With podcasting such a popular medium for communication, I decided to give it a try. At UCL, I’ve been asked to manage my department’s recruitment efforts into our undergraduate and masters programmes, and podcasting seemed a good way to reach some people in our audience. This week, we launch “WeAreSTS: Science and Technology Studies at University College London (UCL)”. In this post, I summarise some of my thoughts about getting this to the launchpad.
Fretting about Equipment
Every podcaster has to put themselves in front of equipment. There is a huge range of options out there. Most important, manufacturers are adapting to the surge of interest in podcasting. In STS, we have a purpose-built recording studio. At home, I don’t. Assembling the gear during the COVID closure took quite a bit of effort.
Finding a quiet place has been the most frustrating. Colleagues tell me how they sometimes push into closets and drop duvets over their heads to create some kind of sound isolation. I live on a relatively quiet town street. But seagulls and pigeons nest in nearly all the chimney stacks around us. They show a brilliant propensity for knowing when I press the record button. That’s when they decide it’s time for their squawks. It’s also the time when every delivery van and scooter within a five kilometre radius gets a call to deliver something along the street. All the local kids come out to play. All the dogs start barking. The recycling folks come for the glass bottles, and someone on the street decides it’s time to drill, hammer, saw, or explode something. Yep, finding a quiet place is tricky.
One solution has been to shift from condenser to dynamic microphones. There is a loss of fidelity in this. Condenser microphones are more sensitive, pick up better vocal range, and generally sound crisp and fresh. Dynamic microphones are designed for higher noise environments, and they take more energy from sound to work. But they pick up less of the unwanted noise. The cost is a slightly muddier sound on the recordings. I can live with that until I figure something else out. I don’t fancy burrowing into the closet for a podcast. Not yet, at least.
Choosing the Audience, Then Focusing
The main goal for the show is to help teachers, prospective applicants, and influencers answer questions about our subject:
- What is STS?
- What does work in the subject involve?
- Why would I want to do it, too?
- What do people do with an STS degree?
- Is this career direction for me?
We’ll achieve this goal through a combination of episodes. Some episodes will involve interviews with STS researchers and students about what they do and why it’s important. We’ll add to these additional episodes that talk about careers. We’ll interview former students about the paths they took after studying with us. We also have a series of bonus episodes planned. These either will capture special events within the department, or they’ll give a little extra insight into the nitty-gritty of our activities. We’re always open to suggestions for new episodes.
WeAreSTS also is designed for students and staff to get involved. We’ll have paid studentships through the STS NewsRoom, and we’ll also have volunteer opportunities for work experience. We’ll encourage independent, freelance projects, too. The idea is to involve STS students in ways that are creative, engaging, and skill developing.
Building on Experience
This is the second podcast run within STS. Dr Jack Stilgoe co-hosts the “Received Wisdom” podcast as an independent project. Before podcasting was popular, we distributed several different types of interview shows through the STS website. This included the popular, “STSCareers” series, which we’re absorbing into our new venture. Most STS staff have been interviewed for podcasts as part of their usual public engagement work.
More and more STS students are experienced podcasters, too. Gemma Milne (STS PhD student) is co-host for “Radical Science”. Nuzhah Miah (STS BSc student) hosted “The Spilled Milk Podcast”. Maymana Arefin (STS MSc student) is co-host for “Hypo-Enthuse”. Students in modules at both undergraduate and Master’s level produce podcast-type episodes as part of the portfolio development we’ve designed for their degrees.
I love the medium of sound, and I’ve loved podcasting from the very beginnings of the technology. I got my own start with recording oral history: the practice of recording interview with participants in historical events about their experiences. I do that as a professional historian. I also do it in my private life with family history. There’s a special kind of joy to be found when a conversation is going well. It’s not just about the data; it’s about capturing the personality and nuance of a person’s experience. It takes skill. And that’s why we teach it in STS.
More information: ucl.ac.uk/sts/podcast