Science podcast: Deciphering

Podcasts are exploding and have become THE new way to communicate. From large media platforms to smaller content creators, many have embraced this audio-based format. Today, podcasts can even be found on YouTube, broadcast live or as replays. What is a podcast? What is its origin? How do we navigate this new abundance of content to avoid turning it into a “podcast hype“? Manon Boiteux and David Mendes, the agency’s co-founders, decipher all this and share with you their favorites in the world of French science podcasts.

What is a podcast?

Podcasts were born about 15 years ago when some techies found a way to encapsulate audio files in an RSS feed, which at the time was mainly used to feed blogs. The word, coined by Ben Hammersley in 2004, comes from the contraction of “ipod” and “broadcast“. He was trying to name the new phenomenon that was emerging among journalists and bloggers in the United States. This format has slowly but surely gained popularity and has become the medium of 21st century “pirate radio”. It seems that this format allows the “best of all worlds” of radio and media to be harnessed by making it easier for the creator to broadcast while freeing the listener from the constraints of time and space, with a downloadable audio capsule that is easy to listen to anywhere.

Since then and in the last few years, podcasting has become a medium in its own right, especially in the English-speaking world, where a huge public interest has fueled not only a proliferation of community and content, but also interest from advertisers, and millions of dollars in exclusive contracts and advertising. This has created a ripple effect that has arrived fairly recently in the French-speaking world. 

What are the different formats?

Now, after 15 years, podcasts take many forms: radio program reruns, themed series, daily or weekly conversations, video podcasts, so it’s easy to feel lost. However, that’s the beauty of this medium, in that it allows science fiction fans to talk for hours, researchers to talk about their field, enthusiasts, or real production teams to tell stories. In fact, storytelling is at the center of the most listened-to genre at the moment, the “true crime” podcasts.

This aspect of storytelling is of great importance for science outreach, especially in these times of widespread misinformation and skepticism about science and scientists. If done right, podcasts can reach a large audience and be between their ears for an average of 30 minutes, much longer than a YouTube video.

Which podcasts are particularly appealing and why?

As consumers (and producers, for David) of podcasts, Manon and David tried to understand why they like this format so much:

  • Nostalgia: It is reminiscent of radio and the programs we listened to when we were younger, with our parents, especially in the car;

  • The closeness: The format in the form of an interview and conversation makes it possible to feel close to the speakers, having the impression of participating in the conversation;

  • Practicality: A podcast can be listened to anywhere and anytime! It’s super easy to download it on your app to listen to it even without being online;

  • The myriad topics (both serious and not) and formats: what is interesting is that some podcasts can address a specific topic with more specific content in each episode and others can be generic and address a multitude of very different topics. The interview format is certainly the most popular and widely used, as the conversation helps bring the episode to life. You can find real interviews with a specific expert or with several people debating on a specific topic. A whole world to discover and incredible people to meet in your pocket, isn’t that great?

Need some inspiration for your listening?

Manon and David share the following small selection of podcasts they like and why:

Manon’s selection:

  • La méthode scientifique: : tackles a wide variety of science (and science fiction) topics with several high-quality experts. I also like the variety of media in a single episode which begins with a summary of scientific news, and then proceeds to the exploration of a topic with guest(s), a music break in the middle and a mini-reportage related to the topic.

  • On s’appelle et on déjeune : a light, educational conversation between two Quebec nutritionists. You can learn a lot about food and nutrition. They always invite an expert related on the subject discussed in the episode.

  • Papa PhD Papa PhD (or David Mendes’ other name): a French and English podcast that allows you to discover, through Papa PhD’s interviews and doctoral students with inspiring backgrounds, who have decided on other paths besides academic research. It is a considerate, enjoyable experience where you feel like you’re part of the conversation too. Papa PhD sheds some light on a field of possibilities for the post-doctoral community.

  • Tête-à-tête avec la science : in this podcast, Myriam Beaudry, a PhD student in nutrition, passionately introduces us to researchers and their research projects. They discuss current issues related to their respective work as well as the difficulties of communicating science to the general public. It provides a beautiful lens through which we can see and better understand sciences in Quebec.

David’s selection:

  • (En)Quête de criminologie: a popular science podcast that investigates some of the myths of criminology. A podcast from the International Centre of Comparative Criminology (ICCC) of the University of Montreal, hosted and produced by the centre’s students. It is a very good example of using podcasts as a tool to popularize a field of research.

  • Le labo des savoirs : bweekly podcast on science and medicine. I like the quality of production and the variety of topics covered in this podcast, which represents what a team can accomplish in terms of editorial line and audio quality.

  • Thésard-es : a podcast from France that I particularly like, where a doctor and a PhD student in humanities and social sciences discuss various topics around what it means to be a PhD student in this field in France. I really like the two-person format and how the two hosts complement each other, both during the interviews and in the solo segments.

  • Plog de Thèse : a thesis journal of a young doctoral student in education with a background in communication. A light-hearted format where the spontaneity and authenticity are quite attention-grabbing, especially for doctoral students.

Where to find more podcasts? 

David created two collections of science podcasts organized by topic – one in French and one in English – on a platform called Podchaser, which tracks and rates podcasts and their creators:

Otherwise, in general, listening apps like Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts or Spotify allow you to search by keyword. Also, since many podcasts are now also present on YouTube, a search including the term “podcast” or “podcast” can also help you find what you are looking for.

Please feel free to share your favorite podcasts and your reasons for listening in the comments, and we will add them to our playlists. If you’re interested in learning more or even getting into podcast production, more articles on technical aspects, specifics or content creators are coming soon, so stay tuned!

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