J.C. Dombrowski

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By Beth Saulnier

“What’s This Shark?!” “The Largest Amphibians!” “My Favorite Chemical Exfoliant for Sensitive Skin.” “This Spider Is Crazy!” What do these videos have in common? They’re all TikToks by J.C. Dombrowski ’23, a leading social media personality with a global reach, boasting nearly 3 million followers on the platform.

With more than a quarter of a billion likes on TikTok, Dombrowski occupies an unusual niche. His short videos mainly focus on one of three topics: marine biology, entomology, and skincare.

The first two are his majors in Arts & Sciences—but the third (a particular passion of his) isn’t as disconnected as it may seem, since Dombrowski often delves into the science underlying the moisturizers, exfoliants, and other products he showcases.

“My social media has become a reflection of whatever I’m most interested in at the time,” says Dombrowski, speaking with Cornellians over Zoom between classes. “It’s kind of where I spitball and pour all of the interesting facts that I have.”

My social media has become a reflection of whatever I’m most interested in at the time.

In a TikTok titled “What’s Wrong with this Snail?” (3.1 million views), Dombrowski details the gory results of an infection by a parasitic flatworm. In “The Loneliest Place on Earth!” (4.2 million views), he describes “Point Nemo,” the area in the ocean that’s furthest from land.

In “3 Skincare Facts You Might Not Know!” (a relative sleeper at 28,000 views), he points out that when a brand says its products are “clinically tested” or “scientifically proven,” it doesn’t necessarily mean that those findings were unbiased or peer reviewed.

“A lot of content creators will post science videos or news stories, but it’s really clickbait,” observes Dombrowski, who also has more than 47,000 followers on Instagram. “I definitely have a passion for this stuff. I also think I’m pretty good at making more complex biological concepts understandable and accessible to a lay audience.”

J.C. Dombrowski holding up his phone showing one of his TikTok videos
Dombrowski displays one of his hundreds of TikToks.

Dombrowski is a veteran by TikTok standards: he’s been posting since September 2019, during his first semester on the Hill. He hit it big from the start, with his first video—a salty reflection on his Georgia high school that’s decidedly “not safe for work”—garnering 1.3 million views.

The following winter, he was featured in Time magazine online, under the headline “Marine Biology Student Goes Viral with Ocean Factoids that Will Stoke Your Fears of the Sea.”

In addition to his own social, Dombrowski helped launch the Cornell Insect Collection’s TikTok, working on it as an independent study project in science communication. As collection director Corrie Moreau marvels, he shepherded it from zero followers to more than 122,000.

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“Some people will claim that we’re watering down the science—but I would argue that we’re just using language that’s accessible,” says Moreau, the Martha N. and John C. Moser Professor of Arthropod Biosystematics and Biodiversity.

“He’s hitting an audience that we often don’t capture early enough to get them interested in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. I think we’re going to see a flood of students wanting to pursue these careers, because of things like the work he’s doing.”

I think we’re going to see a flood of students wanting to pursue [STEM] careers, because of things like the work he’s doing.

Professor Corrie Moreau

And Dombrowski’s social media endeavors have opened some surprising doors: he got to interview Bill Gates as part of the Microsoft founder’s book tour for How to Prevent the Next Pandemic, and has formed a friendship with model Hailey Bieber (wife of pop star Justin), whom he has advised on her skincare line.

But topping them all is his September 2022 visit to the White House, where Dombrowski met both President Biden and Vice President Harris.

As he recalls with a laugh, when he got the initial email he suspected he was being phished—but he had indeed been invited to the event, sponsored by the Climate Political Action Committee, where journalists and influencers discussed communicating with young people about the Inflation Reduction Act and progress on stemming climate change.

“It was very, very crazy,” he recalls. “We spent most of the day in the West Wing. We were sitting in the Roosevelt Room at this long table, and all of a sudden the door opens behind me—and in walks the President of the United States. It was surreal.”

For Dombrowski, social media is both a passion and a living. He posts numerous times per day, and the revenue from advertising, brand partnerships, and other activities have allowed him to pay the portions of his educational expenses not covered by financial aid—enabling him to graduate from Cornell debt free.

“Some people say it’s a fluke to become an influencer,” Moreau observes. “I have watched J.C. over the last year and a half, and it’s not luck. It’s intentional. He works really hard.”

On the horizon: more social media adventures—including an expansion of his YouTube channel—and, he hopes, a master’s degree in marine biology from the University of Miami, where he aims to study stress responses in hammerhead sharks.

“I can’t wait to see what he does next,” says Moreau. “He’s got the whole world opening up to him. He has already built a profile as an emerging social media specialist, and he’s going to have a Cornell degree. I think we might be looking at the next David Attenborough.”

Top: Dombrowski at the Cornell Insect Collection in Comstock Hall. All photos and video by Noël Heaney / Cornell University (unless otherwise indicated).

Published January 13, 2023


  1. Allan Griff, Class of 1954

    How can I send him a message
    He may be willing and able to counter the awe/fear of science that underlies mythunderstandings such as antivax and antiplastics, and starts in early childhood.
    Allan Griff ’54 ch eng

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