Scientist Camilla Pang On Being Neurodivergent And The Power Of Science : Short Wave Camilla Pang talks with Short Wave host Emily Kwong about her award-winning memoir, "An Outsider's Guide to Humans: What Science Taught Me About What We Do And Who We Are." Diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at age 8, the scientist and writer pairs her favorite scientific principles with human behavior and navigating daily life.

Camilla Pang On Turning Fear Into Light

Camilla Pang On Turning Fear Into Light

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Scientist and author Camilla Pang turns her memoir into an instruction manual for life. Greg Barker/Penguin Books hide caption

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Greg Barker/Penguin Books

Scientist and author Camilla Pang turns her memoir into an instruction manual for life.

Greg Barker/Penguin Books

Camilla Pang is a postdoctoral scientist and writer. When she was five years old, she asked her mother a vexing question: "Is there an instruction manual for humans - like a guidebook - something that explains why people behave the way they do?"

Years later, Pang was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder. At the time, she simply felt like an outsider.

"No, Millie," her mother told her.

Pang did find answers and connection in her uncle's science textbooks. She began scribbling facts and figures in notebooks and reading about all kinds of science. She went on to obtain a Ph.D. in bioinformatics from University College London and she reached a place in her life where she had enough material to write the instruction manual she wished she'd had as a kid.

Short Wave host Emily Kwong talks with Pang about her memoir, An Outsiders Guide to Humans: What Science Taught Me About What We Do And Who We Are.

She says it is a guidebook for anyone searching for a blueprint to the human condition, pairing scientific principles with the more befuddling aspects of human behavior and daily life. In making tough decisions, Pang deploys lessons from machine learning. In seeking harmony in relationships, she turns to wave theory. Her writing is both prescriptive and reassuring and she ultimately wants to help people feel less alone.

"I think there's no greater empathy than enabling people to feel that they can do something, and be assuring them that what they feel is valid," Pang says.

The British version of the book, Explaining Humans: What Science Can Teach Us About Love, Life and Relationships, won the Royal Society Science Book Prize in 2020. A paperback version of An Outsider's Guide to Humans will be available December 7, 2021 from Penguin Books.

This episode was produced by Rebecca Ramirez, edited by Gisele Grayson and fact-checked by Margaret Cirino. The audio engineer was Leo Del Aguila.