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What if the Kardashians Were Physicists?

Both fans and foes of reality TV can get behind this reality video series—In My Shoeswas created by César Hidalgo, associate professor and director of the Media Lab’s Collective Learning group, in an effort to show future scientists what the life of an academic looks like.

View the video series at www.inmyshoes.info.

“In a weird way, I was trying to do a series that I would have liked to watch 20 years ago, when I was finishing high school and thinking about what to do with my life,” says Hidalgo. “I considered a career in science but I did not know what that meant. In my shoes is about my day-to-day where I need to balance work, travel, and my family life. The project is not about the ideas of the researcher but about the humanity. A raw humanity of unfinished ideas, half-complete projects, and an ever-changing network of social interactions.”

For the series, Hidalgo—a Chilean physicist—chose to focus on his travels over the course of three months during 2016. He takes viewers all over the world including Riyadh, Ebikon, Washington, Portland, Monterrey, Hong Kong, and Paris.

“The series was filmed in the most indie way possible,” says Hidalgo. “It was basically me walking with a camera while trying to do my work. Filming a coherent narrative in such a constrained [academic or lab] environment was hard. So I decided to focus on travel because trips have a built-in narrative. They have a clear beginning, middle, and end.”

Hidalgo admits that while he did focus on travel, it it not one of his favorite aspects of academic work. Given that he wanted to show a true and honest depiction of the day-to-day of the life of a scholar, it was important to show and talk about the daily challenges as well. “The main insight for future scholars is that science is social, collaborative, and global,” says Hidalgo. “Many popular depictions of science show a much more solitary picture of science, which I hope In My Shoes helps correct. Knowledge is created in a social context and In My Shoes helps illustrate that context.”

Although Hidalgo admits that most of his colleagues didn’t understand what he was trying to do, in the end he received a lot of positive feedback and even held a premiere in MIT’s Bartos Theater. “The reactions were all positive and encouraging,” says Hidalgo. “I’ve received emails from students from multiple countries telling me that the show has inspired them to continue a career in science. I take that as a win.”

One of the biggest takeaways for Hidalgo was the self-acceptance required to be at the center of your own reality series. “You learn to accept yourself,” says Hidalgo. “Most people do not like the sound of their own voice. I am no exception. When you film yourself you are confronted with your own voice and image, and you can be very critical. But if you worry about looking nice and sounding good, you will never get anything done. So you realize that other people (your wife and friends) have learned to live with that annoying person (you). And you learn to accept that person too.”

Story originally published by Julie Barr on April 11, 2017 for Slice of MIT.