‘Badass Lady-Folk TV’: Meredith Binder of Red Hook

By Christine Stoddard | cstoddard@queensledger.com

An actress, filmmaker, Peace Corps alum, and retired engineer shares her oral history.

Happy Women’s History Month! The following is an excerpt from an episode of the talk show “Badass Lady-Folk,” featuring guest Meredith Binder. This audio-only conversation was recorded in July 2023. Hosted by Christine Stoddard, the show is now filmed at Manhattan Neighborhood Network since August 2023. “Badass Lady-Folk” originated on Radio Free Brooklyn, where it currently airs on Fridays at 9am.

This transcript has been edited and condensed for print purposes. Transcription support was provided by BQE Media editorial assistant Britney Trachtenberg.

Christine: You’re listening to the Badass Lady-Folk. My name is Christine Stoddard. I’m your host as always, since 2016. Thank you everyone for listening. Today my wonderful guest is Meredith Binder. Hi, Meredith.

Meredith: Hi, Christine. Thanks for having me.

Christine: Yeah! Thanks so much for being on! So, how do I know Meredith? I know Meredith through the world of theatre. We met in a show that I co-produced with Beverly Bonner at the Broadway Comedy Club. Meredith has been in my comedy show “Quail Tails.” She’s done “Cleansing Limpia,” a workshop piece I had at Irondale. There’s probably something I’m forgetting, but yeah, we already worked together a bunch in the past few months that we’ve known each other and it’s been great…or, I guess, half a year at this point. But, I wanted to talk to Meredith on the show not just for, you know, some insight into her acting and filmmaking work, but really to focus on her first career in engineering. So, Meredith, tell me, how did you become a “lady engineer?”

Meredith: Well, it really wasn’t intentional. I was in college and I was taking a physics class, just, you know, a prereq for whatever. The physics instructor was the only woman physics professor. Granted, this is 1979, at that point. She said to me, “You have potential. I’m going to ask my husband who’s an experimentalist to give you a job in his lab.” She was a theorist. [She said], “He hires a small number of undergraduates every year.” So, she arranged this. Then, the next thing you know, I was a physics major and I’m not sure how that happened…if I had to be…but I didn’t have any other ideas [about] what I wanted to do, so I became a physics major. Then, I couldn’t get a job and I didn’t know what to do. I decided to get a Master’s Degree in molecular engineering because I didn’t have any better ideas. So, this was all very…just, sort of…life happened to me because I really didn’t know what I wanted to do.

Christine: Ah! So, what were you doing working in the lab?

Meredith: Oh, as an undergraduate?

Christine: Yeah.

Meredith: I was building a scintillation counter or, at least, parts to be used as a scintillation counter. And then, over summer break—

Christine: I don’t know what that is. What is that?

Meredith: Oh, okay. So, we did our experiments at Brookhaven National Lab on Long Island even though I was at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Over a school break, so particularly in the summer, we’d go out there as a research team. So, you have the accelerator. We were doing elementary particle research on protons. The proton comes out of the accelerator and then it goes to the scintillation counter so we can take measurements on it: how fast it’s going, like angles it’s coming out at, and so on. That’s all great information for determining what the guts of a proton was back then. But the professor was trying to defy the quark theory in favor of having some three different central charges that were concentric and that was disproven, so I did not go down in history.

Christine: Ah! Okay. I recognize many of the words that you said from high school. Don’t really understand what you just explained to me, but I’m happy that you tried to break it down. Thank you. [Laughs.]

Meredith: So sorry about that. I usually try to make sure people understand, but I think the gist of that story was that I didn’t get to go down in history.

Christine: Yeah, yeah, no I [laughs] got that much. Well, hey! There’s still time. Maybe not in engineering, but in the arts world.

Meredith: [Laughs.]

Christine: Okay, so, you went for a Master’s in molecular engineering. Was that because of the work in the lab or…? I know you said you didn’t know what you wanted to do, but, I mean, maybe you could’ve become a teacher, right? Or you could have done a Master’s in another kind of engineering?

Meredith: Well…

Christine: Or not really?

Meredith: No, I probably could have, but when I was working at Brookhaven, I saw how isolated we were, you know, physically and socially. People just camped out at this lab and I felt like if I continued in physics, I wouldn’t have any life. You know, I wanted to live in an urban area and, you know, raise kids and have access to the arts and that just didn’t seem like the life to me. So, I was looking for something else, but, you know, along the way, I graduated, and I couldn’t get the job. I don’t think there’s that kind of prejudice anymore. I think you can get an engineering job with a physics degree now, but you couldn’t back then. And so, having, you know, a great senior thesis project and, you know, high GPA and all that…That didn’t matter. It would have been better to have neither of those and have the engineering degree. So, I was like, “Well, it will take less time to get a Master’s than another Bachelor’s. So, I will…do that.”

Christine: Yeah, so, do you think that the intention at that time with the physics undergrad was then to go for a PhD program in physics or something else? Like, not for you, but why…Do you have any idea why that program would have been designed?

Meredith: Oh, the undergraduate program I was in?

Christine: Mhm. Yes.

Meredith: Michigan, at the time, was the third-top physics school in the country and the undergraduate program was very small. And so, we took classes… Starting junior year, all our classes were combined with the graduate students. So, I don’t know if the undergraduate program had any raison d’etre other than to provide a physics degree in a very large state university. But, the graduate program was definitely geared toward academics and we had people from all over the world in the program. It was bigger than the undergraduate program.

That’s the end of the excerpt! Listen to the full episode here:

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