From an international research workshop to a pop-up podcast: The Story of ‘Sharing Science’

19 November 2019

Yael Barel-Ben David and Aviv J. Sharon write about their experiences developing a ‘pop-up podcast’ based on a research workshop.

Earlier this year, we released “Sharing Science,” a “pop-up podcast” about science communication (SciComm) and science education (SciEd), featuring short interviews with twelve leading researchers in these areas. We would like to share our story with you to share the promises and pitfalls of producing a podcast on these issues, especially when in graduate school.

“Sharing Science” is a brief, one-off podcast, that covered an international research workshop designed to promote cross-pollination between SciEd and SciComm, called “Public Engagement with Science Online,” or PESO 2017. Because of its relatively small scope, a “pop-up podcast” can take advantage of short visits by special guests, and can be produced by graduate students like us, without committing to a long-term project. Sharing Science discussed how science is taught, learned and publicly communicated, rather than science per se. This makes it one of the very few podcasts that focus on this topic.

Producing “Sharing Science” provided benefits for us, for our interviewees and for the scholarly community. It gave us a great opportunity to talk with each of our esteemed guests one-on-one, and gain some experience in podcast production. Our interviewees gained a unique “calling card” for themselves and their work, as well as a resource that they and others can use for teaching purposes. The scholarly community gained a novel, user-friendly “bridge” between two academic fields that have had little contact with each other until recent years. This bridge is also open for public access.

Along the way, we learned that quite a lot of preparation is required both for the interviews and for the discussion segments. We wrote the questions in advance and sent them to each of the interviewees, and tailored them to the topics the guests were presenting at the workshop. Then, to produce the discussion segments, we identified one or two key messages from each interview and expanded on them in the discussion segments, which required multiple listens and some extra reading.

Most of the pitfalls had to do with the logistical complexity of podcast production. As we wished to approve each episode with our advisor and with the interviewee before launching, we encountered a more difficult revision process than when producing texts, like journal articles or blog posts. (Unfortunately, most multimedia player software packages do not have a “track changes” feature.) Moreover, adding new parts to the spoken text was difficult, especially when recording sessions were infrequent and conducted off-campus. However, the editing process was facilitated by the fact we had conducted short, focused interviews, saving work downstream. Of course, handing off the technical aspects of audio recording and editing to a professional saved us a lot of time and mistakes. This tradeoff is worth considering when planning podcasts of your own.

In conclusion, the next time you organize a conference or workshop, think about producing something that the public can understand and learn from, and that participants can use as a “calling card”. Consider it as an opportunity to “practice what you preach” and hone your own skills as a science communicator. Why not record a podcast?

Yael Barel-Ben David and Aviv Sharon are Ph.D. students in science communication. Yael worked as a professional museum guide, guide-instructor, supervisor and program developer at the Bloomfield Science Museum, and presented science segments on broadcast TV shows. Aviv taught biology and biotechnology at a public high school in Haifa, Israel. Neither of them had produced a podcast before “Sharing Science.”