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Behind the Scenes of the “Sharing Science” Podcast

“Sharing Science” is a “pop-up podcast” about science communication, science education, and the relationship between them, featuring short interviews with twelve leading researchers.

Our podcast disseminates academic scholarship in these areas and is intended for researchers, practitioners, and anyone interested in these areas.

A few months after its release, we would like to share some of the "behind the scenes" of this project with you for at least two reasons:

  • Because our podcast’s content is situated within a unique niche, bridging science communication with another field; 
  • And to share the promises and pitfalls of producing a podcast, for readers who wish to produce similar projects of their own.

What is a "Pop-Up Podcast"?

We envisioned “Sharing Science” as a “pop-up podcast,” a term we borrowed from pop-up retail shops, which are stores “opened temporarily to take advantage of a faddish trend or seasonal demand.” By analogy, a pop-up podcast is a brief, one-off podcast, that might cover an event like a conference or a research workshop. Because of its relatively small scope, a pop-up podcast can take advantage of short visits by special guests and can be produced by grad students like us, without committing to a long-term project.

Our podcast discussed how science is taught, learned and publicly communicated, rather than science per se. This sets “Sharing Science” apart from RadioLab, Story Collider, and other podcasts about science per se.

The Origins of "Sharing Science" Podcast

By producing “Sharing Science,” we sought to showcase “Public Engagement with Science Online,” or PESO 2017. This was an international research workshop designed to promote cross-pollination between science education and science communication.

Historically, the two disciplines have had little contact with each other, but thankfully, over the last few years, mutual interest has increased. This is evident from the launch of the International Journal of Science Education, Part B:  Communication and Public Engagement in 2011, the publication of a special issue on “Bridging Science Education and Science Communication Research” in the Journal of Research in Science Teaching in 2015, and the presentation of a symposium on the same topic at ESERA 2017.
In this spirit, PESO 2017 was designed to get leading researchers from both fields to know each other, share ideas, and collaborate on shared projects.

Making a podcast about PESO 2017 required creativity and flexibility. We conducted video interviews with eleven workshop attendees in a studio on campus, hoping to upload them to YouTube. Due to technical difficulties, the project took an unexpected turn, and we decided to turn the audio tracks of the recordings into a podcast instead.
To conform to the rules of the podcast genre, we then recorded introductory and discussion segments for each episode. It required us to apply Science communication “best practices,” such as relating the academic discussion to our lived experiences as practitioners in science communication and science education.
The technical aspects were handled by our producer, Naor Meningher, at his studio in Tel Aviv.

Outcomes and Benefits

Producing “Sharing Science” provided benefits both for us and for our interviewees and the scholarly community. It gave us a great opportunity to talk with each of our esteemed guests on a one-on-one basis, 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 the scholarly community can use for teaching purposes. Finally, the scholarly community gained a novel, user-friendly "bridge" between two academic fields, which is also open for public access.

Inputs and Challenges

Along the way, we discovered the extent of preparation 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 PESO 2017. Then, to produce the discussion segments, we identified one or two key messages from each interview and expanded on them in the discussion segments. This required multiple listens and some extra reading. We also learned that sometimes, our most productive discussions went off on a tangent from the interview.

Most of the challenges had to do with the technical and 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 is more difficult than deleting them, especially since recording sessions were infrequent and were conducted off-campus.
However, editing Sharing Science was facilitated by the fact we had conducted short, focused interviews, so the advance preparation saved work downstream. Of course, handing off the technical aspects of audio recording and editing saved us a lot of time and mistakes, and we feel that the result was worth every penny.
This tradeoff is worth considering when planning podcasts of your own.

Are Academic Science Communication Podcasts Sustainable?

It is also worth considering the scalability and sustainability of podcasts and similar projects in our field. As part of our existing funding, we have secured hosting for one year for our podcast on dedicated service.

What will happen after the first year has passed? This is an open question. We believe that the science communication community can benefit from a central archive that would host web-based initiatives like ours and show future researchers how they evolved, and serve as an educational resource for the field.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, the next time you organize a conference or workshop, think about producing something that the public can understand and learn from. Think about making something that your participants can later use as a “calling card”. Consider it as an opportunity to “practice what you preach” and hone your own skills as a science communicator.
Sure, it might not be on the internet forever, but maybe your research funding can be used to keep it online for a reasonable time. In that case, why not record a podcast?

Written by Yael Barel-Ben David and Aviv J. Sharon
The authors contributed equally
A shorter version of this article has been originally published on PCST blog

Yael Barel-Ben David and Aviv J. Sharon are Ph.D. students at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology.
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 (@avivsharon) taught biology and biotechnology at a public high school in Haifa, Israel. Neither of them had produced a podcast before "Sharing Science."