Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Why podcast your research? (Lauren Gawne)

Lauren Gawne (left) and Gretchen McCulloch.  Photo courtesy of Lingthusiasm - lingthusiasm.com
Lauren Gawne (left) and Gretchen McCulloch.
Photo courtesy of Lingthusiasm - lingthusiasm.com
Thanks to podcasts I now have a new way of keeping myself entertained while tackling some tedious data entry or walking an extra few bus stops home.

Individual episodes of on-demand content have breathed new live into the audio genre, and while the medium has many fictional serialised dramas and blokes laughing at their mates’ jokes, there is also a robust, and growing, genre of podcasts that make you feel smart just for listening to them.

In particular, I love researcher-driven podcasts. They make complex topics personable, without necessarily having to sacrifice nuance or complexity.

I enjoy listening to podcasts in my own area, but I also love learning more about Roman history (Emperors of Rome), queer theory (Queers podcast), and science (Science Vs.), from podcasts run by academics, or that frequently interview them. 

Since November 2016, I’ve been making Lingthusiasm, a podcast that is enthusiastic about linguistics, with my friend and fellow linguistic Gretchen McCulloch. Gretchen is a full-time pop linguist, and we met online thanks to our blogs (Superlinguo & All Things Linguistic).

When we finally met up in non-internet space to teach at a linguistics summer school in 2016, we had so much fun talking about linguistics, we decided to combine our shared enthusiasm into a podcast project. We record between Melbourne and Montreal thanks to the magic of the internet. Twice a month we release half-hour long episodes in which we discuss topics like why vowels are so cool, how to learn languages like a linguist, and why everyone speaking a single language won’t lead to world peace.

I’ve learnt lots of great lessons as a podcast maker and listener, and below are my five top tips for researchers who are interested in the medium.

If you like the idea of podcasts, but don’t have the time or resources, consider looking into whether your university has a podcast series where you could be a one-time guest, or look for podcasts in your field that run interviews and pitch an idea to them. A lot of these tips will help you feel more comfortable with joining in on someone else’s podcast too.

1. The internet is full of audiences, know yours

A global audience means that there are eager ears for topics that might be considered too specific by traditional platforms. We knew we wanted to make a show that was engaging for non-linguists, relevant to linguistics students, and still fun for linguists. This influences how we go about the show. We limit terminology to a few key concepts each episode, and spend a lot of time talking about why these concepts are important.

2. Decide on your format, and record a few episodes before you launch

Listen to a range of podcasts to get a feel for a format that works for you. You might go for a lightly structured conversation, like Talk the Talk, or bring on interviewees, like Vocal Fries. You might even decide that your best option is a solo-presenter podcast like The History of English, or something that weaves together interviews and commentary with lush production like The Allusionist. All of these podcasts are about linguistics or language, but they have different formats that suit their aims, audience and personalities.

Whatever format you decide on, record and edit at least three episodes before launching. If you can’t get that many together, you probably don’t have the time to commit to a regular podcast. Give the test episodes to people whose feedback you trust. Are the episodes long enough? Too long? Do you need to fix your intro to make the premise clearer? Ironing out these wrinkles before you launch into an ever-growing podcast market will help you feel more confident.

3.Always keep your audience in mind

Once you know your audience and format, always keep your listeners in mind. You don’t want your audience to feel like a third wheel. My favourite conversational podcasts make me feel like I’m right there with the hosts, in in the conversation. This can mean adding more structure, or taking time to clarify a topic even though you and your co-host/interviewee already know what you’re talking about. It’s a tough balancing act to keep the audience in the conversation without losing the flow, but it makes for better listening.

4. Podcasts require time and resources

I’ve been running a linguistics blog since 2011. Superlinguo is now weekly, but I used to post three times a week. I do it in my spare time, and the budget is a few dollars every year for the domain hosting. Lingthusiasm is much more resource intensive. Episodes take time to research, prepare and record, and then they need to be edited, uploaded, and linked with descriptive text. We also provide transcripts for our episodes. This means that people can access our show even if they can’t or don’t want to listen.

Gretchen and I already had a lot of work, so we knew that the only way we’d be able to keep to a schedule was to bring other people onto the team. We now have an audio editor who puts the show together, and a production editor who manages the transcripts and other logistics. This meant that we knew early on that we had to find a way to fund the show. We decided on Patreon, a model where people support creators on a monthly model. Half of our episodes are released as Patreon-exclusive bonuses, and it's our patrons that not only keep the show running and ad-free, but also allowed us to buy Gretchen a better microphone, and grow the show to two full-length episodes a month.

5. Podcasting gives you great skills to bring back to your academic work

Podcasting requires you to think about your area of expertise for a new audience. Talking about my research for an intelligent non-expert has made it easier for me to feel comfortable in interviews, and to write plain language summaries of my work for grants. Of course, we cover a much broader area of linguistics than just my research areas in the podcast. I bring a lot of my favourite content from my teaching to the show, and then I get to bring it back into the classroom with an extra dose of enthusiasm. 

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Lauren Gawne is a David Myers Research Fellow in the Department of Languages and Linguistics at La Trobe University. 

Her research focuses on grammatical evidentiality and the gestures people use when they speak, with a focus on Tibeto-Burman languages. 

Lauren is also interested in research data management, internet English, and public linguistics. Lauren co-hosts the podcast Lingthusiasm with Gretchen McCulloch and run the generalist linguistics website SuperlinguoLauren is on Twitter as @superlinguo.

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