Guests Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard on the set of Brain Games with host Keegan-Michael Key. (Eric McCandless / National Geographic)
California School of the Arts

Interview with Cara Santa Maria: science communicator on next season of ‘Brain Games’

The popular science TV show “Brain Games” is back with another season this winter on Dec. 1. Cara Santa Maria will feature on the show as a science communicator.

“I love being in the field, it’s really fun and you have to be quick on your feet. The show itself is really entertaining, it’s funny, it’s larger than life, so it draws you in, in the most engaging way you can imagine,” Santa Maria said.

(Photo courtesy of Cara Santa Maria)

Santa Maria is a woman of many talents as a scientist, journalist, producer, television host and podcaster. However, growing up, she never thought her career would head in that direction, she said. It was only in college when she began studying psychology and philosophy that she found an interest in neuroscience.

“I think that I was one of those typical young women in the American educational system and I didn’t think that science was for me. I liked science when I was a little kid, then I kind of forgot about it,” Santa Maria said.

She originally taught biology and psychology courses for university undergraduates. However, through a slow integration into media interviews and show host opportunities, she has been working for 10 years in public communication of science. Santa Maria went back to school two years ago, now achieving her PhD in Clinical Psychology.

“I was lucky to have a handful of strong female and Latina professors. I could see myself in their shoes,” Santa Maria said. “It’s so important that we have strong multiethnic women representing science in the media. If kids can’t see themselves in that role, they’re not going to think that’s for them.”

As a field correspondent on the show, Santa Maria spent two months filming with everyday people and conducting brain games to screen on set in front of a live audience. Actor, comedian, writer, and producer Keegan-Michael Key will host this season of “Brain Games.”

(Eric McCandless / National Geographic)

“[The show] really helps us better understand who we are. The neuroscience and the psychology… really does inform you of your own abilities and limitations,” Santa Maria said. “I don’t think there’s enough programming that celebrates the uniqueness of the human experience. I’m really proud to be a part of this.”

From psychologist to laboratory researcher to science communicator, Santa Maria took an unexpected path in life — one she barely saw coming. However, it is one she fully accepts and enjoys.

“Keep an open mind even if something doesn’t feel like it is a decision that you planned for,” Santa Maria said. “On the flip side, if you don’t have a plan [for the future], just know that that’s OK. Live your life. It all feeds in to make you who you are. You never know what’s going to happen.”