From left to right: Alex Kang (Rice University), Belkys Sanchez, Naomi Bier, Ayesha Khan and Celso Catumbela.
Finding a real world exercise that shows off your communication skill set to potential employers may be a difficult task as a graduate student, but Naomi Bier, Celso Catumbela, Ayesha Khan, and Belkys Sanchez found that participating in producing podcasts not only lets them talk about their science, but hone their communication skills.
These four GSBS students, along with two other researchers, Alex Kang from BioSciences/Rice University and John Pribis from Baylor College of Medicine, collaborate to produce Micro-Cast, a podcast by the student and postdoc chapter of the American Society for Microbiology at the Texas Medical Center (ASM-TMC).
“The podcast is geared toward a general audience familiar with some scientific concepts,” said Biers. “Graduate students outside of the microbiology field would greatly benefit from listening to the podcast. It may help a non-microbiologist answer their mother’s ‘hey you’re a scientist; do you know about XYZ?’ question at the Thanksgiving dinner table.”
The current posting schedule for the series is twice a year. Past topics have ranged from antibiotic resistance to information about the flu. Topics are inspired by current events relevant to public health and microbiology. Once a topic is chosen, the podcast committee—led by Bier and Khan—searches for an expert in the field willing to participate in the podcast recording.
“We’ve done episodes on antibiotic resistance, for example, where we get to talk to experts in the field about issues,” said Khan. “We spoke to Dr. Cesar A. Arias about the threat of superbugs in America and Dr. William Miller about patient cases made complicated by antibiotic resistance. It’s incredible to be able to sit down and converse about such complex infectious disease topics with experts who simplify it for us and the listeners. The goal is to break the barrier between scientists or physicians and the public.”
The podcast is then recorded using smartphones and is edited by Bier using a sound engineering software called Audacity.
“I try to break up the podcast into sections using our short jingle,” said Bier. “If there is some audio that is hard to hear, I amplify the section of recording. If there is something we feel the speaker said that needs an explanation, we record the explanation separately and I add the audio into the appropriate place, smoothly transitioning from the speaker to us and back to the speaker.”
Once a new episode is cut and ready to go it is posted on iTunes and SoundCloud, and the group works to publicize the content via social media channels, an email list-serve, business cards, and at local ASM meetings.
“Every scientist should be able to communicate science to the general public,” said Sanchez. “This podcast aims to be an example of effective communication with people outside the field of microbiology.”