You might recognize Baxter from the many viral music videos she has produced and starred in, including a super-catchy, coronavirus-themed rap titled “Wipe It Down” that received international attention in March 2020. The same year, she was named one of Fortune magazine’s “40 Under 40.” Having just completed her doctorate in science education, the Buffalo, New York, resident is gearing up to move cross-country to take on an important role at UC Irvine while continuing to pursue her career in entertainment.
Passionate about science from a young age, Baxter began posting videos online in 2019, not only to share her love for molecular biology but also to challenge stereotypes. “The first song I ever put out, ‘Big Ole Geeks,’ actually got a lot of attention. I had experiences as a professional that showed me that there are stereotypes of what society expects scientists to look like. Someone at work tried to call the police on me because they didn’t think I looked like I worked there, even after they saw my ID badge. Another time, a coworker called me a token to my face, and it was really disturbing to realize I was being treated differently. With the music video, I wanted to show people that you don’t need to fit a certain mold to enjoy science and have your work taken seriously.”
Her dissertation research on public attitudes toward science communication used her own videos as a case study. She interviewed Black women who had STEM careers, and those who did not, and showed them the videos. “The most interesting result was that of the women who did not have STEM careers, 80 percent felt that if they had seen that type of representation early in their lives, they would have pursued a STEM career. This is an area that really hasn’t been studied, and it might help us understand why there are so few Black women in STEM and how to close that gap.”
Baxter is working with PBS to create a science education TV show for young adults and also runs an online clothing company called Smarty Pants. “One way we as people message to society who we are is through what we wear. So I created Smarty Pants so people could show their love of science in a way you don’t usually see—sparkly clips for your hair that say ‘Ph.D.’ or ‘engineer,’ or shirts with funny sayings or the word ‘science’ in rhinestones.”
This fall, she begins her new role at UC Irvine, where she’ll create and develop programs that help build a better community for faculty, staff, and students. “I’ll be focusing on diversity the same way I have been—for me, it’s not just diversity in terms of race but also allowing people to be individuals and feel like they belong.” She’ll also mentor faculty to make sure they’re up to date with best practices and create events and opportunities for students to foster a sense of community. “Although I did experience a lot of negative things in the past, I feel really great about my experience as a scientist overall. But there’s still work to do.”