University of British Columbia Prof. Suzanne Simard is into forests and the environment in a big way.
But streaming TV shows? Not so much.
So when people started sending congratulations after hearing her name and academic work mentioned on the hit show Ted Lasso, she was confused.
To start with, Simard had never heard of Ted Lasso.
"I started getting all these emails going, 'You just got mentioned by Ted Lasso and his TV show,' and I'm like, 'Who's Ted Lasso?' And people started sending me the clip and I'm like, 'Oh, that's cool.' Everybody seemed so excited about it."
The Simard scene takes place in the coaches' office of the fictional British soccer team AFC Richmond during Season 2, Episode 11 of the Apple TV series.
The character of Coach Nate, played by Nick Mohammed, is complaining he never gets credit for his tactical game planning. That's when the philosophical and wacky Coach Beard, played by Brendan Hunt, replies:
"You know, we used to believe that trees competed with each other for light. Suzanne Simard's field work challenged that perception, and we now realize that the forest is a socialist community. Trees work in harmony to share the sunlight."
New book on bestseller list
Simard says she has no concrete knowledge of how writers on Ted Lasso came to know her work — only a hunch that someone involved in the show has read her most recent book.
"Well, I just published my book called Finding the Mother Tree, and, you know, it was on the New York Times bestseller list," she said.
Simard, leader of the Mother Tree Project at UBC, has been studying forests for her entire 40-year career. The Coach Beard quotation is a summary of her findings about how trees in forests thrive by working together, not by out-competing others.
"I discovered that trees have like an internet below ground and that they communicate and share resources and collaborate through these vast mycelial fungal networks," she said.
"I discovered that forests are social communities — that's why he said socialist or whatever — whereas until now we thought forests are just a bunch of trees competing with each other."
The Coach Beard name-drop won't earn Simard any royalties, but she's hoping it will bring more awareness to what scientists are saying about climate change and the environment.
"I feel like ... this is what we need, this kind of publicity over science. And so I'm happy about that."
Simard concedes that she might have to start watching Ted Lasso.
As for her new-found pop culture fame? She'll take it.
"I mean, I'm a scientist, right? I'm used to having my head down and writing and publishing journal articles and being out doing experiments and teaching. And now ... I have a more public persona now, and it's kind of weird. But it's also nice."