By Brady Rhoades
Mayim Bialik, best known as the current host of Jeopardy! and as Dr. Amy Farrah Fowler in the smash series The Big Bang Theory, is an honest-to-goodness Renaissance woman.
She’s a neuroscientist, a mother, an animal rights activist and mental health advocate.
An author, actor, game show host and, with the release this spring of As They Made Us, a movie director.
And she’s not done yet.
The Renaissance Woman
In the tradition of Renaissance women from all eras, Bialik is ever diversifying her ambitions, her skill-set, her scope. They’re grounded in science, technology, engineering, the arts and math. Bialik said she didn’t take to science until her teens, when a tutor helped her build a model of a cell out of Styrofoam.
“I could touch that Styrofoam cell,” she told ScienceNewsforStudents. “It was just amazing. It was amazing that it thrilled me the way looking at art thrilled me.”
Nowadays, she added, “I try to put a positive face on STEM and a female face in STEM.”
Bialik, 46, who is modern Orthodox Jewish and a strong supporter of Israel, earned a bachelor of science degree in neuroscience and a doctor of philosophy degree in neuroscience from UCLA. Her dissertation was titled, “Hypothalamic regulation in relation to maladaptive, obsessive-compulsive, affiliative and satiety behaviors in Prader–Willi syndrome.” We’ll break that down later.
She started her acting career as a teen, with roles in Pumpkinhead and Beaches, as well as guest appearances on The Facts of Life, Beauty and the Beast and Webster. In 1994, she earned a major role in Woody Allen’s comedy film, Don’t Drink the Water. She also played the title character of the NBC sitcom, Blossom.
She worked steadily in Hollywood for the next decade before landing her role on The Big Bang Theory, in which she played Dr. Amy Farrah Fowler. She was nominated for Emmy awards in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 and won the Critics’ Choice Television Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series in 2015 and 2017.
In 2021, it was announced that Bialik would host the primetime version of Jeopardy! After Mike Richards stepped down from hosting the syndicated version of the show, Bialik started hosting that version, too, sharing duties with Ken Jennings. Moving forward, it’s unclear how producers will handle the hosting situation, but Bialik said it’s a joy working on the show.
“One of my biggest challenges is I’m so impressed that people know the answers that they’ve asked me to tone down how excited I am when people get them right, which I think is a great note to get,” she told Daily Beast.
Advancing STEAM Through Activism
She also hosts a podcast, Mayim Bialik’s Breakdown, that focuses on debunking the misconceptions surrounding mental health and neurodivergence with the help of friends, guest experts and media personalities.
Bialik is a vegan and a founding member of the Shamayim V’Aretz Institute, a Jewish organization that advocates for the ethical treatment of animals.
Another cause close to her heart is increasing opportunities for girls and women to pursue STEAM educations and careers.
“It’s an incredibly enlightening way to view the world once you’ve been trained in STEM,” Bialik has said. “It’s a smart career choice, and it’s a creative and exciting lifestyle to be a scientist.”
Bialik has written books — such as Girling Up: How to be Strong, Smart and Spectacular — geared toward empowering girls and women, partnered with toy companies to create STEAM-friendly toys for girls and teamed with DeVry University and the HerWorld Initiative to get high school girls excited about STEAM, among other ventures.
“I love encouraging young women to embrace the sciences,” she has said.
What’s her advice to parents and counselors?
“Educate ourselves by using the resources in libraries and online to find new ways to understand our world. Also, encouraging kids to see the hidden STEM opportunities all around them. When we cook or bake, it’s math and chemistry. When we observe weather patterns or even changes in our body, these are all wonders of the STEM awareness kids naturally have!”
Bucking the Stereotypes
Remember her dissertation? In case you scientists, or budding scientists, are wondering what “Hypothalamic regulation in relation to maladaptive, obsessive-compulsive, affiliative and satiety behaviors in Prader–Willi syndrome” means, here’s a breakdown: Abstract Prader–Willi Syndrome is a neurogenetic disorder that causes obesity. The hypothalamus regulates aspects of the nervous system. “Satiety” refers to satiated, or absence of hunger. So Bialik was intrigued by the links between the nervous system, consumption behaviors and obesity in those who deal with Prader–Willi Syndrome.
A mouthful, for sure. But interesting, yes?
Bialik, it seems, bucks easy, simplistic stereotypes, intersecting her social, emotional passions and strengths with the two roles she’s most famous for: actor and scientist.
Has the film she’s directed furthered that tendency? That’s up to viewers to decide, as is a thumbs-up-or-down.
The movie centers on a divorced mother juggling her family’s needs and her own quest for love. Dustin Hoffman, Candice Bergen and Simon Helberg star.
“It’s very vulnerable,” she told TV and radio host Ryan Seacrest. “It’s not an autobiography, but it’s totally things that are based on my life and some things did happen and other things didn’t and… here we go!”
Here’s a passage from film critic Christy Lemire’s review in RogerEbert.com: “As They Made Us is most effective in its gentle, intimate, everyday moments, and Bialik mercifully refrains from melodrama…”
Lemire continues, saying the film “is clearly a personal debut effort for Bialik, but she shows enough confidence behind the camera to make you curious about whatever other stories she has to tell.”
Which provokes, for Bialik fans, a pressing question: What’s her next chapter?