By Celia Robbins, University of Exeter.
Podcasts have become a staple of our media consumption, with people seeking out both popular and highly specialised offerings in preference to scheduled radio. Many universities and academic departments use podcasts to communicate their work, often using an interview format, or publishing audio recordings of talks and lectures and these can be an effective, and relatively accessible, way to publish digital content. Delivering a whole podcast series won’t be right for all researchers, but getting some great audio that illustrates your research could be an asset in a number of ways, either by contributing an episode to a podcast series, incorporating into talks and lectures or bringing social media posts to life.
My career has taken me from academia into practice, and back again. While working outside the academy, I wanted accessible, intelligent content but I seldom listened to the lecture or interview formats often used for university podcasts. I found myself more engaged by geography-related audio that used sound to create atmosphere and sense of place alongside the spoken word, like BBC radio documentaries (e.g. Open Country ) and in podcast series (often US-based ones like outsideinradio.org). Geography’s engagement with people and places across the globe creates limitless opportunities to use sound, as well as voices, to tell stories about the work geographers do. Audio that goes beyond ‘talking heads’ can be colourful and compelling; when I returned to academia as a PhD student, I got the opportunity to explore this idea, using field recordings and sound design alongside interviews to bring geography research to life in a series of podcasts.
Thinking about sound in how we communicate research doesn’t necessarily mean producing a series of podcasts though; it could be a one-off piece for public engagement associated with a project website, an episode for your university’s main podcast strand, or clips inserted into presentations or social media posts. It could be an interview participant’s voice conveying the urgency or emotional impact of the research, a soundscape of a threatened ecosystem, or recordings that reflect your research process in the lab, the street, or wherever your work takes place. The common denominator is that sound can bring an extra dimension to communicating research that is relevant across the discipline.
Think about how audio could communicate something about your research, the interview-based podcast is just one option.
Recognise sounds generated in your research process as a potential resource. Can you capture natural or human sounds that say something about your work? Can you get permission from interviewees to use their voices?
Learn the basics of making good quality recordings, this will pay dividends whether you are producing and editing a podcast yourself or are working with someone else.
Liaise with your university comms team. A podcast series of your own is possible albeit quite a commitment; including your work as an episode in an institutional podcast is very achievable.
Record without practising with your equipment first.
Feel constrained by lack of equipment. Specialist equipment is great and you may have access to it, but some experimentation with your phone or laptop can yield good results. The key is to try things out and know what works for the type of sound you want to capture. Low-cost options like plug-in microphones for laptops and phones can augment what you already have.
Audio has great potential to be used more widely to bring research to life in talks, social media, websites and publications as well as in podcasts.
The process of geography research generates a wealth of engaging natural and spoken sounds.
Creating audio clips is accessible to most researchers in terms of the skill and cost require
Photo by cottonbro studio.
There’s long tradition of geographers communicating research ‘beyond the academy’ - to policy, to publics, to young people, to school teachers - whether to recruit students, for career development, critical praxis and activism, or requirements of funders to document ‘impact’. Ten years ago we published the Communicating Geographical Research Beyond the Academy guide. It sought to bring together and share collective experience and learning, from within and beyond the academy. Today, there’s ever more opportunities and modes and media with which to do this. While many of the points made – about audience, about access, about brevity and the use of plain English – still stand, this collection covers these already familiar issues as well as bringing new perspectives to encourage readers to reflect on motives, means and methods and to illuminate examples of good practice.
By Alison Blunt, Madeleine Hatfield and Fiona Nash
By Catherine Souch
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