice. I mean, that just turns the whole world upside down. BIALIK: Well, if you think about scheduling, being an academic means you’re really beholden to a very specific way of life. And what I realized was I was going to be hiring someone essentially to raise my children while I taught other people’s children. And working on a sitcom, I essentially work school hours. And it really did allow me to be with my kids for a tremendous amount of time. So, it was more about scheduling and flexibility. LEVITT: You starred in The Big Bang Theory as neuroscientist Amy Farrah Fowler for nine years. And I know nothing about how TV gets made. Could you just explain to me what the rhythm, what the weekly life of a sitcom is like? BIALIK: Yeah, we work usually three weeks on, one week off. And we do that from about August to April. And we have three days of rehearsal and two days of filming. The second filming day begins at noon and we tape in front of a live audience. So, that ends around 10:00 p.m. But the other days of the week — and I don’t mean to make it sound like it’s easy. But let’s be honest, we’re working school hours and only having to really not be in your pajamas two days a week. It’s not that different from being a science graduate student. LEVITT: Well, I would have thought it was much harder, much more of a grind. BIALIK: That’s the secret we just revealed. It’s not that hard to be a sitcom actor. LEVITT: O.K. And do you have much input at all into the script? BIALIK: No! Whatever you’re about to say, I don’t have much input at all, no. LEVITT: So, you don’t — do you do a read through and say, “Wait, Amy would never say that,” or that’s just not the way it works? BIALIK: I mean, technically, our writers know the characters even better than we do because they created them. That’s their baby. Yes. There are times when we have conversations where I say “Oh, can I say this word?” I was consulted for neuroscience-specific things. We had a physics professor from U.C.L.A., Dr. David Saltzberg , and he was our physics consultant. And he and I would work out stuff about neuroscience if Amy had to be in the lab, or sometimes there’d be stage direction of, “Amy’s doing something in her lab.” And I would say, “Well, why don’t we — I’ll be running a PCR,” or whatever it was. But no, on a show where you’re a hired actor, you are essentially — you’re a tool, you know. I mean, I don’t mean you’re a tool in a bad way. I mean, you’re a tool in a toolbox of people getting things done together. The show that I’m working on next, which is called Call Me Kat, I’m producing that with Jim Parsons from The Big Bang Theory . And I’m starring in that. I am an executive producer. And that’s a very different level of commitment. That’s like meeting the writers before we hire them, reading the scripts in their first draft, approving outlines. That’s a lot more labor, as it were. But I also have a production company, and it’s Sad Clown Productions. LEVITT: It says something about you that you named your production company that. BIALIK: Well, there’s a joke where a guy is very depressed and he goes to his doctor and he says, “I’m really depressed. I don’t know the purpose of living. I don’t want to do it anymore.” The doctor says, “There’s this circus and there’s this unbelievable clown. And if you go see this clown, he will give you a reason for living.” And the man looks at the doctor, and he says, “I am that clown.” LEVITT: I love that.  BIALIK: And that is how we got Sad Clown Productions. LEVITT: So, I know you’re getting into directing and screenwriting. And, again, I don’t know anything about Hollywood. Could you explain what a director does? And then, could you also explain why there are so few female directors? Because it makes zero sense to me. BIALIK: So, I’ve never written a screenplay before. I’ve written books. I’ve written four books. Two of them are New York Times bestsellers about puberty. And I know how to write. But I’ve never written a screenplay. So, what I did was after my dad died, images started bubbling up, and stories started bubbling up. And I thought, “Is this what it feels like to be a writer? I’m seeing things.” I was seeing images from my childhood and I started to write them. And I ended up writing a screenplay that I didn’t even show to anyone for quite some time. And I finally showed it to my manager and to my agent. And it’s not an autobiography, but it’s a story based on my life and a lot of people’s lives of growing up in a house with mental illness and what gets left over and what you pick up the pieces of. And I figured we would find a writer to fix it. And apparently, it’s fine the way it is. And Dustin Hoffman would like to play my father and Candice Bergen would like to play my mother. And Simon Helberg from Big Bang Theory would like to play the brother character. And Olivia Thirlby is going to play the character that would have been, in theory, me. And I thought, O.K., so now we’ll get a director. But then, I realized, well, I know what happened. I know what these images look like. How am I going to explain that to someone? It’s such a waste of time. And that’s when I was told, “O.K., that means you’re the director.” So, what a director does is a director is in charge of the vision and the tone of a film, whether they write the script or not. And a director oversees the — everything about filming it, from the angles to the crew that is in charge of the lighting. A director also works directly with the actors to help bring out the performances that tell the story best. I think that there are not a lot of women directors for the same reason that there are not a lot of women a lot of things. This is about our culture’s trajectory of women, where we were expected to be, what skillsets we were expected to need. I’ll be honest, the fact that women’s fertility peaks when their career fertility also peaks is a very, very difficult thing. A lot of careers sound a little bit difficult to women who may want to pursue being a parent, especially a younger one. I believe that we are seeing shifts. I believe that we need more mentorship possibilities for women. I could also have a very similar conversation about people of color. LEVITT: Yeah. I mean, directing seems especially strange to me to be so male dominated because it’s measurable. In general, I tend to think that this cultural discrimination can survive really well when you can’t really measure whether someone’s good or not. And honestly, I think it’s very hard to measure whether a C.E.O. is good or not because there are so many other variables going on. But with directing, you get to see at the end of the day whether people wanted to go to the movie or not. And I think it really speaks to the powerful cultural factors that are at work. BIALIK: There is nothing inherently spectacular about being a director that means that white men do it best. I promise. There’s also nothing about white men that makes them better C.E.O.s. We need time and we need to do better to increase the opportunities for people in underrepresented populations. Period. We don’t need to fight about it. You don’t need to say, “Am I a feminist or not?” We need more opportunities for more people so that we can see more women’s voices, more women’s eyes, more women’s visions. I’m also not a 50/50 person, meaning there may be more men who want to be directors. I don’t know. But right now, we actually don’t know that. So, let’s try and figure it out together. 

People I (Mostly) Admire is part of the Freakonomics Radio Network, and is produced by Freakonomics Radio and Stitcher. Matt Hickey and Alison Craiglow produced this episode, with sound design by David Herman; our staff also includes Greg Rippin and Corinne Wallace; our intern is Emma Tyrrell. We had help on this episode from Nellie Osborne. All of the music you heard on this show was composed by Luis Guerra. To listen ad-free, subscribe to Stitcher Premium. We can be reached at [email protected] . Thanks for listening.

LEVITT:  Would you give almost everything to be anonymous? BIALIK: Since we’ve become best friends, I can tell you: I look terrible at the supermarket. And, you know, some celebrities, you see them, and you say, like, “Wow, they really look good even without makeup.”  I’m not that person. I’ve gained and lost hundreds of pounds, right, over the course of my life nursing children for six years straight, so.

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mayim bialik phd interview

mayim bialik phd interview

Simon Helberg: Bust Through the Crack in the Door

Simon Helberg (The Big Bang Theory, Florence Foster Jenkins, As They Made Us) joins Mayim in studio to discuss the preparation he did and fears he had playing his complicated character in Mayim’s new film, As They Made Us. He takes us through the darkest moments of his mental health journey, his OCD stemming from his attempts to avoid failure, and his motivation to seek professional treatment. Mayim considers the shift she witnessed in Simon’s mental health on The Big Bang Theory set. They discuss their entries into the Big Bang cast, what happened once the show grew in popularity, and the mental health quirks and stereotypes of each of the characters. Simon and Mayim explain the process of finding themselves after the success of the series and what it was like for Simon to perform an impression of Stephen Hawking in front of the late physicist on the set of the show.

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Mayim Bialik On Reuniting With Big Bang Theory Co-Star for New Movie

Mayim Bialik opens up about reuniting with her The Big Bang Theory co-star, Simon Helberg, in her directorial debut project, As They Made Us.

  • Erika Johnson

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Mayim Bialik

Actress Mayim Bialik, who plays Amy Farrah Fowler on CBS' "The Big Bang Theory," visited UC San Diego on May 27 to share her story. Photo by Erik Jepsen/UC San Diego Publications

‘The Big Bang Theory’s’ Mayim Bialik Shares Experiences as an Academic, Actor and STEM Advocate

She fell in love with the neuron during her first semester in college, and from there her passion for science took off with a bang. As a trained scientist, Mayim Bialik’s portrayal of neurobiologist Amy Farrah Fowler on the CBS sitcom “The Big Bang Theory” comes naturally. The show is currently the top-rated comedic television series in the nation, and Bialik uses her celebrity to serve as a female role model and advocate for STEM education (science, technology, engineering and math), a cause she feel strongly about.

Mayim Bialik

Sixth College Provost Daniel Donoghue presented Bialik with an official proclamation stating that every year on May 27th the college will be known as "Mayim Bialik College" in her honor. Photo by Melissa Jacobs

The three-time Emmy-nominated actress was invited to share her story with the UC San Diego community on May 27 at an event sponsored by Sixth College. To acknowledge her visit, Sixth College was renamed “Mayim Bialik College” for the day of her appearance. More than 700 attendees gathered at RIMAC Arena for her talk, where she shared her experiences as the child star of the 90s show “Blossom,” the pursuit of her doctorate in neuroscience from UCLA and landing her current role on “The Big Bang Theory.”

“We invited Mayim Bialik to UC San Diego because she is highly educated and a great model for our students—plus ‘The Big Bang Theory’ is hugely popular, so it was a win-win,” said Dan Donoghue, provost of Sixth College. “Our goal was to create a memorable program for our students. Listening to Mayim speak as a strong advocate for STEM education, and particularly the challenges that confront many young women in high school and college, was very inspiring. We hope that she will feel a connection to our campus and want to come back each year on the same day—her day at Sixth College.”

The crowd sang the theme song to the “The Big Bang Theory” as Bialik took the stage, led by local guitarist Peter Sprague, bassist Mack Leighton and vocalist Leonard Patton. Sixth College student Oscar Bolanos and recent alumna Shayma Hesari acted as emcees for the event, and alumnus Jeff Curtis presented a basket of memorabilia from UC San Diego and Sixth College, including T-shirts with the phrase, “Mayim Bialik College 5/27.”

Mayim Bialik Audience

More than 700 campus and community members gathered at RIMAC Arena for Bialik's presentation. Photo by Melissa Jacobs

Sixth College promotes experiential and interdisciplinary learning among students and approached Bialik to speak because her career spans the arts, sciences and contemporary media. “Mayim Bialik is someone who embodies all three defining principles of Sixth College—culture, art and technology,” said Christian Olmstead, a Sixth College sophomore who served on the event planning committee. “She is an empowering female figure in the arts and sciences who helps to remind us that you can succeed by following your passions.”

Born in San Diego and raised in Los Angeles, Bialik started acting in 1986 with small parts in series like “MacGyver” and “Facts of Life.” Her star was launched after playing a young Bette Midler in the movie “Beaches,” which led to her being cast in the lead role in the NBC primetime show “Blossom” in 1991 at age 14. During that time she was tutored by a dental student from UCLA, the person Bialik credits not only for introducing her to the enjoyment of science, but also the way she learns.

“This was the person who made me believe I could be a scientist,” said Bialik. “I was never a terrific math or science student at all. I thought it was for boys; all the boys said so.” She continued, “I think having a female role model really helped me, too. To see this bubbly, excited person who just loved biology so much and this was her life. And it wasn’t just that she gave me that passion; she also gave me the skill set.”

According to the actress, science has remained the dominant force in her life, even as her fame as an actress has continued to skyrocket. She uses her celebrity as a platform to promote science education for all, especially young girls. Her goal is to put a female face on science and highlight the importance of educational equity. “Name a newspaper, name a magazine, they won’t do an article about STEM advocacy, but they will do an article about an actress on ‘The Big Bang Theory’ and her love for STEM advocacy,” she said.

Mayim Bialik Audience

Before her formal talk, more than 200 students had the chance to attend a meet and greet with Bialik, where she posed for pictures and signed autographs. Photo by Erik Jepsen/UC San Diego Publications

Before her formal talk, more than 200 students had the chance to attend a meet and greet with Bialik, where she posed for pictures and signed autographs. Students donned “Bazinga” shirts and struck funny poses with her—one asked if she would replicate a prom photo, to which Bialik enthusiastically complied. The reception included food based on her recipe book, “Mayim’s Vegan Table.”

Bialik admitted that she doesn’t watch television and had never seen “The Big Bang Theory” prior to being cast in the third season finale. She was brought on as a main character in the fourth season, along with Melissa Rauch who plays another female scientist, Bernadette. Contrary to rumor, Bialik says does not contribute to the script writing, though her cast mates always comment on the fact that she is the only one who “knows what everybody’s lines mean.”

Near the end of the presentation, students had the opportunity to ask the Bialik questions, which ranged from her favorite music to her most memorable fan encounter as well as more serious questions such as ethical challenges in neuroscience. She shared that the monkey used in several scenes on the show is named “Squirt,” and is the same star from the movie, “The Hangover.” She imparted that she cried when she met Stephen Hawking, who appeared on an episode in 2012. And when she was asked who she would switch lives with for a day if she had the chance, she jokingly replied in the guise of her character—“Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting!” (who plays Penny on the show).

On being both an actor and an academic, Bialik says that her first love will always be science.

“Once you become a scientist that becomes the lens through which you see the world, at least that has been my experience,” said Bialik “Once you know about what a rainbow is made of, every time you see one, that’s where your brain goes. I don’t think, ooh, what a pretty rainbow. I think about color and wavelengths and refraction.” She continued with, “I am definitely an artist…but it doesn’t color my world the way being a scientist does.”

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Mayim Bialik Just Wants to Talk

By Rosemary Counter

Mayim Bialik Just Wants to Talk

Mayim Bialik has three decades of steady success on screens big and small, a neuroscience PhD, an adorable family with two teenaged boys, a sweet gig hosting Jeopardy! alongside Ken Jennings, and a hunky Canadian partner—both personal and professional—in Jonathan Cohen, with whom she makes her popular pandemic-born podcast, Mayim Bialik ’ s Breakdown . She is not, however, actually having a breakdown. (As the catchy theme song by Barenaked Ladies’ Ed Robertson goes, “She’s gonna break it down for you, ’cause you know she knows a thing or two.”)

The podcast is what we’re talking about today since the 47-year-old Blossom and Big Bang Theory star is a strong supporter of the SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikes—last May, in fact, she was among the first celebrities to take an overt stand by declining to host Jeopardy ’s new season until the writers got a fair deal. (Which they did, just this week .)

The four-time Emmy nominee could have put her head down and feet up in the meantime, but instead, she’s doubled down on Breakdown. Bialik’s guests mostly fall into one of two camps: doctors, scientists, and psychologists discussing neurobiology, mindfulness, meditation, and mental health, or Hollywood types she’s invited for a casual chat about “where they are mental health wise.” As Bialik discloses her own anxieties and traumas, so too do her guests. Ricki Lake has dished on her menstrual cycle, Nikki Glaser on losing her virginity, and Chelsea Handler on repressed grief following her brother’s death. Hard science, new age wellness, and celebrity disclosures blend together to make a show that’s like eavesdropping on someone else’s therapy session.

How does Bialik have the nerve to ask Dustin Hoffman about his distant father, or Ben Stiller about the struggles in his marriage? I called her up to discuss the unique perils of being a child actor, her fervent support of the SAG strike, and whether she ever gets starstruck.

Vanity Fair: I’m a bit nervous to chat because of the SAG strike, which I know you’re a big supporter of, so please yell if I break a rule.

Mayim Bialik: There’s a lot of complexity to this, but my general statement is always that I come from a union family. My grandparents were immigrants who worked in sweatshops, and my parents were public school teachers. While it’s not for me to personally judge anyone else’s decision, for me, I am a union supporter—pretty much all unions and what they fight for. I believe in that system even if it’s not perfect. I believe in getting educated about why people strike and what they’re striking for.

Let’s talk about the podcast. Many of your guests are child stars—Jennette McCurdy, Mara Wilson, Jodie Sweetin, Jenna von Oy. Is this your posse in real life, or are you particularly interested in that journey?

Our initial goal was to have experts and specialists on the show. We started during Covid, when a lot of people were feeling a spike in things like anticipatory anxiety—the entire world, really, to some extent. We initially leaned on people in my circle, like Wil Wheaton, who really inspires me to be open about mental health challenges. We asked people if they’d talk to us about where they came from and where they are in terms of mental wellness. Lots of celebrities have come on the podcast and shared their struggles, which I don’t think they have because they live publicly but because living publicly tends to highlight or exacerbate the issues that we all deal with.

It is hard to convince people to come on and spill their guts?

So far, not really. We’ve had everyone from spiritual psychologist Michael Singer to Matthew McConaughey to Ben Stiller. Leslie Jordan talked so openly about crystal meth and what it was like to come out as gay. One of the things we most hear people say is, “I’ve never told anyone this!” Maybe there’s something about the way Jonathan and I talk to people that makes them want to talk to us. We’re not trying to get dirt or be gossipy, but I think more and more people are realizing the more we talk about this, the better we’ll all be.

Maybe you missed your calling as a therapist. Is there anyone you really want to get on the podcast but can’t?

Hah, yes! I’ve been trying to get Weird Al. He says he doesn’t have anything to talk about, but my feeling is everyone has something. We’re very happy to talk to people just about their journey. To them, we say, we’re not looking to dredge up dirt or make anyone uncomfortable. But once we start talking, they are comfortable, so they trust us. When I’m vulnerable, when Jonathan’s vulnerable, people seem to open up. I’m not a therapist, but I’ve sure sat in a lot of therapist’s rooms.

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Do you have an interview strategy or style? Did you get any training?

To be perfectly honest, no. Jonathan, my co-host, he’s the one who trained me most about how to interview. I’m really shy to ask people sometimes about things that are too personal—especially if they’re public figures. Jonathan is much more skilled at podcasts so he’s given me some general guidelines. Joe Rogan’s had tremendous success, and while I don’t emulate everything he does, his style inspires me. I’m just generally fascinated by people: Where did they come from? How did they become the way they are? There’s almost always something in someone’s family—drama, intensity, alcoholism, death—to be uncovered.

With the SAG strike and the pandemic, you’ve got a bit of a perfect storm happening in terms of getting personal about mental health.

That’s exactly right. Especially during the strike, people have to come on just to want to talk, rather than promote a film or show. That’s a nice change.

Any tips for working with your partner without wanting to smother them with a pillow?

Let’s just say there are many, many episodes that we have not spoken for hours and hours before or after. There’s a lot of good acting—at least on my part—going on in between. One thing is that Jonathan likes to have my mom on way more than I do. It really stresses me out. Jonathan’s the one who missed his calling to be a therapist, I think. He’s done a ton of energy work, so he’s very in tune to a lot of subtleties with my mom. I’m mostly afraid she’ll say something that he and I will have to fight about editing out. If it’s comedy gold, or trauma gold, he’s gonna want to keep it for sure.

How has the podcast changed since it started in 2020?

Gosh, there’s so many ways. Podcasts are a bit of a slow build, so you don’t know what it’s going to be like or how people will take in this information. Now we’re tens of millions of downloads later, so we’re really astounded by the number of people that have been able to get information about mental health in a democratized way—which is exactly why we started the podcast. Healthcare is a human right, for the body and the mind, so what I think has changed since we started is a wider understanding that the mind and body are connected. This is what we originally wanted to lean into, but at the time, it felt too out there, too alternative.

Do you think the medical establishment is coming around to this too?

Oh yeah. I mean, I live in Los Angeles, the land of crystals and acupuncture. That science is legitimately catching up to helping people understand the science behind some of these practices that mystics have been doing for thousands of years is tremendous. It’s tremendous in terms of our understanding as humans of where we’re at, and also our potential, to grow and heal. For those of us who grew up in homes with fear and secrecy, or even terror, you carry that with you and your body keeps a score. Those can be translated into autoimmune disorders and chronic conditions.

That said—and I don’t mean, “tell me now!”—is there anything you don’t or won’t share?

Of course. I wouldn’t be an interesting person if I had nothing in my personal life. There’s a whole part of my life that’s just mine. I talk about my kids, usually comically, but not in a lot of depth. You won’t find details about my relationship with Jonathan. A lot of things are left on the cutting room floor, and there’s a lot of conversations had where we stop recording. My kids don’t listen to the podcast, though; they barely want to listen to me when they have to. I humiliate myself all the time on TikTok, so the podcast is probably the least embarrassing thing I do.

Do you ever get starstruck or intimidated? I realize you’re a neuroscientist, but are you ever nervous to interview super-smart people?

All the time! I tend to cry when I’m nervous, so if you ever see me crying, that’s usually because I’m starstruck. As for the experts, oh yes, those are the episodes that I often feel like we should cancel in the hours before. I’m talking to Dr. Daniel Amen today, who’s Justin Beiber and Miley Cyrus’ psychiatrist, so I’ll say I’m not a practicing neuroscientist and I’m not coming at doctors and scientists from that level. If they even know about my degree, which sometimes people don’t, and they just think I’m an actress.

I also have to ask: Is it true that there’s a Blossom reboot coming?

I’m happy to tell you that, yes, it’s true. All of the cast and the original creator and producers are on board, and we believe a reboot can and should exist once the strike ends. We’re hoping to reboot it not as a sitcom, though. We want to bring back these interesting, deep characters—a child of divorce, a recovering drug addict, an alcoholic—to see them in a whole new way.

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Not My Job: Mayim Bialik Of 'Big Bang Theory' Gets Quizzed On Big Bangs

Mayim Bialik poses for a photo in Los Angeles in May 2017.

As a teen, Mayim Bialik starred in the '90s sitcom Blossom, and just in case her acting career didn't take off after that, she earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience from UCLA. Turns out, that made her perfect for the role of neuroscientist Amy Farrah Fowler on CBS's The Big Bang Theory. Bialik recently wrote a book called Boying Up: How to Be Brave, Bold and Brilliant .

We've invited her to play a game called "Big Bang meet big bangs!" Three questions about hair metal bands of the 1980s.

Click the audio link above to see how she does.

Confessions Of A 'Big Bang' Watcher, 11 Seasons In

Confessions Of A 'Big Bang' Watcher, 11 Seasons In

Actress mayim bialik on tv, science, and the combo.

Copyright © 2018 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

It’s a wonderful world — and universe — out there.

Come explore with us!  

Science News Explores

Mayim bialik shares her stem inspiration.

The Big Bang Theory actress speaks to the National Science Teachers Association

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By Bethany Brookshire

April 7, 2014 at 9:21 am

BOSTON – Mayim Bialik , an actress famous for her role as a neuroscientist on The Big Bang Theory , actually has a neuroscience Ph.D. in real life. But, as she told attendees at the National Science Teachers Association meeting, here, getting that degree was challenging. Rewarding? Yes. But not every neuroscientist is a natural.

“I arrived late to the world of STEM [science, technology, engineering and math],” she says. Bialik explains that she felt talented in art and other subjects but “…when it came to science and math I really shrunk. It did not come naturally to me to understand science and math concepts. That leads to a lot of shame and lot of fear.”

Bialik credits her love of science with a single person: a young biology tutor. At the time, Bialik was a successful teen actress but needed coaching in her science class. “This woman was the first female role model I had,” Bialik recalls, “and it was literally that one woman…who gave me not only the skill set…but the confidence that I could be a scientist.”

mayim bialik phd interview

She went on to study neuroscience at the University of California, Los Angeles. Now, as an actress on most watched television sitcom, Bialik seeks to break the stereotype of what a scientist is like. “I try to put a positive face on STEM and a female face in STEM,” she explains, “a lone scientist in a laboratory is not what science has to look like.” She also collaborates directly with scientists and Texas Instruments, sparking student interest with projects like Zombie Apocalypse . It introduces students to the principles of both neuroscience and infectious diseases.

But Bialik notes that while she revels in playing a scientist on TV, every educator has the capacity to become a STEM star in students’ lives. “We are all in a position to touch a student and make them believe in science,” she says. The Big Bang Theory might make the geek chic, but she argues that it really takes a science teacher to inspire.

Power Words

neuroscience  Science that deals with the structure or function of the brain and other parts of the nervous system. Researchers in this field are known as neuroscientists.

Ph.D.    (also known as a doctorate) Advanced degrees offered by universities — typically after five or six years of study — for work that creates new knowledge. People qualify to begin this type of graduate study only after having first completed a college degree (a program that typically takes four years of study).

Follow Eureka! Lab on Twitter: @eureka_labs

Reel Life With Jane

Mayim Bialik

Mayim Bialik Talks Neuroscience, Big Bang Theory and Science Careers for Girls

Mayim Bialik

Mayim Bialik (aka Dr. Amy Farrah Fowler on television’s popular “The Big Bang Theory”) not only plays a super smart female scientist, she IS one.

Best known for her leading role in the 90s family hit, “Blossom” and the young Bette Midler in “Beaches,” she’s a real life neuroscientist who holds a Doctorate of Philosophy in Neuroscience from UCLA.

“I love playing the sweet and brainy Dr. Amy Farrah Fowler who has a quirky relationship with Dr. Sheldon Cooper (Emmy-winning Jim Parsons),” she told me in a phone interview. “It shows a scientist’s softer side.”

Bialik feels the program humanizes geeks and shows that their lives are normal and fulfilling. This year, she’s the spokesperson for HerWorld , a nationwide DeVry University  initiative that encourages young girls to pursue STEM careers ( S cience, T echnology, E ngineering and M ath).

More than 7,000 girls are expected to attend the month-long event that takes place in 22 cities. Ironically, Thursday evening’s episode was about this very topic – engaging young girls in the sciences.

“It was totally random that it appeared on the eve of HerWorld,” says Bialik, who was delighted at the coincidence. In fact, it was her biology tutor on the set of “Blossom” who first turned Bialik on to the sciences.

“I thought passion was reserved for literature and the arts,” she says. “I didn’t know you could feel that strongly about science until I fell in love with the neuron. It helps us understand the universe and the electrical properties of the mind and body.”

Bialik wants other young women to experience that same passion and prepare for careers in an expanding field. Although women in the STEM fields comprise only 25 percent today, a U.S. Department of Commerce study projects that jobs in the STEM fields will grow seven percent faster than those in other fields by 2018 when approximately 8 million STEM jobs are projected . The need will open up opportunities for qualified candidates of both sexes.

This is the sixteenth year of DeVry’s HerWorld, a month-long program that kicked off on March 8 in New York with Bialik as the keynote speaker. She told the audience of 300 girls about her own experience growing up in New York, the daughter of first generation Jewish immigrants, both school teachers, and her love of the sciences. She encouraged them to take a leap of faith and open their minds to the possibilities in the STEM fields.

“Girls often perceive the curriculum for these subjects as unapproachable,” she says. “HerWorld challenges the perception by giving teenage girls a place to experience the excitement of STEM subjects firsthand, and engages them in stories of successful women who are making a difference.”

Attendees interact with peers through hands-on workshops and confidence-boosting activities. They’ll also hear inspirational stories from women leaders in the field. In January, DeVry University launched STEM Career Assemblies to introduce more high school students to STEM subjects.

The assemblies are designed to spark students’ interest and curiosity by telling the story of “The Science and Technology Behind Team USA,” in partnership with the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC). The first STEM Career Assemblies were held in Atlanta and Chicago.

In Atlanta, 700 freshmen and sophomores heard from USOC guest speaker, Terrence Trammell , a former Olympian hurdler and sprinter. In Chicago, more than 160 high school students from DeVry University’s Advantage Academy participated in two assemblies. They learned about the impact STEM had on former Olympian bobsledder, Jamie Moriarty , and the ways science helped Team U.S.A.’s efforts to increase velocity as they raced.

DeVry, one of the largest private sector universities in North America, integrates the arts, technology, business and science. Because faculty members work in the fields they teach, they can best prepare students for high-growth careers.

Bialik, the mother of two young boys aged four and seven, lives life on the fast track. In addition to starring in “The Big Bang Theory,” she also homeschools her children. During time off from the show, she’s teaches sciences to other kids in the homeschool community.

While pursuing her studies in college, Bialik was very active in UCLA Hillel, a Jewish organization, and led, composed and performed in an a cappella group of women, as well as being a dedicated student.

“A professor once told me that the way to get everything done is not to sleep much,” she says laughing. It’s a skill she learned at a young age and still practices today. While starring in “Blossom,” Bialik had a tutor on the set and attended school one week out of three when the program was on hiatus.

“I had to keep up and do everything everyone else did, so my days were really full,” she says. “As much fun as it is to be on ‘The Big Bang Theory,’ being a public figure who can promote a positive role in the sciences is a blessing,” says Bialik.

She is indeed a rare combination of celebrity and scientist. Read more about Bialik on her official Web site .

Mickey Goodman

4 responses to “Mayim Bialik Talks Neuroscience, Big Bang Theory and Science Careers for Girls”

Judy Kirkwood Avatar

Women interested in science, especially an actress? Refreshing!

Mickey Goodman Avatar

She was absolutely delightful, down to earth, SMART and funny. How she has enough hours in the day to accomplish everything, I have no clue!

[…] Mayim Bialik Talks Neuroscience, Big Bang Theory and Science Careers for Girls ( […]

aditya Avatar

Mayim is a perfect example of a woman who can potray her real life on the reel life, big fan, of Amy as well as Sheldon. 🙂

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Mayim Bialik Answers 50 of the Most Googled Neuroscience Questions

Released on 08/26/2020

How does the nervous system work?

The nervous system works with a lot of

magic from the universe.

Do I get another PhD after I finish this?

[bell ringing]

Hi, I'm Mayim Bialik and I'm here with Wired

to answer the 50 most Googled questions about neuroscience.

[hip hop music]

Is neuroscience a biological science?

I'm going to say yes. [bell ringing]

It's about biological systems, yes.

What nervous system controls breathing?

Autonomic nervous system [bell ringing]

is in charge of breathing structures.

What nervous system controls heart rate?

That would be sympathetic/parasympathetic?

How does the autonomic nervous system affect the heart rate?

By making it go up or making it go down.

[bell ringing] [imitates honking]

How do hallucinogens affect the central nervous system?

Hallucinogens affect the central nervous system

by changing the distribution of neurotransmitter

[bell ringing] and specifically,

crossing modalities, creating synesthetic experiences

where auditory and visual information

effectively gets crossed. [bell ringing]

What neurotransmitters are involved in schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a varied disorder

that can involve paranoia,

and delusions, and depersonalization.

Dopamine, serotonin, [bell ringing]

and obviously all of the other neurotransmitters,

but specifically those for schizophrenia.

What is neurotransmitter testing?

Neurotransmitter testing is testing,

I guess amounts of dopamine and serotonin,

[bell ringing] which are typically done from

swabs, but I guess you could do it from blood maybe?

Cerebrospinal fluid?

Which neurotransmitter acts to facilitate learning?

That's a really difficult question to answer.

All of your neurotransmitters contribute

to everything about you.

The way that we learn is really because of a lot of things,

it's because of attention, it's because of mood,

it's because of reward activation.

Mine's a more philosophical answer,

but I don't know the structure of the brain

that they're talking about, which is probably

glutamate regulating. [bell ringing]

Which neurotransmitter is associated

with Parkinson's disease?

Parkinson's disease is a basal ganglia disease,

that would be dopamine as the

[bell ringing] primary neurotransmitter.

How information travels in the nervous system.

All sorts of crazy ways, up, down, sideways, inside out.

Information travels from the brain to the spinal cord

and out to the periphery,

[bell ringing] and then from the periphery

back into the spinal cord, and back up to the brain.

How does a stroke affect the nervous system?

Well, it depends where the stroke is.

There's specific kinds of regions of the brain

where a stoke will lead to paralysis

or the inability to speak.

Certain strokes will affect very interesting things,

they'll make you think that you don't understand

peoples' faces, there's so many different things

it can affect.

[bell ringing] Having the blood supply

cut off will impair a region of the brain,

is the most basic definition of a stroke, though.

What is neuroscience perspective?

Neuroscience perspective is seeing the world

as a series of motivations, and thoughts, and feelings

[bell ringing] that impact biological

processes and affect how we interact with the world.

How many neurons are in the nervous system?

I don't remember.

[bell ringing] [laughs]

What neurotransmitter controls the somatic nervous system?

The somatic nervous system

is the nervous system associated with sensory information.

For me, that's gonna kind of be

many, all of them?

I mean, impulses are always

regulated by GABA, by glutamate, and

[bell ringing] Acetylcholine is one of them.

Are eyes part of the nervous system?

I love this question.

Yes. [bell ringing]

The retina and the optic nerve

are part of the nervous system.

What are excitatory neurotransmitters?

Excitatory neurotransmitters are transmitters

that have a plus sign, as it were.

They lead to an increase [bell ringing]

in secretion or an increase in activity.

What sends neurotransmitters toward the next neuron?

Oh, I could talk about this for days.

Neurotransmitters are packaged in vesicles

and they move along microtubule filaments

[bell ringing] along the Axon.

What are neurotransmitters and how do they function?

Holy Toledo.

Neurotransmitters are chemicals that are produced

in the brain and the body that act on

other parts of the brain and body.

[bell ringing] They are the main

communication module for the nervous system.

They function by binding to receptors

and the binding onto receptors opens up different channels

and activity that then leads to other neurotransmitter

being released. [bell ringing]

How are hormones different from neurotransmitters?

Hormones are typically generated

outside of the nervous system, as it were.

There are neurohormones.

It really depends on what things are acting on,

and why, and how,

but neurotransmitters, typically, are generated

in the central nervous system [bell ringing]

and hormones can be generated and modulated

outside, as well.

How does nicotine affect the nervous system?

Nicotine affects the nervous system

in a lot of excitatory ways. [bell ringing]

Nicotine also does have inhibitory effects

[bell ringing] and can lead to feelings

of relaxation and decrease in agitation.

What is a synapse in the nervous system?

Well, I went to UCLA, and the cafe that we had

in the neuroscience building was called Cafe Synapse

because it's where things come together.

That's right, folks, a synapse is where two neurons meet

[bell ringing] and release information

and that's where things come together.

How does the digestive system work with the nervous system?

Pretty darn well [bell ringing]

for most people!

How does the nervous system and

endocrine system work together?

Well, since my field is psychoneuroendocrinology,

I should know a lot about this, and indeed I do.

The endocrine system is typically the

hypothalamic pituitary axis.

HPA includes the adrenals,

and hormones are released from the pituitary gland,

and then flow through the body and the hypothalamus,

and then become part of the nervous system,

where they affect the brain

and all sorts of behavioral and biological functions.

[bell ringing repeatedly]

They work together really well.

How to keep your nervous system healthy.

Well, this is a wonderful question!

Get a lot of sleep, drink a lot of water,

eat as simply as possible,

[bell ringing] do not drink alcohol at all

if you can avoid it.

[bell ringing] I would say avoid

as much pharmaceutical impact in your life

as is possible, [bell ringing]

and avoid illicit drugs.

They're generally not good for your nervous system.

[bell ringing] Learn how to breathe properly,

meditate, and please go to therapy.

What neurotransmitter causes migraines?

I get migraines and I don't know the answer to this.

I think migraines are caused by stress.

That's my unofficial, non-doctor opinion.

[buzzer ringing] I could list all the people

that give me migraines and none of them

are the names of neurotransmitters.

Is neuroscience a good major?

Hell yeah, it is!

[bell ringing] You get to learn about

the brain and nervous system,

you get to learn about the fact that

we exist, we have consciousness,

we can communicate, we can love, we can hate,

we can change, we can grow, that's why it's

not only a good major, it's a good grounding for life.

[claps hands] So there.

How does caffeine affect the nervous system?

Caffeine affects the nervous system

by doing a lot of excitatory things.

[bell ringing] It increases your heart rate,

it will make you go poop and pee

'cause it's a diuretic, and it does increase

alertness and vigilance,

which also can lead to a crash,

a caffeine crash, and it is addictive,

so it affects the nervous system by

getting the nervous system used to having it

as a normal way to function

and it resets your sense of normal,

so that's why when you quit caffeine,

you go into withdrawal.

How the nervous system works with other systems.

[hums in interest]

The nervous system works with other systems

by being connected through the series of peripheral nerves

that exist, meaning [bell ringing]

all organs send information to the nervous system.

I like to think of the nervous system as

the main system because it's your brain,

your spinal cord, and all of the nerves

that serve the rest of your body,

so it's kind of the master system.

How does the skeletal system work with the nervous system?

Certain skeletal systems support

the most important aspects of the nervous system,

so the skull, this thing,

it's actually the holding place for the brain,

the lobes of the brain, and all the things about the brain,

and the entire vertebral system,

the vertebrae of your spinal cord

are actually protecting a very, very important

passage of information from your brain

to the rest of your body,

so the skeletal system [bell ringing]

is the scaffold to protect the nervous system.

Where are neurotransmitters made?

Neurotransmitters are made anywhere you want them to be.

mostly brain.

In the middle of the brain. [bell ringing]

Yes, all the little parts.

That's a terrible answer. [laughs]

Are cranial nerves part of the central nervous system?

Cranial nerves I think would be considered

the peripheral nervous system. [bell ringing]

Brain, spinal cord, periphery.

For the love of Pete.

How many neurotransmitters are there?

Let's say between three and four dozen.

Is acetylcholine a neurotransmitter?

Yeah, it is. [bell ringing]

How does diabetes affect the nervous system?

Because of the changes in blood glucose levels,

this can cause strain on blood vessels.

[bell ringing] I'm thinking as I'm answering.

There are also cognitive shifts that happen

because of diabetes.

What kind of chemical is released at a synapse?

A neurochemical. [bell ringing]

Also known as a neurotransmitter.

Which neurotransmitter is associated with depression?

That would be serotonin. [bell ringing]

Dopamine sometimes is implicated as well,

and because everybody's brain is different,

not everyone has the same kind of depression,

and if you have depression that is

part of manic depression, you might need

a different kind of treatment or understanding

of your neurotransmitter system.

But classical depression, serotonin.

How do neurotransmitters influence behavior?

By communicating every thought,

every movement we have.

[bell ringing] The way that you exist

is because of electrical signals caused by

the release of neurotransmitter.

There's nothing about you, even love,

that cannot be explained by neurotransmitter.

How does alcohol affect the nervous system?

Alcohol's a depressant.

Alcohol will first affect the cells of the cerebellum,

those are the ones back here,

and they affect the things that you most frequently see

when you do a sobriety test.

Your ability to do fine motor control,

to walk a line, to do this one.

It affects the general nervous system

with a lot of psychological and psychiatric impact

that's gonna vary by human,

and alcohol's a toxin, so your body perceives it as such,

and all of the changes that happen when you have alcohol

are essentially your body processing

so that it can get rid of the alcohol.

How does the nervous system

help the body maintain homeostasis?

Well, the nervous system is what maintains homeostasis

[bell ringing] through a lot of

different things.

The hypothalamus is your main friend for this.

The hypothalamus maintains body temperature,

urinary levels, hunger, puberty, circadian rhythms,

basically regulating every single organ system.

Homeostasis is the nervous system, that's its goal.

Is dopamine a neurotransmitter?

[bell ringing] Aw yeah.

with sleep, mood, and appetite?

It really depends on what's happening

with sleep, mood, and appetite.

I'm gonna go ahead and go for [bell ringing]

serotonin will mess up all of those.

What is neuroscience psychology?

Neuroscience psychology, or neuropsych, as we call it,

is an emphasis on

[bell ringing] the underlying nervous system

substrates of psychological phenomenon.

How does cannabis affect the nervous system?

How doesn't cannabis affect the nervous system

really should be this question.

Cannabis affects the nervous system

by binding two cannabinoid receptors, duh,

and those receptors do a lot surrounding relaxation,

relaxation of muscles, literally.

Cannabis stimulates appetite.

If you think of people who use it medicinally,

for example, for chemotherapy,

it can reduce nausea and it has analgesic effects,

it has numbing effects.

That sort of, like, [bell ringing]

high feeling that people report

is typically an ability to have

a strong connection with your sensory systems,

and that can make you feel really, really happy.

What does multiple sclerosis do to the nervous system?

Multiple sclerosis causes demyelination of axons.

[bell ringing] Myelin is the fat

that lines axons, which is how a neuron

communicates information from the cell body

to the dendrites, and once that myelin,

that fat is broken down, it makes it much harder

for electrical impulses to travel.

So, it makes communication between cells harder.

Why nervous system important?

Why is the nervous system important?

Because it is the foundation of your existence as a human,

both physically and metaphysically.

[bell ringing] The brain and the

nervous system, your spinal cord, and all your nerves

are everything about how you interact with the world,

including what you love, what you hate,

how you can even process what I'm saying right now,

and your position in space, and your acknowledgement

that we are hurdling through the universe at high speed

and not flying off the planet,

and we exist now, and we'll exist tomorrow.

All that is your nervous system.

Is epinephrine a neurotransmitter?

Which systems comprise the nervous system?

There's the central nervous system,

that's the brain and the spinal cord,

and there's the peripheral nervous system,

[bell ringing] which is the nerves

on the periphery.

What are nervous system disorders?

There are a lot of nervous system disorders.

Let's see, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's,

muscular dystrophy, epilepsy, pretty much all

of psychiatric challenges.

You know, depression anxiety, [bell ringing]

obsessive compulsive disorder,

dissociative identity disorder,

I could go on. [bell ringing]

It has information that's produced in the brain

that's sent down the spinal cord

to the peripheral nervous system,

receives information from the outside world,

brings it back in, sends it up the spinal cord,

then your brain processes it,

[bell ringing] and you act, and think,

and feel, and exist.

What is the nervous system?

The nervous system is the series of cells

that comprise the brain and the spinal cord

[bell ringing] and allows you to perceive

your body, your feelings,

and interact with the outside world, feel, and think.

Your nervous system is you.

Those were the 50 most googled questions on neuroscience.

Thank you for watching, hope I did okay.

Starring : Mayim Bialik

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  • Published: 30 May 2012

Turning point: Mayim Bialik

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Nature volume  485 ,  page 669 ( 2012 ) Cite this article

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14 June 2012 In the original version of this article, it wasn't clear that the quote about Stephen Hawking attributed to Kaley Cuoco was said by her character Penny during the show. This has now been rectified.

A Clarification to this article was published on 20 June 2012

Actress makes the shift from television to neuroscience and then back again.

Perhaps best known for her role as Blossom on the 1990s television programme of the same name, Mayim Bialik took the unusual step of turning away from television after the show ended to study science at university. Then, as she was about to earn her PhD in neuroscience from the University of California, Los Angeles, Bialik became a mother. Although Bialik did get her PhD, parenthood ended her pursuit of a research post. It also led her to turn back to acting, this time on the scientist-centered comedy The Big Bang Theory.

How did you become interested in science?

I had tutors for every subject while I was working on Blossom . But it was a biology tutor who gave me the confidence to know that I could be a scientist — even though at first I had the feeling that science and mathematics were more for boys.

How did you end up doing a PhD?

Some of it was momentum. I studied neuroscience as an undergraduate. I was pleased to have a new life after Blossom . After that, I had to choose between medical and graduate school.

mayim bialik phd interview

Were other students aware of your TV fame?

Blossom was a popular show, and most people knew who I was, even the professors. It was more acute as an undergraduate, but, with the exception of a few foreign graduate students, everyone knew who I was.

Did you have to overcome bias at university to be considered a 'serious scientist'?

I think some professors were harder on me than on other students. After I did poorly in an examination, I got some amazingly insensitive comments from a professor who basically said I was not cut out to be a scientist on the basis of this one test. Another professor brought his children to meet me after I did my final exam. That was actually kind of awkward.

Were you aware of how tough an academic career is?

Well, there is always a need for teachers, and that aspect of being a research professor was always something I was interested in. I figured that my husband and I would get into graduate programmes, and that I would eventually get a research and teaching job.

What role did the birth of your first child have in your decision to leave science?

I needed a lot of adjustment and recovery after giving birth. I was in the data-collection and analysis phase of my dissertation. It was hard. We never used child care, and we had decided that I was going to be the one to take care of our son. Of course, plenty of scientists go back to work after six weeks; new mothers' brains work just fine; but if you want to breastfeed on demand and be there for their formative years, it is hard to pursue tenure at the same time. I talked to some scientist mothers, who said they had chosen less-demanding career tracks. Being at home with your children can sometimes mean not reaching your academic potential. That is the reality. It may mean not running as big a laboratory or not having as many research projects going on.

You have studied the science of attachment behaviour in humans, the basis of your book Beyond the Sling . Did this actually end up pushing you away from science as a career?

Well, what I learned supported what intuitively felt right. Some women feel that if they want to compete in the workplace, they have to not give in to those intuitive feelings of 'I want to be with my child'. I didn't want to not give in.

Why did you return to television?

I wanted to be with my children. Also, we had finished graduate school, and needed health insurance — I got pregnant with my second son the week I filed my thesis. Once he was about one year old, I started going to auditions. All of us would pile into the car. I would breastfeed before running into the audition.

Your character in The Big Bang Theory is a neurobiologist. Did your background help you get the part?

The character wasn't a scientist when I first appeared on the show. When I came back the next season, co-creator Bill Prady made her a neurobiologist. He thought I could help fix things — the science details — if they got them wrong. We have a physics consultant on staff and our writers are generally very intelligent.

Why do you think it is important for a comedy to get the science right?

For a show about 'geekdom', it has to be authentic or it wouldn't work. Our physics consultant is David Saltzberg from the University of California, Los Angeles. Several of the writers happen to have science backgrounds or are just really well-read people. The show was co-created by Chuck Lorre, who loves details, and Bill, who is a genuine nerd from way back. So we are just a meticulous bunch.

Do you worry that the show reinforces scientist stereotypes?

From working in science, I know people who are like all of the characters. But it's entertainment, and it needs to be entertaining.

What was it like to meet British physicist Stephen Hawking when he was a special guest on The Big Bang Theory ?

It was a powerful experience on so many levels, especially to see his caregivers and to see how loving they are and how deeply cared for he is. He did smile at a lot of the jokes during the run-through. The biggest smile came when the character Penny — played by Kaley Cuoco — said, “I know who Stephen Hawking is! He's the wheelchair guy who invented time.”

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In the original version of this article, it wasn't clear that the quote about Stephen Hawking attributed to Kaley Cuoco was said by her character Penny during the show. This has now been rectified.

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mayim bialik phd interview

1 hr 30 min

Dr. David Richo: Don’t Bring Childhood Wounds into Adult Relationships Mayim Bialik's Breakdown

  • Mental Health

David Richo PhD, MFT (psychotherapist, teacher, writer, and workshop leader) shows us how to become the best we can be at loving as he dispels the myths of what love actually is, explains how our relationships with our parents may unwittingly affect our romantic partnerships, and the key factors needed to build real trust. He discusses the changes he’s seen in relationships over the decades, the spiritual integrity component of successful relationships, and how the mindsets of ego can negatively impact any relationship. Dr. Richo demonstrates practical language used to strengthen a relationship after conflict and shares ways to identify candidates who are qualified to be in a healthy adult relationship. He reveals how his findings hold up when considering polyamorous connections, how fear manifests itself in relationships, why expressing appreciation should never be underestimated, and why we are more likely to be emotionally satisfied during the \"honeymoon stage.\" Dr. Rich also explains how to mirror healthy love for your children, the actual forms of nurturing kids crave from their parents, and practical ways to teach children independence.

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Call her rad: an interview with Mayim Bialik

mayim bialik phd interview

When it comes to recognizing and embracing promising talent, the gays have been at it longer than practically everyone else. Remember the opening sequence of “Beaches,” with the lead characters as children? That was a young Mayim Bialik in one of her earliest film roles, playing Bette Midler’s C.C. Bloom as a kid. Ask any of us and we’ll tell you we knew she was going to be a star. Since then, Bialik has had her own hit network sitcom in the nineties as the titular “Blossom,” and she stole the show in every scene in which she appeared in the even more successful 21 st century sitcom “The Big Bang Theory” as Amy Farrah Fowler. She also managed to find the time to earn a PhD in neuroscience from UCLA. In “Call Me Kat,” her first sitcom after “Big Bang Theory,” Bialik plays Kat, the single and sassy owner of a Louisville cat café. I had the pleasure of speaking with Bialik in January 2021, shortly after the show debuted on Fox.

mayim bialik phd interview

Before signing on to do “Call Me Kat,” would you consider yourself a fan of Miranda Hart’s British sitcom “Miranda,” on which it’s based?

Honestly, I hadn’t seen it until Jim Parsons brought it to my attention towards the end of “Big Bang Theory.” So, I did not know about it until Jim said, “What do you think of this?” And I said, “I think it’s delightful.” He said, “No, I’m not asking your personal opinion; I’m asking for you to be part of it.” That was really the first that I heard of it. That’s how we got here.

One of the first things the viewer sees in “Call Me Kat” is the breaking down of the fourth wall. What’s it like to work in that mode?

I think a lot of people don’t understand that we are literally motivated by our desire to honor the original Miranda for all the good that it has brought us. I was on “Blossom” when I was a teenager, and Blossom actually kept a video diary, so I’m used to talking at the camera, to be honest. When we decided to keep that piece of “Miranda,” it seemed to make a lot of sense that this character is a woman who is not necessarily lonely, but she is alone a lot. In that sense, breaking the fourth wall is really her having the audience be part of her life. It’s the way that people who do spend a lot of time on their own often do have to be creative with picturing who’s listening and who cares about them. In this case, the audience caring about her is how she sees it.

Call Me Kat allows you to display other aspects of your talents including your skills as a physical comedian. You even got to do spit-takes in an episode. What do you like best about that kind of humor?

Keep in mind, not everything I do is stuff that I think is the funniest. When I’m told to do a spit-take, I do a spit-take. That’s kind of how it works. I’ve always been a very physical person. I was a dancer from the time I was very young. I grew up watching Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett and Tracey Ullman, women who really all inhabited their bodies in a very specific and comedic way. For me, I think that Darlene Hunt, our showrunner and creator, just incorporated a lot of things about me. I am very physically flexible, so she’s capitalized on that. I like to say that if my mom, when I was 11 and started acting, could have designed a show for me, it would have been “Call Me Kat,” because this show takes everything I can do and it puts it in there [laughs]. She can sing, she can dance, she’s funny with her body, she can kick high [laughs]. That’s what it feels like.

mayim bialik phd interview

I’m so glad you mentioned singing because you do get to sing on the show.  Is it daunting or fun to sing with and in the presence of Cheyenne Jackson who plays Max?

It’s absolutely terrifying! I specifically requested that I not have to sing in front of him for extended periods of time because, first of all, he’s absolutely incredible. He also is a person who, if you ask him to sing something 62 times, it’s going to sound amazing every single time. With me, you get about four takes out of me, and then my voice starts to suffer because I’m not a professional. It’s incredibly lovely how welcoming he is and how much support he gives me, but it really is standing in the presence of greatness to work with him and, especially, to sing in front of him.

Kat has a secret crush on Max. Have you ever had a secret crush on someone, and if so, how did that turn out?

[Laughing] Well, they’re not usually secret. I usually post on social media about them. I don’t know if I’ve had a secret crush. Like I said, I feel like nothing’s secret anymore thanks to the Internet

I’m also glad we started talking about Cheyenne, because your queer fans will no doubt be delighted that he, as well as Leslie Jordan, are two of your “Call Me Kat” co-stars. Is it as much fun to work with them as it appears?

Oh, absolutely! What I say about Leslie Jordan is, everything that you wish he’s like is what he’s like. That is no joke. Everything he says is a sound bite. We get to hear him be a little raunchier with his language because we get to see parts of him that other people don’t. He’s delightful, he’s hilarious. Everything he says is an unbelievable story or joke. I did not know much about Cheyenne, to be honest, before getting to work with him. He’s just one of those people… his presence and his heart are so stunning. He’s goofy and playful. He’s adorable! We have a great time. I wouldn’t say that if it wasn’t true. I would just say, “Oh, he’s really nice to work with.”

Early in your acting career, you played the young version of Bette Midler’s character C.C. Bloom in “Beaches.” Did you develop a sense of a gay following after that?

I was told that I did and I found that to be true. I was raised by two very liberal documentary filmmakers who lived in the Village and had gay friends when that was a scandalous thing to do. I was raised with a very strong love and appreciation for the gay community. My parents had gay friends. I grew up seeing men as couples in our home; having dinner with us and celebrating holidays with us. I have gay family members, as many of us do. I’m a happy liberal and loving ally. For sure the Bette Midler connection is a very specific thing, which I love to be part of.

Lainie Kazan played your mother in “Beaches,” Kathy Bates played your mother on “The Big Bang Theory” and now Swoozie Kurtz is playing your mother on “Call Me Kat.” When it comes to playing a mother yourself, do you think you’ll look to the examples they set for inspiration?

Oh my God, that’s an amazing question! I’m probably most like Lainie Kazan. I don’t think I can avoid that. Actually, there’s a lot of my mom in the Swoozie Kurtz character. But my mom’s really the Bronx Jewish version.

Kat owns and operates a cat-themed café. Do you have any of your own pets, say a cat or a dog?

I do; I have three cats. I had four and, unfortunately, I lost one of them during COVID. It was definitely a rough year in the cat department. But I do have three fur babies, as we call them. And like Kat, I like to say, “I’m not a sad cat lady, I’m a rad cat lady.”

Finally, what are you most looking forward to about being a guest host on Jeopardy?

Oh, my gosh. When I think of it, it feels like it’s going to be like a dream. I got to go to Egypt many years ago. I remember standing in front of the sphinx and the pyramids. I felt like I had walked into a postcard; it’s that iconic an image. I guess I’m comparing the Jeopardy! set to the sphinx and the pyramids, but I feel like it’s going to feel like I’ve been placed into a postcard of Jeopardy! I can’t imagine it won’t feel that way. I’m beyond excited! It is one of the most iconic things I think I’m ever going to do in my career.

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Why Mayim Bialik returned to TV after getting her PhD

It may seem like Mayim Bialik's character on "The Big Bang Theory," Amy Farrah Fowler, was created just for her — they're both doctors who hold degrees in neuroscience — but the former child star had to audition for the role along with six other "quirky" actresses. "There was nothing special about me," she tells omg!. But clearly there is something about Bialik because she's been nominated for an Emmy after two years as Sheldon's (Jim Parsons) "girl who is a friend" on the CBS sitcom.

Returning to TV in 2010 after a long hiatus during which she got her PhD may seem odd, but for Bialik, 36, it was a no-brainer. With two young sons (Miles, almost 7, and Fred, 4), the former "Blossom" star was looking for a way to spend as much time with them and still earn a living — and being a research professor can have long hours. "I figured actors never work, so it's the perfect job to have," jokes Dr. Bialik. "I started auditioning, and I had never heard of 'Big Bang Theory,' then I did the guest spot and a year-and-a-half later, it's turned into a regular job. It's kind of amazing, I'm really shocked … I'm glad that I completed my PhD and I'm very proud of it, but the life of a research professor would not have suited my needs in terms of what kind of parenting I wanted to do."

The kind of parenting Bialik and her husband of nine years, fellow academic Michael Stone, favor is called "attachment parenting," a controversial philosophy that promotes a strong emotional bond between children and parents using practices such as breastfeeding as long as the child wants and sleeping in the same bed. The actress, who wrote a book about it called Beyond the Sling: A Real-Life Guide to Raising Confident, Loving Children the Attachment Parenting Way , even home schools her oldest boy, Miles. While Bialik is shooting scenes for her TV show, her stay-at-home husband handles the lessons during the day. But when she's not on set, Bialik teaches her 7-year-old Hebrew and piano. If that's not enough, she even educates other children in their homeschooling community on the subject of neuroscience.

Bialik and her husband first learned about attachment parenting through friends before they welcomed their own two sons. The actress also studied the topic as part of her thesis work. "What appealed to me and my husband was not really the kind of hands-on all-the-time parenting that it looked like our friends were doing, but as the kids got older, they weren't the kind of parents that were yelling or putting their kids in the corner or doing timeouts. They were not ruled by fear or by anger or threats, and that's honestly what appeals most to me and my husband," shares Bialik, who is raising her sons vegan.

But she's quick to add that attachment parenting also has its challenges. "[My husband and I] have not been on a proper evening date in seven years, but that will happen," says Bialik. "Yeah, if you sleep in the same bed as your children it's probably not the same place you're going to have sex … I know people with many more children than I — with far less resources and support from their husbands — who have wonderful marriages and are happy living this life because it's worth it for the relationship for the entire family."

Although the idea of attachment parenting has become more popular in recent years, it still has its detractors, and Bialik acknowledges that there are many misconceptions. "I think the main one is that we raise spoiled children … I know plenty of spoiled children who don't come from houses like this. I know plenty of spoiled children who are hit, who are not breastfed. There's not really a formula. There's no statistical scientific long-term evidence that this style of parenting is at all bad for children. In fact, we're starting to see in the first research indicating that it is good for children to not be hit, to be gently-parented, to be encouraged to have early dependence for later independence."

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Things have been going so smoothly in the Bialik-Stone household, the actress doesn't plan on having any more children because her work schedule wouldn't allow her the same time to spend with a new baby that she had with her sons when they were very little. "Sure, I could have a nanny with me on the set and be breastfeeding in between scenes," she says, "but that's not at all the style of parenting that my husband and I would like."

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mayim bialik phd interview

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Mayim Bialik

The big bang theory actress talks about the science of growing up and the art of good oral hygiene.

Mayim Bialik plays a neuroscientist on the wildly successful TV comedy The Big Bang Theory . And one of the show's best punch lines is the fact that she actually is one!

The former child actress earned her PhD in neuroscience from UCLA in 2007. But fans of the CBS show know her as Amy Farrah Fowler, the nerdy love interest of main character Sheldon Cooper, played by Jim Parsons. In an interview with Dear Doctor , Mayim said that the character of Amy is not that far off from her true, very geeky personality.

“Oh, I'm pretty awkward!” she said, noting that she has always been something of an outsider. “I was definitely a weird kid. And as an adult, I don't really fit in either, so I've been pretty consistent if nothing else.”

In Mayim's view, the comedic yet truthful portrayal of the social difficulties nerdy people face is one of The Big Bang Theory's great strengths.

“I'm different, and I can't not be different,” she explained in a video posted on her engaging website . “And that's the thing I love about our show: We're not showing geeky characters who finally make it in the cool kids' club. We show characters who grow up to still be left out. Because for a lot of us, that's just how it's gonna be. But we can also learn to be more comfortable with who we are. And with that comfort comes less anxiety about not fitting in.”

On the other hand, being “different” isn't always a bad thing, especially when it comes to her family's health. The divorced mother of two has been raising her sons, ages 8 and 11, on a vegan diet since they were born — a choice made by less than 5% of the U.S. population, according to some estimates. Mayim believes that avoiding all animal products benefits her children's teeth, along with their general health.

“Being vegan means that a lot of candy is limited and I'm kind of glad for that,” she said. “Most candy has dairy in it. They've never had M&Ms or anything like that because those are dairy.”

Not being familiar with the taste of so much candy means the boys may not crave it as much as other kids do.

“We really try to encourage their palate to appreciate fruit in its natural state and sweet things in their natural state so they're not constantly craving that,” she said. “It's a battle for all parents.”

So how does she handle Halloween? A lesser-known associate of the Tooth Fairy takes care of that sugar-coated holiday.

“We don't do candy for Halloween,” Mayim said. “We have a Halloween fairy who takes it all away and they get to choose a small LEGO toy in its place.”

The family's dental health is also aided by a lack of soda and juice in the house. In fact, Mayim said, the boys pretty much only drink water.

“On a special holiday or if we're in synagogue they can have a couple sips of soda,” she said, “but it's not part of our lives.”

Mayim said she is a stickler for meticulous oral hygiene at home, making sure the boys brush twice each day and floss at least once a day.

“We're big on teeth and oral care,” she said.

Should anyone protest, Dr. Mom is ready with a science-based explanation.

“My 8-year-old has started asking, 'Why do I have to brush first thing? I haven't eaten yet.' But I know if it doesn't get done, it gets forgotten,” she said. “So I say, 'there's all sorts of things that grow in your mouth all night…so brush first thing!' ”

The boys don't ever complain about flossing, because they like using pre-loaded floss holders that Mayim buys in bulk online.

“Now that they have those little flossers that you can just hold in your hand, flossing is really a pleasure in our house,” she said. “I just keep them in a little glass right next to the toothbrushes so they're open, no one has to reach, they're just right there. And it's really become such a routine, I don't even have to ask them anymore.”

Throughout her own childhood, Mayim had excellent oral health — not one cavity! — though she had a “pretty profound overbite” and thinks she probably could have benefited from wearing braces as a child. However, her leading role in the 1990s NBC TV sitcom Blossom made that impossible.

“I never had braces. I was on TV at the time and there weren't a lot of creative solutions for kids who were on TV.”

“I never had braces,” she said. “I was on TV at the time and there weren't a lot of creative solutions for kids who were on TV.”

Now, of course, there are clear plastic aligners and lingual (tongue-side) braces that many performers wear. But without those options, Mayim's orthodontist managed to straighten her teeth using retainers and headgear worn only at night.

“He worked magic without ever having put proper braces on my face,” she said.

Mayim touches on the challenges of her very public adolescence in her new book for teens called Girling Up: How to be strong, smart and spectacular . She describes the book as “a neuroscience-driven perspective on all aspects of being female, including everything from puberty to dating to the decisions we make.” It's the kind of road map to growing up female that Mayim said she wished had been available when she was a girl.

“There are so many things in this book that no one ever explained to me when I was young and I wish that they had, and that's really what I tried to provide,” she said.

Mayim, who was born in San Diego and raised in North Hollywood, loved acting in school plays as a child. At the age of 11, she decided she should turn pro; her parents didn't immediately agree.

“Neither of my parents really had a lot of confidence or faith in the show biz industry,” she recalled. “They were documentary filmmakers and public school teachers and kind of bohemians, but I was very persistent — I really thought I should be a professional actress even though I had really no idea what that might look like.”

Mayim's parents eventually allowed her to sign with an agent and she landed the title role of Blossom at age 14. This led, inadvertently, to her becoming a scientist: On-set she was tutored by a dental student who inspired her as no other teacher yet had.

“Seeing someone who was so passionate about cells and mitochondria and genetics was very inspiring to me,” she said, “because I thought you could only be that passionate about great art and things like that.”

After Blossom ended, Mayim, then 19, decided to go to college to study science.

“It was hard,” she recalled. “I basically walked off of people's televisions and onto the campus of UCLA. But I was a very devoted student.”

She was so devoted that she eventually earned her PhD.

“I'm trained in genetics and neuroimaging,” she said, “but I ended up studying obsessive-compulsive disorder and the field of psycho-endocrinology for my thesis.”

That type of background would prove useful to The Big Bang Theory's Amy, whose boyfriend Sheldon keeps every toothbrush he has ever owned in a large Ziploc bag! So how did Mayim step out of the lab and back onto the small screen? It came down to the practical concerns of providing for her sons.

“I taught neuroscience for about five years after getting my degree, I was tutoring Hebrew, I was tutoring piano, and I didn't have health insurance,” she said. “I figured if we could get health insurance from me working a couple of acting jobs — that would be great. I was not expecting to be a full-time actor again but there we are.”

And given the popularity of TV's geekiest sweethearts, she's likely to be there for many seasons to come.

mayim bialik phd interview

mayim bialik phd interview

Jim Parsons and Mayim Bialik reprise Big Bang Theory roles for Young Sheldon finale - with big twist

I t was time to say goodbye to Young Sheldon, and Jim Parsons and Mayim Bialik were in attendance. To celebrate the end of the show, the actors reprised their The Big Bang Theory characters, Sheldon Cooper and Amy Fowler, on the Thursday, May 16, series finale of the hit CBS show.

The spin-off series came to an end after being on the air for seven seasons, with a two-episode finale. They opened with an episode titled "Funeral," and showed the Cooper family as they dealt with the loss of the family patriarch, George Cooper Sr., who died of a heart attack at work.

During the second half of the finale, Jim and Mayim returned as adult Sheldon and his wife Amy. The longtime fictional couple even mentioned their children, saying that they didn't follow the same career paths their parents did. Their son Leonard is a hockey fan, and their daughter wants to try acting classes.

READ MORE: Young Sheldon star Annie Potts says CBS canceling show was a 'stupid business decision'

READ MORE: Young Sheldon fans 'bawling like a baby' after 'heartbreaking' series finale

Young Sheldon 's executive producer and co-showrunner Steve Holland opened up about their cameos in an interview with People . “I think they were both excited. Jim's obviously been a part of the show. He's an executive producer. He's been the narrator,” he said. “I think Mayim literally said, ‘Anything you want me to do, I'll come there and do.’"

The actors returned to the sitcom almost five years after Big Bang ended. “They’re both so talented,” Steve says. “I think they would say that there was some nerves about stepping back into these characters and that they weren't quite sure they would find their rhythm. From watching them do it, it felt so effortless."

"Just watching them work, sitting, editing, and watching the takes, they make so many smart and interesting choices on each line. It was just really a joy to watch," he added.

Sheldon and Amy met in the season 3 finale of The Big Bang Theory. Sheldon's friends set them up, against his will, but they eventually got together. The pair fell in love and got married in the season 11 finale. The series ended after season 12, with the finale airing in May 2019.

Young Sheldon ran for seven seasons but fans were still distraught over the show's ending. The cast also had a hard time accepting the show's cancellation.

Annie Potts, who plays Sheldon's MeeMaw Connie, didn't understand the network's decision to get rid of the show. According to her, the cast didn't see the " stupid business decision " coming and said they felt "ambushed" by the news.

Jim Parsons and Mayim Bialik return for Young Sheldon finale


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