An internship with The Naked Scientists?

10 November 2019

MARIANA-CHRIS-QNA-GUESTS

Mariana and Chris in the studio with the 4 guests for the September QnA show

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How come? This is usually the first question I get asked whenever I mention to anyone what I’ve been up to for the past two months. The answer usually starts off with “Well…” and ends up with “... it was very different from doing a PhD!”

As I was nearing the end of my PhD programme, I started thinking about what I wanted to do next. And that’s when an email in my inbox almost a year ago announced that The Naked Scientists, a science podcast production company, was looking for interns. I thought, since I listen to quite a lot of podcasts, how about I learn how to make some?

To my surprise and delight, after I sent in an application, a video call interview with Izzie, one of the former producers of the show, and a brief worry that Brexit might get in the way of it happening, I was accepted for an 8 week internship!

Then what?

If PhD work tends to be very narrowly focused on improving your little bit of research, working for The Naked Scientists involved learning a fair bit about many different science topics, from mud bacteria to prosthetics, from whale genetics to books and happiness. All of these, and a few others, are news stories I covered during my internship, as well as debunking a myth (or mythconception, as we call them here), and answering a few listener questions for the QotW.

The main goal of a Naked Scientist podcast presenter is to be able to ask the questions that a listener would think when they’re listening to the programme. It’s a bit like a conversation, but knowing that thousands of others will listen to it too!

I also needed to pay close attention to how the other person was speaking - were they are good radio speaker, could they explain their work clearly and concisely, and how could I help them tell the best story for their work.

Editing audio

Ever the Human-Computer Interaction researcher, one of the more interesting aspects of the work was the software that the producers were using for editing the recorded audio. The audio recording gets visualised into a waveform, which you edit by both listening and seeing.

That combination of using both your ears and eyes was very interesting for me, though it did make listening to music while working basically impossible!

But I got used to it, and after a while, I could actually visually anticipate my umms and ahhs coming through the headphones just by the very dense horizontal teardrop shape in the graph. Unfortunately not many other words can be seen in the waveform, so you do have to listen to it all, often again and again to find the best bits to keep and others to remove.

In the wild

I also got to record outside the studio a couple of times when putting together my show, and that was such a different experience.

In the Naked Scientists studio, everything is quiet, the walls are padded so you don’t get any echos, and the only thing you have to worry about is the conversation.

But when recording in other people’s offices for example, you need to find a place where the cooling system isn’t making too much noise, pay attention to squeaky chairs, and avoid too many hand movements as even those can get recorded! Thankfully, Katie was there to help out with this, and was also making sure to prompt me to describe everything I was interacting with for our listeners.

From 5 minutes to 30

While every week I had to do a news piece, the whole internship was building up towards producing my own show - the second half of the programme, centered around a theme.

It turns out, in 20 years of Naked Scientists, most topics have been covered to some extent, so it was quite hard to find something new! But after many discussions with the team, over coffee and tea, at weekly meetings and during lunch walks, and my own research and contemplation, we selected a topic that is close to my heart - inclusive computing.

After many emails and phone calls, I put together an awesome set of people to talk about how we’re currently making computers more accessible and inclusive of people with different kinds of disabilities, and how we can improve on it in the future.

After one final stretch of intense editing on the Friday afternoon before the show, everything was ready, and excitedly and somewhat nervously we were all set to go live on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire on Sunday evening. It all went smoothly and the live guests were fantastic on air, and all I had to do during the live hour was just to listen in to the programme!

Final thoughts

What more can I say other than that it was a great experience and I would definitely do it all again, just for a while longer next time!

I learned so much, from interviewing and editing, to not being afraid of making phone calls (I hear this is a common learning point amongst the interns, and I was not an exception)! I don’t know yet where my future will lead me, but podcasting and content creation is much more on the cards now than it was a couple of months ago!

To everyone at The Naked Scientists, you were a joy to work with and learn from. Thank you so much Katie, Adam, Phil and Chris (and Izzie briefly), I hope our paths will cross again!

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