Aaron Fisher and Rachel Fisher

Recorded February 6, 2021 Archived February 6, 2021 36:22 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: atl004364


Aaron Fisher (45) speaks with his wife Rachel Fisher (45) reflecting on her experiences as a Marine Biologist researching sea turtles, as an educator working creatively around curriculums to foster scientific literacy, and as a participant in a COVID-19 Vaccine trial.

Subject Log / Time Code

RF recalls her childhood in Virginia. RF recalls her studies in Environmental Policy and earning her master’s degree in Biology to study virus transmission in sea turtles. RF recalls being a “questioner” since childhood, and having a deep interest in the natural world. RF remembers deciding she was interested in Marine Biology after snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef and shares the story of her first open water dive from her sea turtle research in Hawaii.
AF mentions RF writing for National Geographic and also teaching, and asks RF to speak about her career path. RF reflects on her passion for teaching others about science and recalls students being resistant to the basic tenets of evolution while teaching in the South. RF speaks about her pedagogical goal of generally having a more science-literate populace that can make their own informed decisions.
AF asks RF how teaching is different than what she imagined. RF says it’s never about any child being difficult, but rather the politics of teaching and restrictions on the curriculum. RF and AF speak about teachers stepping in as providers, parents, and psychologists, while dealing with outside challenges of the education system.
RF reflects on what motivates her to continue in the sciences despite any challenges. RF says there is always more to know about anything. AF and RF speak about the COVID-19 Pandemic as an example, and RF recalls participating in a Coronavirus Vaccine trial and asks AF how he felt about her joining a study for the first mRNA vaccine to go to market.
AF asks RF to reflect further on participating in the vaccine trial from a research standpoint. RF reflects on the guilt she felt when her parents had trouble accessing the vaccine for themselves. AF asks RF what scientific changes she’d like to see in the future, especially with how the government is rolling out the vaccine. RF says there wasn’t enough emphasis on preemptively educating the public on things like vaccinations and increasing access to scientific literacy to build trust.
RF reflects on the lessons she’s learned in her work life: not to assume everyone is coming from the same knowledge-space, and learn to appreciate and consider their unique perspectives and the context of their life experiences.
AF asks RF what she’d like to be remembered for at this point in her life. RF speaks about wanting her legacy to stem from contributions to science, whether through data or pedagogy, and diversifying and expanding access to the sciences for all.


  • Aaron Fisher
  • Rachel Fisher

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00:00 2021 we're in Atlanta Georgia, and I'm interviewing Rachel Fisher. She's my wife, February 6th 2021. I'm in Atlanta Georgia. My interview partner is Aaron Fisher and he is my husband.

00:23 Hey Rachel. Thanks so much for doing this with me today at 2 something. I really been looking forward to doing with you for a long time. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself where you grew up where you went to school and what you majored in?

00:39 I want to sell my whole life story in this time. Did a star so grew up in Northern Virginia outside, Washington DC always knew I wanted to get into some sort of science Environmental Education always knew I wanted to go to University of Michigan. And so I I went to Michigan undergrad and then took a few years off at doing some research at my undergrad degree was in Environmental Policy, but I was more interested in Marine Biology. So I did a lot of work with sea turtle an intern in college and afterwards and I was asked so interested in pursuing further and I am that's where I studied sea turtles and worked up. I look more at like actually virus transmission and sea turtle.

01:39 CF viruses are transmitted from the mother to The Offspring little hatchling Turtles on the beach.

01:50 And then

01:52 So we went on the questioner right eye always and to this day. I always ask questions about everything and I've always been so interested in the natural world and it specifically living things all around us. I'm outside and I was lucky enough to get some really need experiences growing up. I was able to go to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. What I think was one of those days where I'm at. So we're really slow defied when I got to snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef Great Barrier Reef wasn't bleached. Unfortunately. I got to go snorkeling and it was just that I remember watching the marine biologists.

02:52 Give a talk on the boat. We were on and I remember telling my parents is like hell, this is really what I want to do it. I remember that is like this is that like this is so cool, you know just to be able to learn more about all the living things under the sea and you know, why there's so many different colors how they interact with each other and that was just like such the moment for me you had another trip. I know that was really impactful for you and that was going to Hawaii Hawaii on vacation. And that's actually where I did my first open water dive. I got certified to die when I was in grad school in Florida and I got my first open water dive in Hawaii off the coast of quite actually ended up seeing all these sea turtles in the caverns under the sea and just sleeping and resting and it was

03:51 It was really cool is like there were no other marine life around just these huge turtles kind of waiting for me there the opportunity to learn about and study all sorts of sea life. What was it about sea turtle specifically that made you want to study and work with them and become involved in sea turtle rescue why sea turtles and they were just there something so like ancient about them so old and like so so much like dinosaurs that it was just the way there was no shovels and it was just, you know, I first did more like Rehabilitation with them my first internship and I got more into the research thinking I just want to understand more about you know,

04:51 Their nesting behavior isn't like I said that there's a disease that sea turtles get it so fibropapillomatosis that they get like these little that little sometime too big to Murs on their skin or they can also go internally and I was I was so curious to better understand what these were and why they were having such a harmful impact on the populations of sea turtles just released.

05:25 You spent quite a number of years studying and working with sea turtles and other marine life, but you've also had a number of different interesting careers and jobs and I want to know if you can just discuss for a moment. Why you chose to pass that you did research you work for National Geographic you were to the teacher and then you've also spent a number of years working with teachers and I just think it's so fascinating and wanted to know if you wouldn't mind sharing. You know, why you chose these different paths. What is it about him that intrigues you are tracking you to these past four in science and education work in a biology lab after my master's program and I just really enjoyed

06:20 Teaching others about science and then so after a little while you're in research. I realized that I wanted to go more into teaching and educating youth about science because I really just love it or actions, but then when I got to the classroom, I ended up working 7th grade biology classroom high school and college it just one topic struck me about all the time.

06:55 Students were very resistant to some of the basic tenets of evolution and to me it's like you can't talk about anything in biology without talking about Evolution. You know, it is just

07:10 If you can't do it, right and so I cite I got a lot of resistance in my 7th grade classroom and member one student who specifically asked me about science verses that thing in the Bible and then in high school teaching up here on the south. I got resistance as well. But I I just kept going through it and doing it and because I am I knew I think this is good science students have to learn how to question question is part of science besides also answers only certain types of Science and religion is very different types of questions, but I started getting a lot of resistance and Ice are becoming more interested in why this is happening.

07:58 So that's why you went to Arizona. All right, five years of grad school or grad school. And that's where I taught or tought. I learned more about teachers High School teachers and their teaching of evolution. So I could see how it was being taught in a different context how different types of students react to it. He'll teachers respond. And so I felt like, you know being in that it's Science Education space now, it's kind of a result of my scientific experience and then teaching and I really just getting into like

08:31 Really really the ultimate goal of having a more scientifically literate populous, you know, whether it's teachers are the students that are in the science classroom. I want to be able to get good information they need about science so they can make their decisions whether it's about voting but getting a vaccine right like what's happening now making all sorts of decisions so they can be informed citizens to make decisions. So I talk too much about Evolution not going to grad school for you.

09:18 How is teaching no different from what you imagined it would be?

09:24 So when I was a teacher, it's not the kids were kids were always the heart in the most difficult. Can the world was nothing. It was everything outside of teaching politics of teaching or saying that oh, you can teach this piece of evolution because the kids might be resistant to it and I have very very personal very personal beliefs that that that's not going to change. I feel like there is a lot of politics around it that they don't prepare you for right and even the science they try to get you to teach things that are not controversial or so, they say not controversial and you know it in your as a teacher you're everything you're not just someone with science content. You're also their psychologist, right? And sometimes you're their parent and sometimes you provide them with food to I mean, you know, you are a elementary school teacher

10:24 You have that as well all the time like you.

10:30 I loved everything that happened in the classroom. It was all the stuff outside the classroom that I found so challenging and frustrating when it was a required test preparation or outside politics of the administrative duties that had nothing to do with student learning.

10:49 So

10:52 You taught for a number of years and then you said you decided to to get your PhD? What was it that motivated you to go for your doctorate and you talk a little bit about what your research focused on but if you can go a little more into that about why you decided to go for PT after years the classroom is the better understand what was happening with how science is being taught in different populations. So when I was we were out in Arizona hour, I was studying teachers. There was the kind of religious resistance. I got teaching more in the south.

11:37 Was very different from what I saw in Arizona, there's a large population of more than students there. So I looked and also Mexican Mexican American students. So I really Incorporated those interviews when I was researching the teachers in the in the classroom and to really see how those came out how the teacher responded and trying to get up a bigger picture not just in my own little world where I taught but also in the southwest you to see while there's a lot of similarities even if the demographics are different very very similar things happening with a political issues in the classroom the pressures of teaching our shows of teaching non controversial topics. So so so

12:27 Justin

12:30 So obviously you talk a lot about resistance or controversial topics outside of science for Sabre. What is it about the Sciences writ large that you find so fascinating in spite of all these challenges what motivates you to keep going in the Sciences?

12:55 Yeah, cuz I wasn't really motivates me is that the fact that we are there is always something that we can find more out more about and often times. You hear it this you know, the way science is constantly changing. So we keep learning about new things. So we revisit our scientific ideas. That's actually a good thing that we keep questioning and keep finding out new things like we're finding out new information about other covid-19.

13:44 I'm a questioner know if you're the reason I've been asking some of these questions specifically is that drivers who leading up to something happening right now and she just touched down which is the coronavirus obviously the current pandemic and you recently volunteered to participate in a covid-19 vaccine study. What prompted you to do that and what was your experience like being part of this trial? And I was some people that work for me. They are relatives were passing away from covid-19.

14:32 And well over a year, but last summer I was just you know, really?

14:38 You just touched by the

14:43 The fact that we were living through a 100 years or every 100 your event approximately was like I can't believe we're actually living through this and you'll end up being in quarantine so long still surreal. Yeah, but you know, I like to do research. So I knew I knew that vaccines work currently being developed and so, you know, we live in a neighborhood with doctors that work at a local University Emery and you hear about on the news a lot with memories doing a lot with vaccine research and just better understanding, so I just did research to see if there are any trials cuz I know that's part of this process of getting a vaccine out there and I knew that I've been reading about Phase 1 trial.

15:43 Phase 2 and and I knew with my pre-existing condition I could be a part of if qualified. I could be a part of the phase 3 trials which is just before you know, it came out. So I'm what I do is I looked it up phase 3 trials for vaccine. I contacted someone they called me and we talked for about 20 minutes or so. She was checking to see if I could not all these different requirements to be in the study and it and then it became really real remember when a guy has never been tested before an mRNA vaccine has never Market before so I mean, what was your thought when let's do you know that she let me know after the phone call that I could be in the study and the next step was set up an appointment.

16:43 My first appointment to go in the clinic for 3 hours get my blood taken and do all these different things get the brain nose swab. I've never had

16:56 And then either I have 50-50 chance of getting Placebo or the actual vaccine and so it just became realized. I don't want to do it the trial.

17:10 I thought it's fascinating. I was incredibly proud of you and still am and I know you talked about the fact that you used to be in Labs doing research and because you weren't in the lab now, you didn't feel that you had as much of a role to play in advancing our ability to get a vaccine but by volunteering to be part of the study, you would be helping out Society by getting that much closer to getting a vaccine approved and rolled out to the public so we can hopefully get through this pandemic.

17:49 Those are my feelings about that. I didn't tell I didn't want to tell many people in case I wanted to wait to

18:00 Afraid my parents will be concerned then. You know, I'm now being checked up on 911 tested right as opposed to the one doing the research of bowels. Not the actual human of the trial being possibly having an unknown vaccine which could possibly change the course of this pandemic, you know, that's but I don't know what being in this study and being that much more informed about the vaccine the approval process and so forth. Don't you feel you're that much better position to inform others about what to expect if they get the vaccine and why it's a good thing so forth

18:47 That came I think after my second shot. So my first shot I have some side effects. So I had an idea that okay, maybe I do. Hope they didn't tell me, you know, obviously I'm blinded blinded but I had side effects of then I went in 4 weeks later for the second thought and then I knew that they said that if you had side effects of the first time you were going to get them eat them or they be more pronounced the second time and I had them I had some pretty life pronounce side effects, you know, but anyway, what I did was I wanted to wait until after that second thought and like

19:31 It's usually like a week. We're all of your at your your side effects go away within a few days and there mild and I'd rather have the side effects of bad, but I wanted to wait until

19:46 Okay, I can really tell them because it's safe, you know, just like they watch people now it's getting the vaccine. They watching the first 20 minutes make sure they didn't have an allergic reaction. I don't have any of that but I just wanted to wait a little thought after that second part to make sure I like okay. Everything is just fine. How would you characterize that the interactions with the staff the regular check-ins because I know as a scientist you really value the constant feedback loop so to speak right?

20:24 Yeah, it is. It was good cuz it's a nerd out my understanding, you know, what any questions you had about the you know, what the researcher collecting they would give you input on that and it just felt like you do as it went on and I felt comfortable with having this brand new vaccine ashore. But cuz I was blinded his Preacher based on the way. My immune system was responding that this was something but could you do help a lot of people on as thinking about like our family and like how about our parents are older and how this could help?

21:10 My participation of course others could help them, you know survive this horrible can demogorgon but I will say recently.

21:25 When I was in January when moderna which is a thought I had got FDA authorization instead of Pfizer and I'm starting to get mold out and my parents couldn't get the shot for a few weeks after they registered and it was like this sense of guilt because what happened was because moderna shot was FDA authorized I was able to become unblind it in January. So they told me in January that I did. In fact have the vaccine and after that point with my parents your parents have been waiting on this vaccine.

22:04 I felt this guilt. Okay. Now I know I actually have it.

22:10 It's confirmed and I thought I had it but now it's confirmed in our family can't get it.

22:16 So it's like here I am.

22:19 I'm 45 years old and I have a vaccine before our family our parents were in their 70s have the vaccine.

22:27 And I did that have this sense of guilt.

22:31 Like what if they get sick and I'm the one that has a vaccine but at the same time though, you know much of society wouldn't be able to have access to vaccine without volunteers participating in a vaccine trial.

22:48 Evans like this the weird thing you can I'm trying to explain it, but you can't really it's it. It's weird. Like they I have all these teachers can't get it here where we are at Atlanta. They're not even in that first phase and it's just you know that I have it means that it makes it safer for me as well. As for everyone that you come into contact with the very few people because we now know that you're vaccinated if I can transmit it to you and so that's a

23:27 That's a piece of this that's told I still behave as if I don't have it right with my mask on all the time that you know, you know, what if I transmit it to you, but yeah, it's it's that much less likely no because of your having that's incorrect.

23:50 I am very sick and you can still get the vaccine but the chance is a lot lower and if I do get it, it's not going it's most likely not going to be a severe form of it. So that's a safe as we have been staying in and out minimizing contacted interactions.

24:14 Depend Amicus.

24:18 Been difficult on on all of us obviously, but

24:25 I know that it's not the signs that you've questioned per se in this is much better but more of the other aspects of communication until 4:30. And I know cuz I know how passionate you are about science in in all its forms, you know Science Education scientific literacy outside is communicated to the public and I'm just wondering what changes if any you would like to see take place in in science in the future.

25:01 I think this question right now is that now they're trying to educate now. It's like the sudden rush to try to inform the public about the safety and I understand you had to get the data first before you can tell people how safe.

25:28 A safe and efficacious it is, you know, but you know, I really think that we don't put much of an emphasis generally on educating the public about certain things like this is such a huge. This is such an important right now, especially making a decision whether or not you're going to get a vaccine and there were so many things that go into making that decision and of course history, of course, you know, what they say is what type of information have you also been given an educational type settings or informally even from CC Rider organization. How could they have come out in front of this? You know before these vaccines came out and really just presented the

26:28 The facts but in a way where people can understand in different ways, whether it's a different languages and different communities. So they also said that people can trust it. I think that's very important now is having a trust in science, which I think over the last several years. We're trying to other country, you know, regain this trust and show that we we are a country that we do make decisions based on good solid science, and we as many people say believe in science, even though belief right not believing in it or not trusting our Sciences.

27:14 I can be a huge issue because oftentimes another issue is that all the time scientists don't know how to communicate. You know, what all these data points is the what does that mean to someone who does not want to sit and Analyse that tell me how this is going to impact me. How is this texting and it infect me and my family, how do I know that it's not going too hard for me and my family and you know,

27:41 I think it's so important to the show me pieces of this but to have a scientifically literate population is so important as well, but

27:53 Was that your question that the question is also would I think correct me if I'm wrong motivated you to become a researcher to become an educator to write for National Geographic to get your PhD to do curriculum development to take part in all these different roles of science that are clearly huge issues to you and still huge issues for society. So they definitely answered the question.

28:33 Can you see that better than I do? I think it's hard to be self-aware when we're always in the moment. We're doing something if it's easier to make an observation from outside, your professional experiences mentoring the tutoring you've done two different Rose event and careers. You've chosen what licenses your work like talk to you?

29:10 Don't assume everyone is coming from the same knowledge base, you know, and I think before doing my research on teachers and different populations of students different places around the country.

29:27 I started to realize that.

29:30 People have they come they bring their own set of knowledge belief systems and you can't go somewhere and try to change somebody. I don't think that's right. I think education and Science Education really is about thinking about the contact your friend who, you know their experiences and then building on that and especially were talking about today with vaccines and trust and vaccines.

30:04 And just generally trying to get scientific knowledge out there. We have to think about who the who the audience is, especially in in a scientific fields and having people from a variety of backgrounds and cultures be represented. So that science can't be trusted and I think it's a huge issue now with honestly having a lot of middle-aged white males telling us about science.

30:43 You know, I don't know.

30:46 I might have diversity. So I'm a huge proponent of getting different voices out there and you know, it worked while getting women's voices out there in science, which is it because another historically under-represented groups as well which would help us in science. And so if we consider people from different backgrounds cultural culture is Heritage, I think it's what I learned a lot cuz I used to be in this tunnel of what science is and what should know about it but understanding more about your audience. I think it's a huge piece. I have taken away from and I still consider that and everything I do.

31:40 Absolutely. So with that in mind last I used to see the trees in the forest and now I'm more about the forest.

31:57 I think it's definitely changed. I think you're still obviously very focused on the details in the minutiae and and and the Nuance but at the same time overtime have learned to take into consideration the bigger picture and the various influences both presenter and audience using all your accomplishments and the many things you've done. I wanted to know what you dr. Rachel Fisher wood would like to be remembered for what what sort of impact do you hope to have

32:37 But we have to drill eyes. All right.

32:45 Yeah, I feel like what I'm doing now with his vaccine study.

32:49 Is a big piece of what I hope to

32:53 We behind you know, like just

32:59 Being a part of

33:02 A healing piece of this horrible pandemic or end knowing that you know, like I just found out you know, both my parents respecting my dad got them during a shot. So I think you know, I know directly helped I enabled him to get this back to me because I was in the study. So I was able to be one of those data points to be able to show that this vaccine is safe and effective and as a result, he got his first murder shot so that directly I am directly

33:41 Responsible for directly responsible for him getting it and knowing that we're on this road, although it's still bunky.

33:52 But down the line there will be an end. And so I really hope that

34:00 You know that I can continue to contribute in any way whether it is as a data point human being or as you know being able to like what I do now my own work being able to ensure that the science that is being taught all over the country.

34:22 Does take into account different voices?

34:26 So that whether you're us a child learning about science with your adult learning about science.

34:35 You can see it as being relevant and trustworthy and that you can take this information.

34:42 And make decisions make decisions for others who you vote for you. Don't do they just a person who's running for a certain position do they care about what is in your water that you're drinking? Do they care about getting a vaccine to you and how to get it there, you know do they care about other types of about water pollution other types of pollution in your environment, you know, do they care about that these things and so you can make a decision everyday decisions to not just go to bed.

35:20 So, I think those are pretty great things to to hope to be remembered for in to feel you're able to to contribute to as you know, this is my my birthday gift to you, and I wanted you to have an opportunity to talk a little bit about yourself your passion for Science and Arts forms, and especially the the role that you played in helping our society get that much closer to seeing into the pandemic. So happy birthday Rachel, and I just wanted to thank you for doing storycorps with me and I really appreciate your time and you know, I love you. Love you, too. And

36:12 To be out of the box.