Cara Santa Maria Q&A

Cara Santa Maria (Photo by Alejandro Barragan IV)Cara Santa Maria ('04, '07 M.S.)
Los Angeles, Calif.

Degrees:
Bachelor's in psychology and master's in neurobiology

Why UNT?
UNT offered great academic opportunities, and it was close enough to Plano, where I grew up, that I could visit my family any time I wanted.

How education shaped career:
My degrees in psychology and biology hugely prepared me for my career. Psychology gave me the passion and the understanding to know that I needed to continue in the sciences. When I was a senior in college, I worked for a clinical neuropsychologist completing assessments and research. This experience inspired me to get a graduate degree in neurobiology to understand the biological basis for psychological principles, especially the underlying problems of individuals with brain damage. Having a background in both psychology and biology helps me approach scientific questions from different angles. I'm interested in the evidence but also in the scientists who are attempting to answer these questions and learning the information and biases they bring to the table. I am also interested in how science is attempting to address some of the philosophical big-picture questions that we all face, such as contemplating the formation of the universe and how religion fits into the science landscape.

Advice for science writers: 
Take science classes to understand the scientists you are interviewing. Most fundamental concepts in science are completely graspable if you talk about them the right way. Talk to scientists about what they do in their labs. Shadow them to understand their day-to-day routine.

Best part of job:
It's the content I love, the hours, the amazing people I meet along the way. And the ability to work one day in TV and the next day in radio or print is fantastic. And I owe almost my entire career to a small handful of people who have been incredibly instrumental -- mentors, dear friends and colleagues along the way who have helped me walk through doors that were open for me and then take that responsibility into my own hands; but I couldn't have done it without them.

On tracking cool science:
Twitter is my RSS feed. I follow a specific group of individuals and news outlets so that I can curate what's interesting in the world. It's very fast, and it's a good way to get a sample of what's happening. I also collect a list of smart and critically thinking bloggers and science communicators in my network. I know my go-to people for animal cognition, human sexual behavior and cosmology. I look at press releases surrounding a big discovery and then read about the research from the universities and organizations who are publishing the news. My go-to science communicators help verify the legitimacy of the story and give me a deeper understanding of the subject.

Favorite Denton pastime:
I used to love going to the Denton square and getting coffee at Jupiter House or ice cream at Beth Marie's. I also miss Mr. Chopsticks so much!

Most vivid UNT memory:
Showing up to teach my very first lab course and the students thinking I was one of them!