Frequently Asked Questions

ARE YOU A REAL SCIENTIST?

Kids ask me this question a lot. What they usually mean by this is, “Do you work in a secret lab and blow things up?”

Scientist in Secret Lab.

And the answer is “no” to the secret lab and “yes”, I am a real scientist. I have a master’s degree in Plant Science with an emphasis in Molecular Biology. I spent several years working in a lab with little mustard plants (Arabidopsis thaliana) trying to understand how a small piece of DNA affected flowering.

And even more importantly than my degree, I am a scientist because I am curious, I love learning and I’m dedicated to seeking truth and making careful observations. I don’t blow things up too often.

DID YOU DRAW THAT?

Yep. I draw all my own comics and illustrations for the Science Mom Guides.

HELP! MY FOLDABLE BOOK DIDN’T TURN OUT RIGHT!

Folding these little books can be challenging, especially if you don’t have a lot of practice with spacial puzzles or oragami. But don’t fret! I have a video you can watch–it’s the very first video I ever made–and it shows how to fold the books. Hopefully it helps you out. Sometimes a little practice is all you need. But if you find that you’re still struggling to get it to turn out right, you can always cut the paper into 4 horizontal strips and glue it together by page numbers.

HOW’D YOU GET THE NAME SCIENCE MOM?

In 2013, I volunteered to do weekly science demonstrations in my son’s first grade class. The kids started calling me “Science Mom” instead of “Andrew’s mom.” The name stuck and the job grew. Within a year I was visiting ten classrooms a week, all in the school where my kids attended. In late 2016, I started a YouTube channel and began visiting other schools outside of my hometown.

CAN YOU COME TO MY SCHOOL? WHEN AND HOW MUCH?

Maybe! I don’t charge for school visits. Education is already underfunded and it’s a matter of principle for me to keep my visits free. However, keeping things free means that I tend to have much more interest in visits than I have time available to do them!

If I visited a school every time someone asked, then I wouldn’t have time to make science videos or write. So I have to be fairly firm with my schedule. Having said that, I do a LOT of visits each year, so if you’re in the Las Vegas area, chances are good I’ll be able to get you on the calendar. If you’re outside the Las Vegas area, the chances are smaller that I’ll visit, but there’s still a chance. I travel regularly into Utah and California and Arizona to visit friends and family, and once or twice a year I attend conferences in other parts of the country. If your school is en route and I have the time, I’d be happy to drop in.

WHAT KIND OF PRESENTATIONS DO YOU DO?

All kinds. I’ve presented to whole school assemblies and to individual classrooms, and I’ve done lessons as short as 10 minutes and as long as 3 hours. I’ve presented to ages from pre-K to college, but most of my visits are in elementary schools. Here’s what I do most often:

The school provides a cart for supplies, and I spend the day there and travel from classroom to classroom teaching lessons every 30 minutes. I can bring the lesson, and I have a large variety to choose from. Most of my prepared material teaches basic concepts in chemistry and physics. My tower of math knowledge is also a popular activity.

But one of my favorite things to do is have a class pick between 3 and 5 items – they can be anything – and provide me with a dozen sheets of cardstock or poster board. After I see the items the class picked, I take about 15 minutes of preparation to draw some cartoons and design a lesson. Then I teach a science lesson using the supplies the class provided.

IF YOU’RE SCIENCE MOM, THEN WHERE’S SCIENCE DAD?

I’m married to a mathematician, so “Math Dad” is a better name for him than Science Dad. He is a science enthusiast as well, but his favorite branch of the sciences–by far–is mathematics. Here are a couple pictures of the two of us, taken when we were young and newly married:

Jenny and Serge.

Follow this link to read a short interview with Math Dad (and see the cartoon I drew for his Patron card in the Periodic Table of Patrons).

HOW DO YOU START A YOUTUBE CHANNEL?

I’ve released a video each month where I talk specifically about YouTubing and how things are going with trying to get “Science Mom” to be something that generates income. Check out the “Behind the Scenes” playlist to see those.

It’s a LOT of work and a long road to earn a living as a YouTuber. I don’t recommend it as a vocation unless it’s something that you’re passionate about. My total earnings from YouTube during my first six months of making videos was 1 dollar and 1 cent.

During that six months, I put more than 360 hours of work into my channel. I pulled all nighters editing videos and drawing cartoons because there simply wasn’t enough time to do things during the day. Our family ate Panda Express for Thanksgiving Dinner because my husband and I were too busy getting the website ready and filming SMG1 (Science Mom’s Guide to Water, Part 1) to cook the traditional turkey dinner… you get the idea. So if I’d started the channel because I wanted to make money rather than because I wanted to share science with the world… I would have been very disappointed!

WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR IDEAS FOR SCIENCE PROJECTS?

The internet! The internet is a crowded and messy place full of both treasure and junk, and there are many glorious science-related ideas in it. I’ve been collecting science material for years and have more than 30 Science Mom lessons that I’ve shared in schools as a volunteer.

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO MAKE A VIDEO?

That all depends on the video. But it takes WAY longer than most people think. It’s not unusual for one of my Science Mom Guide videos, which are 10 to 15 minutes long, to require between 50 to 90 hours of work. The editing takes longer than the filming, but exactly how long all depends on the project. In general, the longer the video and the more cartoons and illustrations the video has, the more time it took to make.

WHY DO YOU DO BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS AFTER YOUR SCIENCE MOM GUIDE VIDEOS?

Why not? The honest answer is that I can’t help myself. I love talking about books. We don’t have a TV in our house – or netflix or other streaming services. A lot of our family’s recreation time is spent reading, both individually, and together.

WILL YOU REVIEW MY BOOK IN ONE OF YOUR VIDEOS IF I SEND YOU A FREE COPY?

No.

Sorry. No exceptions on this one. I’m always happy to recieve book recommendations. But if you send me a copy of a book, I will donate it to my local library. There are lots of great people who will review books in exchange for a free copy. I’m not one of them.

WHAT DO YOU WRITE AND WHEN CAN I READ YOUR BOOKS?

I write in a variety of genres. I have a memoir (unpublished) about my experience with cancer and postpartum depression. I did a big reader survey back in 2013 where I printed 100 copies and gathered feedback from more than 100 readers, half of whom had not met me personally before reading the book.

That survey was a great experience and I learned two things: First, the book needed a significant edit before I would send it out to literary agents again or consider self publishing it. And second… maybe I didn’t want to have such a personal memoir published? I put it on the shelf and decided I would revisit it after finishing my novel.

I started my first novel in late 2013. The first draft was junk, and I tossed it. The second draft was less junky, but what it really needed was a prequel to explain how two very different societies came into existence. I wrote the prequel, and then broke that prequel into two books. So the single novel has now grown into a trilogy, and I’m still working on a revision of what is now book 1 of 3…

I have a few other novels and middle grade books in the rough draft phases, and I’m also planning to make a compilation of the Science Mom Guides with more comics and information.

WAIT, DID YOU SAY YOU’VE HAD CANCER?

Yep. I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma when I was 20 years old, and went through six months of chemotherapy and radiation. Lost my hair and had terrible nausea… all that stuff.

Jenny Ballif bald after chemotherapy

After the birth of my third child, I had post-partum depression. And the depression was worse than the cancer. That’s a whole different topic than Science Mom stuff, but the upshot is that depression is a very real and very difficult illness. If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, be kind and patient with them. Reach out for help, and know that you’re not alone.

WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON NEXT?

If you want to keep in touch with what projects are coming up, you can follow me on social media. I post announcements of new videos on instagram (@jennyballif), TheScienceMom facebook page and twitter (@JennyBallif).

But to get the BEST scoop on upcoming projects, subscribe to my Patreon page! It costs as little as $2 a month, and I put more detailed posts about upcoming projects there. I also send out a monthly newsletter to my $5 and up patrons that has more personal notes about what I’m working on and sneak peaks about what will be coming next.