Academic Podcasts: Let’s Hear It for A New Revolution in SciComm

No, I’m not referring to The Joe Rogan Experience or the Elon Musk Pod. Nor am I talking about Armin van Buuren’s A State of Trance (although you have to agree, most of 2020 felt like one). That being said, if you’ve ever followed a podcast or even listened to a couple of episodes, you would agree that it’s just a lot of fun. And, that’s not it. Most importantly, you can listen to a podcast on the go—whether you’re populating that Excel sheet, sweating it out on the treadmill, or even cooking—making it an excellent source of some content consumption without worrying too much about your schedule.

Now for the uninitiated: so, what exactly is a podcast? A podcast is an audio programme, similar to a radio programme, that typically involves an easy-going but engaging conversation among people on a particular topic. A podcast series is usually hosted by one person, with one or more “guest” speakers on each episode. The conversational and (largely) informal style of communication suits the palate of the masses, rendering it among the easiest forms of content consumption. Most podcasts require no subscriptions and are freely available on most internet or app platforms—which means that they’re all readily accessible.

All of the above metaphorical ingredients make up an impeccable recipe for a public engagement strategy or even thematic content campaigns. One question: is it possible to have an engaging science/academic podcast, then? The answer is a resounding ‘YES’. In the following sections, we’ll see exactly how.

Podcasts and the Scientific Community

First let’s look at an example of how a podcast can help the scientific community.

“Scientific discourse is often belied as dry and stale; a block of indomitable, indecipherable information buttressed with vague language, passive voice, countless equations, and overly constructed, borderline-run-on statements that seem to drag on and on and on…”

Notice the problem with this statement? It suffers from the same issue that it describes. If a scientist communicates their science and no one understands it, has it actually been communicated?

The current pandemic has all but reinforced the long-buried notion: what science needs the most in modern times is effective communication and “storytelling.” Non-traditional content formats such as podcasts can help bridge this divide by virtue of their multimedia-friendly and conversational format.

So, the next question: Is anyone doing good science podcasts? If yes, how? The next half of this article attempts to answer these questions.

Popular Academic Podcasts

Ever since the turn of this century, academic podcasts have been explored, to varying extents. Quite a few studies have examined and verified the tremendous utility of podcasts in an academic setting—either from a coursework or discussion-related perspective or as a science communication tool. And over the years, several academic podcasts have gained widespread popularity, some of them even endorsed and run by national organizations and societies.

Here, I attempt to list some of the most popular academic podcasts, most of which are also widely available across popular platforms such as Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Google Podcasts.

  • The University of Oxford Podcasts: One of the most exhaustive podcast series, the University of Oxford podcast features researchers and academicians from the university covering a wide range of topics, right from green chemistry, botany, and natural history to literature, calligraphy, and entrepreneurship.
  • Pod Academy: Pod Academy is an independent, non-profit podcast platform established by enthusiastic academics, journalists, and IT professionals. With an engagement-oriented interface, the Pod Academy podcast covers intriguing new research topics from the fields of Arts and Culture, Business and Economics, Science and Environment, and Humanities and Social Sciences.
  • The Naked Scientists: One of my personal favorites, The Naked Scientists is an award-winning science radio talk show broadcast in England by BBC and BBC Radio 5 Live and distributed worldwide on popular music and audio platforms as a science podcast. First started in 2001, the show deals with compelling and contemporary topics and hosts some exceptionally enthusiastic and eloquent researchers.
  • Radiolab: One of the most revered podcasts around the world, the Radiolab podcast is an award-winning deep journalistic take on though-provoking topics in science, philosophy, and ethics. Radiolab is known for its unique sound design and compositions.
  • Discovery by BBC World Service: BBC as a content platform needs no introduction. Check this podcast out for yourself.
  • StarTalk by Neil DeGrasse Tyson: The StarTalk podcast network by world-renowned astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson bridges the intersection between science, pop culture, and comedy with clarity, humor, and passion.

An Impact Science Collaboration: Podcasts by Brill

Impact Science recently collaborated with Brill—one of the largest publishers of humanities research in the world—to produce their fortnightly podcast, titled Humanities Matter by Brill. One of the few specialized podcasts run by any Humanities publisher, Humanities Matter by Brill, currently hosted by Leigh Giangreco, invites authors, journal editors, and researchers to talk about—using examples from their research and works—why it is crucial for society to continue investing in research in the humanities and social sciences. The podcast also enabled Brill to strengthen their #HumanitiesMatter campaign and blog, and also ensured far-reaching social media outreach!

Simple Guidelines for Podcast Production

How easy or difficult is it to actually produce a podcast? Well, the answer depends on the objective of the podcast and the desired end result. As the world is adjusting to the new normal of remote working, I will only touch upon the requirements for a remotely recorded podcast. Typically, setting up a science podcast would require:

  • A research topic, book, or research manuscript — the basis of each episode
  • An overarching theme or objective – to decide the reach, target audience, and budget
  • A host for the podcast – Someone who loves talking to different people and is comfortable talking about a wide range of topics
  • Recording essentials – A basic studio-quality microphone (preferable), a silent room, good internet connectivity
  • Recording platform – ZencastrSquadCast, or even Zoom
  • Audio editing tool – Hindenburg,  Audacity, or Adobe Audition
  • Supporting text – Podcast description, graphical imagery, episode summaries, transcript availability, etc.
  • A podcast content management tool – PodBean, Libsyn or Buzzsprout

Impact Science’s academic podcast production services can help you get started with your own research podcast. Impact Science possesses material and expertise in all of the essentials mentioned above. From scheduling podcast releases on different platforms to tracking podcast statistics such as number of listeners, number of downloads, user base specific to geography, etc. they’ve got it covered!

Intrigued by the prospect of having your own academic podcast yet? Get in touch with Impact Science at request@impact.science to know more!

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