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Field Notes: So You Got A Lifesci Degree Podcast

Farida Rahman is a 4th year McGill B.Sc student studying biology. Lisa Shen is a 4th year Honours McMaster B.Sc student studying molecular biology and genetics. This year, the two friends started a podcast, “So You Got a Lifesci Degree,” where the two interview a guest about their career path and discuss how they feel about it.

MSWI: What inspired you to begin a podcast?

Lisa: Farida approached me to start the podcast. I have been listening to podcasts since high school. [Farida] got into them a couple of years ago. It sounded cool to do a project of our own and learn skills through that.

MSWI: Can you describe the format and content of your podcast?

Farida: We’re trying to strike the balance of being informative to the listener while also being somewhat entertaining and an easy listen. Personally, if I’m going to listen to something that is career advice, I still want it to be interesting and fun to listen to, not just straight facts. It’s mostly creating content we would want to listen to. So, we try to get into the nitty-gritty questions or questions that maybe people don’t get the opportunity to ask.

Lisa: I think the format of the podcast was heavily influenced by the podcasts I like to listen to. Beginning in the second episode, we try to have a brief little chat in the beginning, then we have the interview with the guest, and then the last third of it is Farida and me discussing how we felt about the interview and our thoughts about the profession or advice the person gave. We didn’t want it to be too produced or read like a script. We wanted it to be more low-density information, so you can listen while say doing the chores or dishes.

MSWI: How did you two decide the content of the podcast?

Lisa: We ended up on the topic of things you can do with a life science degree just because around that time (8 months ago), I was thinking about what I wanted to do. It’s also something we thought would be useful because many life science students are trying to figure out what they want to do.

A year ago, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go into ecology because I really love nature. Then, I went to these ecology seminars; I learned from that I don’t actually want to do that research. What I love about science is the logic behind it: knowing this is my positive control, this is my negative control, this is what these results mean. With ecology, you can’t really manipulate your conditions in the same way. When you do get the results, there are a million other factors to consider.

Farida: I don’t think we were thinking specifically, “What is the category we want to work in?” It was more, “What is an issue in our own lives that we want to address?” This is what came out of it. Because we’re coming at it with a need we want to fill, that’s been more helpful.

Lisa: Once we thought of the idea, I researched, and there weren’t many other biology podcasts talking about post-grad. The fact that it’s helpful for us is definitely good. It’s forcing us to get out of our box and think about other professions, not just research.

MWSI: Has this podcast helped you figure out your options post-grad?

Farida: I think if I hadn’t chosen a path to pursue before getting into the podcast interviews, it may have made me more confused because I’m realizing there are so many good options! But it’s definitely showing me what it takes to pursue each option which I don’t think is always discussed.

Lisa: For me, it’s been nice interviewing a physiotherapist (Episode 2) and a medical illustrator (Episode 3), because those are both things that I’m genuinely considering. It’s also been useful listening to their advice. One of the things that stuck with me was: pick things you like and then find a way to combine them. I’m applying that to my thesis. I’m currently finding my thesis topic for my last year, and since I’m interested in cancer and viruses, I’ll maybe study oncolytic therapy (viruses that preferentially target cancer cells). Also, knowing that most people don’t have a straight path is useful.

Farida: Also, the guests we interviewed did the “exploring phase” really early on. By the time they got to that career, it may have looked like a straightforward trajectory, but their mental states were very much of an exploratory mindset.

MSWI: What are some general themes you’ve heard about career advice when talking to these professionals?

Farida: Time management, being open-minded, networking, and other general things. I think networking should expand to genuinely learning what people are doing, and not [just getting ahead]. With every interview, I’ve just been more and more reassured that it’s okay if you don’t know what’s going on. And, especially at the beginning of your undergraduate years, aggressively explore the different options out there.

Lisa: Also, I learned that with a lot of jobs you’re going into them not feeling 100% prepared. Knowing that is helpful.

MSWI: Do you have any advice for networking/interviewing after doing this podcast?

Farida: Honestly, people are surprisingly open to talking about themselves and their careers. We haven’t gotten any rejections from our guests, yet. For networking, I would just say go for it. For interviews, I think we’ve had to learn how to interview thinking about it being for an audience. So we‘ve had to work on our speech patterns and things like that.

Lisa: One thing we’ve been working on is speaking in full sentences and not cutting off our own trains of thought.

Farida: Lots of cutting out “likes,” “ums.” After every recording session, I end up overanalyzing how I was talking. Each episode, we find something to work on. For the first couple interviews, we realized giving small verbal affirmations sounds terrible when listening to the recording later.

Lisa: It’s just funny that on a podcast you end up having to almost use an abnormal way of speaking. You basically have to speak abnormally so that you sound normal.

MSWI: How do you handle when the interviewee does use more jargon and goes into the science, especially if this podcast is made for the general public?

Farida: Part of it is that we’re not people working in that profession, so we’ll have to ask them to clarify. We usually go on our own confusion. If it’s a little bit technical and science-y, we will try to actively define everything.

Lisa: We also try to clarify things that aren’t clear. Asking the interviewee to repeat things or re-explain things that maybe we understand but think the listeners may not.

Farida: Our audience is probably pretty smart too.

MSWI: Why did you choose to podcast over a different medium?

Farida: With YouTube and blogs, the audience has to actively pay attention to it. With podcasts, you can be doing other things. So I like it as a medium as a consumer.

Lisa: What I got from when Farida asked me was that she really liked podcasts and then wanted to try making her own. YouTube also has a high barrier to access. It’s free to upload, but to gain an audience and have it be meaningful, you have to actually manipulate the algorithm and play by that. Farida also mentioned that podcasting was a newer medium with unfilled niches.

MSWI: What do you see for your podcast in the future?

Farida: I’d be down to keep doing this as a side project until I have nothing left to say!

Lisa: With our current format, we will be able to keep it going for a while. There are a lot of career options, and we could also have guests come back. It could also morph into something else, and we could change the format of it.

MSWI: Any podcast recommendations?



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