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Imagine Otherwise: Meghnaa Tallapragada on Science in the Public Sphere

Imagine Otherwise: Meghnaa Tallapragada on Science in the Public Sphere

retro
March 18, 2020
Meghnaa Tallapragada on a balcony, wearing a black sweater and red and purple scarf

It’s commonplace to hear claims that in our current historical moment science has become politicized, as climate crises, vaccines, and genetic modification get hotly debated in rapid-fire news cycles. But as today’s guest Meghnaa Tallapragada reminds us, science has always been inherently political, reflecting shifting racial, gender, and national ideologies and serving diverse interests.

In episode 107 of the Imagine Otherwise podcast, host Cathy Hannabach chats with science communication studies professor Meghnaa Tallapragada about how interdisciplinarity is crucial to effective public engagement, how colorism shapes public marketing discourses on a transnational scale, how we can use lessons from our creative pursuits in our work lives without feeling like every hobby needs to become research, and why building a world where all can be seen and heard is how Meghnaa imagines otherwise.

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Guest: Meghnaa Tallapragada

Meghnaa Tallapragada is an assistant professor in the Department of Advertising and Public Relations at Temple University.

At the crux of her research is the question of how communication can address issues of privilege. Toward this end, Meghnaa has concentrated on helping science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) communities become more accessible and inclusive.

One of her current projects is Something Very Fishy, a collaborative effort with an evolutionary behavioral ecologists and a theatre production company to combine musical theatre with hands-on science exhibits focused on ocean conservation and climate change targeting elementary school children and their teachers. 

More recently, she has started exploring issues of colorism and related communication solutions to fight it in Project Colorism. She is dedicated to exploring how people experience colorism, the level of agency they feel about addressing colorism, and the strategies they have built to shield their self-worth from colorist expressions.

Meghnaa Tallapragada wearing a black sweater and colorful scarf. text reads: If you keep things in the abstract, you will keep the conversation at such high level that it's not going to ever be grounded in anything real. It’s about finding ways to give it concreteness. So when you talk about science, don’t talk about science in general but talk about this particular GM rice rather than “what do you think about GMOs?” That’s too abstract and you could be thinking about so many things. It's about finding a way to bring STEM closer to people.

We chatted about

► Meghnaa’s journey from engineering to communication studies (02:16)

► Why interdisciplinarity is so crucial to scientific research (07:21)

► The politicization of science (10:41)

► Having difficult conversations about science and engaging people with different perspectives (13:15)

► Project Colorism (16:31)

► Cultivating creative pursuits and passions outside of your work (21:05)

► Imagining otherwise (27:36)

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Takeaways

Interdisciplinarity

It really is about disciplines merging and coming up with solutions more collaboratively….I work with so many people in different areas, and I think coming together to collectively solve an issue is very fascinating. Each one is bringing a level of expertise but also a level of curiosity of not knowing or not being entirely tied to a particular way of doing things.

Science communication

We need more spaces where we can have those discussions without insulting each other, to really understand where the concerns are, where people are getting information from, and how they are making up their minds.

Project Colorism

Project Colorism is one of those things that is very, very close to my heart. It starts off with me growing up in India, where I first realized that, “oh wow, I’m dark” and having conversations with people saying, “Oh yeah, you’re dark, and that’s not beautiful, and that’s not worthy.” We are doing a two-part project. One is on Instagram where we want to open up this dialogue, share short stories of people experiencing colorism, and the narratives they told themselves to get out of it. The second part is in-depth interviews.

The importance of hobbies

You’re never one dimension. You have so many dimensions to who you are and you want to nurture all of that. If you neglect even one part, you’re going to notice that the other dimensions suffer. Growing up I took up karate, then kickboxing. In grad school I picked up salsa dancing. In my postdoc, the knifemaking started. And now I’m boxing….It keeps my energy going. I think I need physical activity in my life. That feeds into my energy to start my day and feeds into my energy for teaching and research.

Imagining otherwise

I want a world where people realize that they’re unique in their strengths, but similar in their humanness….and we’re worthy of being seen and heard.

More from Meghnaa Tallapragada

Something Very Fishy

Project Colorism

Project Colorism on Instagram

► Meghnaa’s Temple University faculty profile

► Meghnaa on Twitter

People and projects discussed

Science communication

Politicization of science

Pew Report: Trust and Mistrust in Americans’ Views of Scientific Experts

Cathy Hannabach’s interview with Elizabeth Wayne and Christine “Xine” Yao on Podcasting Across the STEM/Humanities Divide

About Imagine Otherwise

Imagine Otherwise is a podcast about the people and projects bridging art, activism, and academia to build better worlds. Episodes offer in-depth interviews with creators who use culture for social justice, and explore the nitty-gritty work of imagining and creating more just worlds.

Imagine Otherwise is hosted by Cathy Hannabach and produced by Ideas on Fire, an academic editing and consulting agency helping progressive, interdisciplinary scholars write and publish awesome texts, enliven public conversations, and create more just worlds.

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    Episode transcript

    Cathy Hannabach (00:03):

    Welcome to Imagine Otherwise, the podcast about the people and projects bridging art, activism, and academia to build better worlds. Episodes offer in-depth interviews with creators who use culture for social justice and explore the nitty gritty work of imagining otherwise. I’m your host Cathy Hannabach.

    Cathy Hannabach (00:23):

    It’s commonplace to hear claims that in our current historical moment, science has become politicized as climate crises, vaccines, and genetic modification get hotly debated in rapid fire new cycles. But as today’s guest, Meghnaa Tallapragada, reminds us, science has always been inherently political, reflecting shifting racial, gender, and national ideologies and serving diverse interests.

    Cathy Hannabach (00:46):

    Meghnaa studies how science is communicated to diverse audiences. She’s an assistant professor in the department of advertising and public relations at Temple University. At the crux of her research is the question of how communication can address issues of privilege. Toward this end, Meghnaa has concentrated on helping STEM communities become more accessible and inclusive.

    Cathy Hannabach (01:07):

    One of her current projects is Something Very Fishy, a collaborative effort with evolutionary behavioral ecologist and a theater production company to combine musical theater with hands on science exhibits for elementary school students and their teachers. Focused on ocean conservation and climate change, the program highlights how what we do above the ocean surface impacts life below and what this means for us all.

    Cathy Hannabach (01:31):

    Meghnaa’s new collaborative endeavor with Temple University undergraduates is called Project Colorism. It explores how people experience colorism, the level of agency they feel about addressing it, and the strategies they’ve built to shield their self worth from colorist expressions.

    Cathy Hannabach (01:46):

    In our interview Meghnaa and I chat about how interdisciplinarity is crucial to effective public engagement, how colorism shapes public marketing discourses on a transnational scale, how we can use lessons from our creative pursuits in our work lives without feeling like every hobby needs to become research, and why building a world where all can be seen and heard is key to how Meghnaa imagines otherwise. Thanks so much for being with us today.

    Meghnaa Tallapragada (02:13):

    Thank you for having me. This is exciting.

    Cathy Hannabach (02:16):

    So I would love to start by talking about your journey into your current work. Because I think it’s a really interesting story, first of all, but it also illustrates a lot of the themes that the show highlights, particularly the way that interdisciplinary interests within, and often widely beyond the academy, shape our approach to academic research. So can you take us through your journey from engineering to communications studies?

    Meghnaa Tallapragada (02:40):

    Yeah, definitely. All started because I mean being born in India, you’re either an engineer or a doctor. This just sort of drilled into you for the most part. Not everybody, but for most part, everybody is sort of told, “Oh, you’re going to be an engineer or a doctor.” And for me it was kind of exciting because my dad was an engineer. He was an electrical engineer. And I sort of took back route too, looking up at my dad, and he was doing what he was doing. And it was kind of exciting. I enjoyed it.

    Meghnaa Tallapragada (03:11):

    And so it sort of started off with me in engineering, doing electrical and electronics engineering. And I enjoyed it while I was doing it. And when it came time to sort of be done with an undergrad and move on to either taking on a job, which I had a job offer, and then I also had some opportunities to come here to the US to pursue my masters. For some reason, school was calling. I just really loved school. I was that kid who always loved school.

    Cathy Hannabach (03:41):

    Me too. I understand.

    Meghnaa Tallapragada (03:44):

    I mean, there was a flood in India when I was in seventh grade. And schools would definitely close, and we didn’t have social media. So you didn’t know if it was closed. But you sort of, streets are flooded, yes, schools are closed. But I had perfect attendance, and I did not want to miss school. So I literally had my parents drive me to school. Because I loved school too much. I went on to get my masters and came here.

    Meghnaa Tallapragada (04:12):

    And then the first semester while I was here, there was something about not feeling fulfilled, and there was something about going through the motions. I was going through my classes in my masters, and there’s something in me that just sort of felt amiss. And there was no clear answer at that point for me in terms of what is this, that something’s missing?

    Meghnaa Tallapragada (04:37):

    And I actually went to career counseling in graduate school. So I went to NC State for my master’s in engineering. And I actually went to graduate career services to have a conversation with them to sort of figure things out. And I actually went and spoke to multiple disciplines. And actually, when I spoke to communication, it’s one of those things where it happens with a project, but it also happens with people, sort of love at first interaction. So it was kind of like that where I interacted with people in communication and just really fell in love with it.

    Meghnaa Tallapragada (05:15):

    And they had a project going on. They had a lab with science communication, public communication of science and technology. And I automatically just felt this connection and this draw. And I jumped into it having not taken one communication course in my entire life, but just knowing that I’m going to figure this out. And a lot of people, friends, and I think people say this because they worry for you, where they were like, “Are you sure you’re going to move and switch an entire field, having nothing to sort of back you up in a way.”

    Meghnaa Tallapragada (05:53):

    And I just thought, if it’s a mistake, I got to make it. And I will learn from my mistake, but I would rather have a mistake than a regret of not even exploring that option. And so I jumped into it, and turns out it was not a mistake. It was the best thing to do in my life. And it’s funny because now when I look back on it, and I get this question a lot when people say, “Wow, that’s quite a switch.” And for me, I don’t see it as a switch. They’re so connected, and I think they need to be more connected. And I think that’s what my work does is focusing on those connections because I don’t think they’re so separate. Inherently, they were all very connected, and I think we need to remember that and sort of move in that direction.

    Cathy Hannabach (06:39):

    I mean, I think it’s really interesting to hear you say how they’re deeply intertwined for you, and you don’t see much of a division, at least in terms of the work that you do. And I think you’re totally right, particularly these days. And since you focus on kind of how scientists communicate with the public, and vice versa, how the public communicates their thoughts on science to scientists, you’re gotten to study a really vast range of topics.

    Cathy Hannabach (07:04):

    I mean, you’ve done research on genetically modified foods, veteran PTSD and mental health issues, social media. I mean this is a pretty diverse range of topics, and all through the lens of how does science communicate with the public and vice versa. How does your kind of interest in interdisciplinary, or your interdisciplinary lens maybe, shape the way that you approach science communication in the public sphere?

    Meghnaa Tallapragada (07:31):

    Yeah, that’s such a great question, I have to say. It definitely makes me think a lot. And I there was one conversation that sticks out to me that sort of I think guided me through how I approached this was when I started my PhD, I remember talking to my advisor. And one of the things that he mentioned was how truly interdisciplinary Cornell was. And it truly was.

    Meghnaa Tallapragada (07:59):

    And I think part of it is what I really enjoy in that word is that it’s not about disciplines existing side by side. It really is about disciplines merging, and really thinking and coming up with solutions more collaboratively. And I think it’s sort of, if I were to sum that up, the approach is very like a collective mind approach where it truly feels like multiple disciplines are sort of… No issue is single dimension. It’s got so many dimensions to it.

    Meghnaa Tallapragada (08:33):

    And I think for me having my advisor talk me through that, I think sort of shaped how I approach my research moving forward. Because I continue to work with so many people with different areas, and I think coming together to sort of collectively solve an issue is very fascinating. And it’s almost like each one is sort of bringing a level of expertise, but also a level of curiosity of not knowing or not being entirely tied to a particular way of doing things.

    Meghnaa Tallapragada (09:06):

    And I think that’s essential if you’re doing interdisciplinary work, just to sort of be open and learn from what other approaches there are. And I think it’s sort of just, in terms of sort of shaping my approach, I think that has been sort of a core principle for me in terms of thinking about having or taking on a collective mind approach when approaching issues of research. And really almost like each one coming up with this tiny piece of a puzzle, and then the excitement of putting those pieces together to sort of see what we come up with.

    Meghnaa Tallapragada (09:42):

    And having that approach, I think, has allowed me to explore issues in GMOs, or fracking, or science in general, politicization of science in general, or mental health and PTSD. Just all these different issues of just remaining open, not being tied by that topic, but more by that phenomenon, I think, in terms of sort of addressing, okay, let’s put our minds together to sort of come up with these solutions.

    Cathy Hannabach (10:13):

    Interesting. I mean, we live in an interesting political moment around the politicization of science. Right? And I mean to a certain extent, every era has been there. There hasn’t ever been an era in which science hasn’t been political. But given our current political discourse and our current kind of historical moment, it seems that science is both reified in a lot of ways, but also lambasted in other ways in various news cycles and various new stories.

    Cathy Hannabach (10:41):

    So I’d love to hear your take on what you think scientists and scientific researchers can do to best communicate the political and ethical value of their work to non-scientists. And then maybe vice versa. What advice maybe do you have for non-scientists who want to parse some of the conflicting messages about science that we’re getting from a variety of different sources?

    Meghnaa Tallapragada (11:05):

    Yeah, that’s a million dollar question. It’s definitely the big funding question, right, in terms of what should we do. And I think in terms of advice, I can speak from just based on some of the work that I’m doing, and it comes down to, I think, if I have to bottle it down, it sort of comes down to these three things, right? People love things in threes. These three things.

    Meghnaa Tallapragada (11:31):

    The first thing I think is, like you said, you pointed out science has always been political. I mean there’s no way to sort of say that, oh, we should make science completely not political. That’s just impossible. Science will always be tied to politics. But I think what’s happening is what we’re seeing now is we used to be all okay with science being political, at least seeing that.

    Meghnaa Tallapragada (11:55):

    But I think what’s happening now is we’re seeing political parties sort of take ownership of science. And I think that’s problematic where we now have, you talk about issues of science, when you say, “Do you believe in climate change,” just based on how people respond, you’re sort of putting them in parties. And I think at a time, or at least right now, we still have some issues where you can sort of go either party.

    Meghnaa Tallapragada (12:20):

    But I think if we continue in the direction that we’re going, I think we sort of might fall into this place where we start thinking that liberals or Democrats own science. And that’s a problem because science inherently, if you think about the norms of science, it is for everybody. It does not belong to a political party. It’s open to anybody coming in and practicing science. And that’s how it should be.

    Meghnaa Tallapragada (12:43):

    But I think we’re sort of moving into this place where, so the way we talk about it is almost like political parties. There’s a particular party that owns science. And that’s problematic because moving forward, people who are not in that party start distancing themselves from science, or sort of not believing it. And that’s a problem. And so having more thoughtful discussions of how we talk about those issues, and how we want to think about policy with different parties might be helpful, or should be how we should be thinking about it.

    Meghnaa Tallapragada (13:15):

    The other thing that I’m also noticing, the second thing is, we don’t engage anymore. I think we’ve come to a place where if someone says, “No, I don’t believe it,” there’s an inclination to sort of shame people or insult people into, “Wow, I can’t believe you think that.” Rather than inviting people into this conversation of, “Hey, tell me a little bit about where that’s coming from.”

    Meghnaa Tallapragada (13:38):

    And so having that space, I think we need more spaces where we can sort of have those discussions without insulting each other to really understand where some of the concerns are, or where people are getting those information from, or how are they sort of making up their mind, and if we can actually have a conversation around it. And I think this is for anybody, whether it’s scientists working on specific projects, taking a moment to pause and say, hey, I’m developing this. What do you think, person who might be using this in the future? And the same thing for people people conversation, right? In terms of some of these issues is if someone you really are interacting with, and who does not understand or take your position, it’s just sort of shutting down to actually open up that space for conversation.

    Meghnaa Tallapragada (14:30):

    And I think the last thing is in part of that conversation, knowing that if you keep things in abstract, you will sort of keep the conversation at such high level that it’s not going to ever be grounded in anything real. And so finding ways to sort of give it concreteness. So when you talk about science, not talk about science in general, but talk about this particular GM rice, or this particular GM rice that will be helpful to prevent blindness because it sort of is fortified with vitamin A. Having these conversations that are more specific and engaging with people around that rather than just talking about, oh, what do you think about GMOs? Which is so abstract, and you could be thinking about so many things. I could be thinking about so many different things.

    Meghnaa Tallapragada (15:19):

    And so finding a way to sort of ground that in ways to sort of bring STEM closer to people. And I think a lot of times people shy away from talking about STEM because they just feel, I’m not smart enough. I don’t think that way. Or, oh, that’s just that political party’s issue. Rather than doing that to sort of ground it in context, just sort of make it more relevant to the people that you’re having that conversation with. I think will then force people to sort of step outside of those political parties, or your own schema, to sort of have those conversations more real, affecting you and me kind of conversations.

    Cathy Hannabach (15:57):

    Interesting.

    Meghnaa Tallapragada (15:58):

    That was a very long answer.

    Cathy Hannabach (16:00):

    But I think it deserves one, right? It’s not an easy question. That’s the point. I mean if it were that easy, we would have fixed it already. This wouldn’t be an issue.

    Meghnaa Tallapragada (16:08):

    Yeah. Yeah. No. I mean there’s so many people working on it, with so many people trying to find solutions to it. But if I were to say the main thing, I think, we’re getting to a point, I think we need to maybe calm down on the shame and insulting, really open up that space for dialogue.

    Cathy Hannabach (16:26):

    Well, I hope this episode is a start for that.

    Meghnaa Tallapragada (16:30):

    I hope so too.

    Cathy Hannabach (16:31):

    So I know you’re working on a brand new collective project that I would love to talk with you about. And that’s Project Colorism, right?

    Meghnaa Tallapragada (16:40):

    Yes. Yes.

    Cathy Hannabach (16:41):

    So what is that project all about?

    Meghnaa Tallapragada (16:43):

    Project Colorism, like all aspects, it’s funny when people say, “Oh, you need to have a very objective stance with your research.” All my research is very close to my heart. And I think Project Colorism is one of those things that is very, very close to my heart. I mean it starts off with me growing up in India, as three years old or something where I first realized that, oh wow, I’m dark. And having conversations with people saying, “Oh yeah, you’re dark, and that’s not beautiful, and that’s not worthy.”

    Meghnaa Tallapragada (17:18):

    And how, even today, you go to India, you have ads on TV or in newspapers basically talking about how you need to use these skin lightening products. Oh, you’re not able to land a husband, use this cream, and soon you’ll be fair. And all these men would want to be ready and willing to take you on as a wife, like you’re a commodity. Or you aren’t landing a job. Oh, it’s probably because you’re not light enough, and here’s some product.

    Meghnaa Tallapragada (17:50):

    And so I think for me, growing up that message, I sort of took that on and lived with it. And after a certain point, it wasn’t even sad. It just was normal. You just grew up thinking you’re not beautiful, you’re not worthy because of the color of your skin. And you stop questioning that after a little while because that’s the norm and it gets reinforced. And then it wasn’t until I came here and had conversations with some of my roommates, or from my friends, and then sort of started to shift how messed up things are when you put value on the color of your skin.

    Meghnaa Tallapragada (18:27):

    And so I started talking about this. And I realized that it’s so easy to be complaining, and it is so hard to do something about it. And I think you will find with an issue, you will find so many millions of people complaining about it, but very few people doing something about it. And I was like I don’t want to be that person who only complains and does nothing. I’m a social scientist. I should do something about this.

    Meghnaa Tallapragada (18:53):

    And so when I started working at Temple, I started talking to students about this. And I had students come up to me saying, “Let’s do this.” I was like, “Yes, let’s do this.” And so we started this project. I have three undergraduate students working on this project, Kynaat Mizra, Dilara Eran, and Mikayla Renwick.

    Meghnaa Tallapragada (19:14):

    And we basically are doing a two part project. One is on Instagram where we want to open up this dialogue, share stories, short stories of people experiencing colorism, and what narratives did they tell themselves to get out of it. And the second part being in depth interviews where we’re looking for people to tell us their story because it’s more than an excerpt that you can share on Instagram. Sometimes it’s a lot more. And so I really want to dig deeper and sort of find out how people experience it. Where do these messages start coming from for a person?

    Meghnaa Tallapragada (19:56):

    And so far it’s very preliminary, but so far it’s been people from your immediate circle. This is not even outsiders, right? So colorism, which is sort of similar, but also different from racism is these are people of your own community telling you that you’re not light enough problem. Problem. Huge problem.

    Meghnaa Tallapragada (20:16):

    And so with the interviews we are trying to sort of dig out into where it starts, how can we equip people, children or adults, to sort of build that resilience, or a way to sort of have that shield ready? Right? I’m a boxer, so I think about blocking. Block that negative energy, and sort of balance that out where it does not affect who you are as a person, and that’s all words. So yeah, we’re actively looking for participants. So anyone who’s still struggling with it, or has overcome it, we would love to hear from them.

    Cathy Hannabach (20:51):

    I’ll definitely include links to the project in the show notes. So folks go find out more.

    Meghnaa Tallapragada (20:57):

    Thank you. Thank you so much. But yeah, all projects, I talk about these projects and I get really energized.

    Cathy Hannabach (21:03):

    That’s good. That’s good. So you mentioned boxing, and I definitely wanted to get a chance to talk with you about your kickboxing career, your karate practices, your various martial arts practices. And kind of across your career and really your life, you’ve emphasized how important it is to have hobbies and to have kind of vibrant interests and creative practices beyond one’s work, beyond the academy, beyond one’s professional pursuits. And you’re a really fantastic example of this. I know you’re a national level gold medalist kickboxer in India, right?

    Meghnaa Tallapragada (21:41):

    Yes, yes I am. I am.

    Cathy Hannabach (21:44):

    You have a black belt in karate. You’re an avid knifemaker, and you do a million other kinds of creative pursuits as well. How have those kind of creative pursuits shaped the way that you approach your research, or maybe vice versa? Does it give you skills that you can then adapt in different areas of your life, or maybe approaches, or ways of thinking about things?

    Meghnaa Tallapragada (22:06):

    Yeah. You know how things sometimes things become so ingrained that you forget how one is sort of benefiting the other in a way? It’s sort of just sort of you take on this person who you are. But I think ever since I was a kid, I was in third grade when my parents sat me down, and said, “Meghnaa, school is great. I think you need to find something else too.” And I really appreciated that conversation. I think the third grader in me didn’t understand it.

    Meghnaa Tallapragada (22:38):

    But as I was growing up the message that my parents kept on reinforcing from me was that you’re never one dimension. Again, right? You have so many dimensions to who you are? And so, you want to nurture all of that. And if you neglect even one of that, then you’re going to notice that these other dimensions are going to suffer from that.

    Meghnaa Tallapragada (22:58):

    And so, growing up I took up karate, then kickboxing as you mentioned. And in grad school I picked up salsa dancing. In postdoc, the knifemaking started. And now I’m going boxing at Molly Jackson. And it’s just I realize that I need that. It’s almost like, I don’t know how else to say this without sounding very hokey, but it kind of keeps my energy going. I think I need sort of physical activity in my life. That sort of feeds into my energy to start my day, feeds into my energy into teaching and research.

    Meghnaa Tallapragada (23:40):

    And so for me, all projects are so connected to one another. People ask me, even with work, people say, “Oh wow, you have to balance teaching and research and service, and you have to take care of yourself.” And I’m like, no. I mean, it’s almost like it’s a good momentum if they keep running at the same time. And even if one does not run for a little while, I can start feeling it sort of in other places.

    Meghnaa Tallapragada (24:08):

    And I think it’s almost like when you think about what is productive, I think I sort of changed that definition for myself. Where I think productive is not just getting things done in one area. I think for me it’s about taking time to sort of nurture yourself and sort of keep that momentum going. I think that for me is more productive. I realized, I think, and this is definitely not a conscious thing, but I think as an outcome of that, I think it helped me realize that all of these things sort of help create internal boundaries for me, which then translate into me being able to create external boundaries.

    Meghnaa Tallapragada (24:47):

    For someone who loves interdisciplinarity, the merge, it’s very similar, where one sort of feeds into the other. And I need to make sure that there’s some level of, I don’t know, boundary, to sort of keep that going. Does that make sense? I know it’s-

    Cathy Hannabach (25:06):

    Yes. Totally.

    Meghnaa Tallapragada (25:07):

    … [crosstalk 00:25:07] way of saying it.

    Cathy Hannabach (25:09):

    I mean I think the issue of boundaries of using creative pursuits to get inspired and to teach us things, right, that we can then adapt in other areas of our life. I am also a person who really likes that, and I like that merging of boundaries. But I also, and I’ve talked with a lot of other folks about this, I know that sometimes it’s difficult to keep them separate when they need to be separate. They don’t always, right?

    Cathy Hannabach (25:34):

    But I don’t know, I know so many academics who have this tendency to turn their hobbies into research. Right? The minute you find something that’s just fun, that’s relaxing, that’s just creative, and you’re like, I should write an article about this, or I should turn this into a work related thing. Have you had that experience as well?

    Meghnaa Tallapragada (25:55):

    I think the closest is I think Project Colorism, which kind of is a project that for me is very close to my heart, and I want to do something about it. But at the same time, I think it sort of evolved into a research project. But then there are other aspects like I have things that I just cannot turn into a research project. I just cannot turn knifemaking or boxing into a research project.

    Meghnaa Tallapragada (26:20):

    But I know the feeling though, the feeling I think of sort of saying, wow, I should be writing right now. I should be reading work related stuff right now. I should be prepping class. Why am I taking the time to do these things? And I think I realized that there are days that I did that, and the work that came was really not that great.

    Meghnaa Tallapragada (26:45):

    And I think sort of recognizing that too. And again, going back to what is productive, or what is good work, or what is satisfactory. So you’ve sort of need to keep defining it as you go along. But yeah, I do fall into a little bit of that mindset of, wow, I’m wasting time, I need to do something else, and need to sort of switch out of that and go, no, I need to sort of focus on this, and I need to do this so I can actually focus on these other things in my life.

    Cathy Hannabach (27:19):

    And we’re allowed to have projects that are just fun, that have no relationship, no productivity, so to speak. No relationship to our work. That are just pleasure.

    Meghnaa Tallapragada (27:29):

    Yes. Yes, we deserve it, don’t we?

    Cathy Hannabach (27:31):

    We do. We do. So this brings me to my last and my favorite question that I get to ask folks, which really gets at the heart of that big why behind all of your work that you do across these different realms. And that’s the world that you’re working towards when you do your research, when you step in front of a class, when you step out to go salsa dancing, when you do these various collaborative and solo projects. So I’ll ask you this giant question that can be scary, but I think is also kind of profound because we don’t often get a chance to stop and think about it, especially when we’re fighting so many different structures. So what kind of world do you want?

    Meghnaa Tallapragada (28:12):

    What kind of world do I want? I mean a magic wand and do it?

    Cathy Hannabach (28:17):

    Go for it. As big and ridiculous as it might seem.

    Meghnaa Tallapragada (28:21):

    Yeah, no. I think I want a world where people realize that they’re unique in their strengths, but similar in our humanness. I don’t have another word for that, humanness. And that we’re worthy of being seen and heard. I think that’s sort of I see that in my classes with my teaching. I think with my students, that’s one thing that I keep reinforcing. I see it with many of my research works. I think it’s about deconstructing that notion of privilege in a way, that sort of says, oh, sometimes we need to stop taking ourselves too seriously and really understand that, hey, we’re worthy. Just we’re who we are. And sort of recognize the set of strengths that you have, and take a little bit of a humble approach too in terms of recognizing that, wow, we’re all kind of similar in what we want from the world, and what they’re trying to do. And that we all deserve to be seen and heard.

    Meghnaa Tallapragada (29:25):

    And I think that’s something that a lot of people struggle with. I struggle with sometimes, or I have struggled more in the past than now too in some of these aspects. Being a woman in STEM, or being a person who’s not fair, constantly sort of reminding yourself and fighting that in terms of, no, you are so okay. And I think I have found so many people that sort of resonate with that. I feel there’s a moment of sort of sadness, but there’s a moment of also just like, let’s do this. Let’s do something about this and let’s change this. And I think that’s the world that I want.

    Cathy Hannabach (30:06):

    I agree. I think that sounds pretty amazing.

    Meghnaa Tallapragada (30:08):

    Yeah, this is so great.

    Cathy Hannabach (30:12):

    I confess, the entire reason behind this show is just so I can ask people this question.

    Meghnaa Tallapragada (30:16):

    I mean, I think it’s a great question. And I think it helped me really sort of deconstruct what I do and why I do what I do. And I think it’s helpful for all of us to pause and have these conversations to sort of remind ourselves of, hey, let’s pause and tell me why are you doing what you’re doing? How did you get here? And I think that’s so helpful to have these conversations.

    Cathy Hannabach (30:46):

    Well, thank you so much for being with us and sharing all of the ways that you imagine otherwise.

    Meghnaa Tallapragada (30:53):

    Yeah. Thank you so much. This is a wonderful project.

    Cathy Hannabach (31:00):

    Thanks for listening to another episode of Imagine Otherwise. Imagine Otherwise is produced by Ideas on Fire, and this episode was created by Christopher Persaud and myself, Cathy Hannabach. You can check out the show notes for this episode on our website at ideasonfire.net, where you can also read about our fabulous guests as well as find links to the people and projects we discussed on the show.

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