Sari Custer inspires the spirit of discovery and wonder.
Profession: Chief of Science and Curiosity at Arizona Science Center
What do you do for a living?
I work for the Arizona Science Center as the Chief of Science and Curiosity, and I am the public spokeswoman for the Science Center. My job here is to provide leadership and direction for the coordination of science content across the Science Center’s departments to help inspire, educate, and engage more than 750,000 curious minds each year.
I also host the video series, “Sari on Science,” which fosters excitement about science for viewers of all ages, with episodes on diverse topics ranging from space exploration to DIY ice cream.
Basically, I get to have fun with science!
What type of training do you need to do your job?
If you would have asked me many years ago I may have said, “There’s training for this?” But there are a few areas I have training in that make me successful at my job.
First, I have a background in science, including a degree in biology, and a master of science in science education, and I spent some time working as a natural resources biologist. I’ve also worked in jobs that focused on customer service, plus I have media and communications training. This means I have lots of practice talking to people, being on camera and behind the camera. All in all, I have six years of college and 13-plus years of work experience.
The most important thing I have is a sense of curiosity about the world!
What’s your favorite part of your job?
I love science, and I love our visitors. I love working with the public, helping others discover the unexpected thrills of learning about science through the many exhibits and activities offered at the Science Center. Some days I get to (safely) throw fire from my hands or freeze things with liquid nitrogen in seconds; some days I get to do color-changing chemistry or show people things they’ve never seen before, like pregnant shrimp, real fossils, or artifacts from over 2,000 years ago! Getting to connect with people by talking about science in a fun way is my favorite thing to do, I love that I get to do it every day.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I had always loved science, especially geology, and I loved museums, but I didn’t know I could have a career in the museum field.
I knew I wanted to be some type of scientist. When I was younger, I wanted to be an archaeologist, paleontologist, and marine biologist. Later, after meeting someone who worked with the Hubble Telescope, I became fascinated with physics and space and wanted to be an astrophysicist
After taking lots of science classes, I decided a degree in biology was right for me. I became a natural resources biologist, but missed interacting with people. So, I thought I wanted to become a classroom science teacher. I tried that––it wasn’t for me either. As you can see, I changed my mind a few times before landing in the career that was the right fit!
What advice would you give to a kid who wants to have a similar career?
Don’t be afraid to try out lots of things, ask questions, shadow experts from lots of different science jobs, ask questions… Say yes to a lot of opportunities––you never know where they might take you. And did I mention ask questions?
To do what I do, you have to go to college, so study hard and stay in school, but you also have to be willing to keep learning daily. I have to stay up to date on current science topics as best as I can.
For the on-camera portions of my job, it’s all about practice: talk to people, practice interviewing people, make notes and rehearse, but be ready to laugh at yourself when you mess up. It’s totally normal––I mess up all the time! Teach yourself how to recover and keep going.
One fun fact NOT about your job?
I once performed in the Orange Bowl Parade and Halftime show with my high school’s marching band color guard. It was swing music with the band Big Bad VooDoo Daddy!
I am also a naturally curious person and always want to go everywhere. I have had the great fortune of getting to do cool things all over the world, like snorkeling in Hawaii, kayaking in the Caribbean, canoeing up the Colorado River, trekking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, and I even stood on the Equator while studying in the rainforest in Ecuador!