The player: Kirsten Sanford, an online video host and science expert known on-camera as “Dr. Kiki.”
The play: Ms. Sanford is a mini-entrepreneur in the Web-video world, a one-woman shop who’s focused on marketing herself as an on-air host and expert on all things science. She has a Ph.D. in neurophysiology and has leveraged that, along with her witty and accessible personality, into online video hosting gigs with Revision3’s “Pop Siren” and ON Networks’ “Food Science.” She’s begun adding TV to her resume and early this month shot a TV pilot called “The Skeptologists,” produced by production company the New Rule. She also hosts an audio podcast, “This Week in Science.”
The pitch: Ms. Sanford aims to share science news that viewers can bring to cocktail parties, such as the possibility that Saturn’s moons have the building blocks for life on them. “My shtick is Dr. Kiki reaches out to people who don’t necessarily like science to get them to see it as something enjoyable. My goal is to get people who maybe flunked chemistry or didn’t do well on their science fair project to say, ‘This is really interesting,’” she said.
The backstory: Ms. Sanford went to graduate school at the University of California at Davis intending to become a researcher. But she was turned off by the bureaucracy of academia. In her final year of study, she decided she’d rather take a chance at being the new face of science, using her podcast with its weekly audience of 20,000 listeners as a launching pad. She began attending Web-centric conferences and started landing work online.
The money guys: Ms. Sanford has invested about $20,000 of her own money in travel, expenses and media equipment to promote her own work and develop her shows. For her podcast, she is contracted with the Wizard Network, which sells ads on the show. She’s paid by ON Networks and Revision3 for her work on their shows. Ms. Sanford said she is scraping by at the moment, but has given herself two years to break even as a science expert in new media and on-air. She’s one year into her project so far. “The fact that I am already becoming a little better known is helping, and people are now reaching out to me,” she said. She was contacted recently by Discovery’s Science Channel about possible work. She hopes to use potential on-air work to drive her new-media audience. “I won’t give up one for the other, and I am hoping they will both benefit each other,” she said.
The pros: Ms. Sanford is well-positioned as a science expert and has found early success in her new-media endeavors.
The cons: The biggest challenge is making a living. “I am getting to the point where I am starting to make a living,” she said. “Sometimes it’s hard to keep in perspective because of the challenge of maintaining everything on a day-to-day basis.”
Background: Ms. Sanford was born in Santa Rosa, Calif., and grew up outside of Stockton, Calif. She earned a bachelor’s degree in wildlife biology from the University of California at Davis and a Ph.D. in neurophysiology from the same school. She is 33 and lives in San Francisco with her husband.
Who knew? Ms. Sanford can Hula Hoop with the Hula Hoop on fire. Without getting burned.