Podcasts are now as popular as they’ve ever been.
Indeed, accessing them has never been easier given the availability of streaming services and convenient mobile apps. There’s certainly no shortage of amazing science podcasts when you just need that hit of cool science to go with your morning jog or while you’re doing science yourself at the bench (or in the field).
Though, what makes science podcasts so great? We believe it’s because they’re one of the most effective platforms for science communication, or “SciComm”.
Without proper SciComm, podcasts might as well just be recitals of papers (yikes, please anything but that 😟)
But wait a minute, are there any podcasts about SciComm specifically?
Yes indeed there are! The intricate art of SciComm is a skill that needs to be put in the spotlight, and there’s some excellent ones out there.
Science vs. SciComm podcasts
But before we get to listening to any podcasts, let’s break down the differences between “science podcasts” and “SciComm podcasts”.
What are science podcasts?
Science podcasts refer to episodes which largely focus on communicating discipline-specific scientific facts and discoveries in a fun and engaging way. They reel you in with “Did you know?”-style episodes about the latest topics across astronomy, evolution, geology, medicine or any field that piques your interest. Often, they’ll bring in an expert from a particular field to fact-check the science.
What are SciComm podcasts?
SciComm podcasts most commonly discuss communication skills and techniques that could be used to better understand and disseminate science. These skills are most often related to developing target audience-specific writing or speech styles, whereas techniques include the implementation of mainstream media (i.e. video, social) in scientific practice. SciComm podcasts also dig deeper into topics such as the academic career path or the publication process. Many SciComm podcasts are not discipline-specific and therefore scientific discoveries are not their main focus.
Our Top 5 SciComm podcasts
We believe that a “top 5” list should include SciComm podcasts that approach topics from different creative angles. Since SciComm is a relatively new specialisation, many of these podcasts have their own creative twist on what a SciComm podcast should be about. We hope you’ll find at least one that you resonate with.
Our list has been arranged in no particular order because we believe they’re all fantastic in their own special way.
Without further ado, let’s put on our headphones and play some episodes!
Kevin Mercurio from Metaphorigins is an expert of, you guessed it, using metaphors.
Not only that, he also reminds us of several stylistic writing techniques that you would’ve learned in English class at school. You might need to dust off your old notebooks to remember them, or you could simply listen to Kevin’s voice in his 15-25 minute refreshers.
Metaphors, idioms and phrases have been used in the English language for the longest time. Kevin discusses the historical origin of these words (with a very engaging storybook-style narration), and how these phrases could be used to better communicate complex scientific concepts.
Kevin also cites scientific articles about the use of metaphors in academia, so you’ll know his episodes are backed up by the literature. Metaphors are all about being simple, innovative, and, of course, being relatable to the audience.
Have you ever heard of a DNA molecule being referred to as a “twisted ladder”? Kevin discusses how we can more effectively engage with audiences through the use of interesting metaphors. So, if listeners have more questions, they’ll ask you, “but WHY is DNA twisted?”? Voilà, you’ve piqued their interest for a full discussion.
His episodes are typically split into two segments — one being more historical, while the other discusses the application of a phrase in science. You’re getting a 2 in 1 deal with this SciComm podcast.
If you’d like some samplers, we highly recommend these 3 episodes:
Pet Precipitation & Scientific Metaphors (the origin of the term “it’s raining cats and dogs!”)
The Geekoscopy 101 podcast run by Dr Yanasivan Kisten aims to show how “geek culture” could creatively portray modern-day science.
Geekoscopy 101 interviews scientists from diverse creative backgrounds - some of which are streamers, artists, or even social media influencers. We’ve also been lucky enough to be featured in one of their episodes. Indeed, scientists aren’t limited to just lab coats and glasses!
But how does the creative mix between science and modern geek culture work together for communicating science?
Geekoscopy 101 proposes that leisurely hobbies like video gaming, watching TV series, or tabletop board gaming could be very effective tools for scientific outreach. This is because these hobbies are enjoyed by multiple demographics, are extremely effective for storytelling, and provide an immersive experience. Let’s talk about three examples:
A videogame about the spread of a pandemic could incorporate a backstory about how the origin of a dangerous pathogen is traced using modern-day epidemiological and genomic tracing techniques. Add some modern flair with some zombies (don’t forget the disclaimer that viruses won’t make you a zombie!) and then you’ve got the perfect game for spreading awareness about infectious diseases.
A scuba diving simulator, where you play the role of a marine biologist, allows you to swim side-by-side to accurately modelled 3D ocean creatures and environments. The game would incorporate exploration elements while teaching you about the wonders of ocean life as you continue to discover new things in the world. The ultimate educational experience could even be enhanced using virtual reality (VR).
A tabletop game of Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), featuring a cast of heroes and villains, could be adapted to metaphorically portray the scientific journey and scientific method. Your story could begin with your hero scientists, on a quest (funded by your local research council) to discover a long-lost deposit of rare ore. Joining them on their journey includes Co-author A, and Collaborator B. But on their quest, they encounter Problems C, D, and E, before heading to the final fight against the Journal Editor and their minions: Reviewers 1, 2 and 3.
We could certainly imagine how these stories could be adapted as a video abstract for a manuscript. That’d make an impact, no doubt!
If you’re keen to learn more about this unique method of SciComm, check out:
SciComm Journal Club
The SciComm Journal Club is run by a variety of hosts from their team. As their name suggests, their episodes are very much structured like a lab journal club where they lead heated group discussions about science communication.
What we love the most about their podcast is how they take teachings and principles from social sciences and humanities and apply them into science communication. For example, they’re advocates for replacing non-inclusive language for describing concepts in science. You’ll often hear that predatory journals are “blacklisted” while good ones are “whitelisted” which exposes archaic terms in English that were built on systemic racism. Other similar examples include “master” regulators and “slave” proteins in molecular biology. What’s really neat is that they suggest examples for improving how we could replace these terms going forward, which we think would be pretty cool to implement!
They are huge advocates for improving or promoting various processes in academia, including open-access publishing, the use of pre-prints, effective peer-review, abolishing the publish-or-perish mindset and so much more. What we’ve particularly noticed is that they go through many of the topics we mention in our Ultimate SciComm Checklist (which you should totally check out), including the use of social media to promote scientific research.
They’re truly SciComm masters!
If you’re keen to listen to some very controversial topics, check out these three episodes as an appetizer:
Science Communication Accelerator (scicomX)
Julius Wesche runs the Science Communication Accelerator, or scicomX for short. His main focus is to harness the power of social media to accelerate the visibility of your work.
Indeed, you’ll find yourself sprucing up your Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram accounts once you tune into the discussion! But you’ll most likely want to start off with Twitter. Twitter is by far the most used social media platform when it comes to academics. There’s no doubt about that. Researchers even wrote about it! Twitter is now thoroughly integrated into how research is disseminated to the point that they even alter your Altmetrics score depending on the number of retweets you get on your paper. Julius emphasises that we need to draw attention to our research using platforms like Twitter. The use of links, hashtags, and visuals (graphical and video abstracts) all add to an effective Twitter post to grab attention. By following the scicomX tips, you’ll get your best chance at cracking the almighty social media algorithms. Maybe you’ll even see your posts go viral!
If you’re looking to master your social media presence, check out these three podcasts:
The SciComm Toolkit
Sophie Milbourne or “Soph from the SciComm Toolkit” is a stem cell biologist turned science communicator. She’s all about equipping researchers with the necessary tools for unleashing their impact through the power of communication.
We especially enjoyed her podcast about a classic but powerful communication tool: science blogs! But what makes them so special? She discusses that having a science blog is like having a window looking into your publications and manuscripts (… or that thesis that only 3 people will end up reading… sad, but true). On top of that, blogs allow you to share science beyond p-values and groundbreaking results. It’s okay to talk about negative results or failed experiments too! Blogs are, and I quote from Sophie, “a fantastic way to take control of your online presence”.
We even share a very similar philosophy in our Visible or Vanish course about promoting your work to the world.
But wait, there’s more. Upskilling in areas that aren’t typical of the academic path is also another huge part of her toolkit. Skills like writing with an active voice, animation (hey, that’s us!), filmmaking, and public speaking are all major transferrable skills that work within and outside of science. Moreover, she encourages everyone to make use of digital platforms available to us in this day and age, including acquiring new software or perhaps enrolling in an online course for one of those skills.
We highly recommend starting with these three podcasts to get an impression of her key messages:
Take-away messages from each podcast
We certainly hope that one of these podcasts resonated with you (maybe you’ve listened to them all!). Though for the TLDR, here’s the run-down of what each podcast was about.
Metaphorigins: Use metaphors and other stylistic language choices in your communication.
Geekoscopy 101: Geek culture and video games have a place in scientific teaching.
SciComm Journal Club: There are so many ways to make science more inclusive.
scicomX: Social media is the greatest tool at your disposal for science communication.
The SciComm Toolkit: Upskilling makes you stand out from the crowd.
Keen to learn more about SciComm?
Our team is made up of science communicators who are passionate about making scientific research fun, impactful, and engaging. That’s why we’ve put together a bunch of resources for you to explore your passions too.
But if you’re still hungry for podcasts, you can hear all about the Animate Your Science journey in these segments!
Until next time!
Juan Miguel Balbin
Dr Tullio Rossi