By Ben Kuebrich, More writing from Ben can be found on his blog Neuroamer on WordPress.
Edited by Amielle Moreno
(If you’re a podcast convert and I’m preaching to the choir feel free to skip ahead to my list of the best neuroscience and behavior podcasts. If you’re new to podcasts and interested in getting started, here’s my advice:)
Hello, my name is Ben and I’m a podcast addict. I can’t remember when I started using, but I know that I can’t stop. Perhaps it’s genetic or environmental – my mom listened to books on tape and I spent my formative years over-hearing these tapes as she did household chores (is there a sensitive period for podcast dependency?).
I love music, but more and more it’s familiar voices sped up to chipmunk speeds that are emanating from my earbuds. So as much as it pains me to admit my mom is right about anything, I think she was onto something – audiobooks and podcasts are the way of the future.
- Podcasts ‘a neologism and portmanteau derived from “broadcast” and “pod” from the success of the iPod,’ are episodic series that can be streamed from mobile devices like smartphones, so no advanced planning is required: (The best podcast apps seem to be Podcast Addict for android and Overcast for iPhones.) Additionally you can stream them from your computer, or download podcast episodes using iTunes., If you subscribe to a podcast, it will update itself by automatically downloading new episodes when they’re released.
- Podcasts are a great way to multitask during mindless talks, commutes, and exercise: They were a life-saver when I worked as a research tech and spent long hours moving mutated mice from shit-covered cage to shit-covered cage in a soulless basement apartment the day after Christmas in freezing Boston.
- Podcasts are an efficient way to take in information: You can control the audio speed, easily pause to take notes, and rewind if you’ve spaced out.
I use the android podcast app Podcast Addict, which has built-in control over the speed. Normally, I’ll speed up podcasts and listen to them as fast as I can get away with (starting slow at 1.2-1.3x but sometimes going as high as 2.5x to give slow drawlers the pressured speech of a manic chipmunk). Comedy is all about timing, but relative timing, and sped-up comedy if anything seems wittier and funnier, and in general everyone makes everyone seem smarter?
- Podcasts are popular: You may have heard of the NPR podcast, and This American Life spinoff, and whodunnit murder mystery ‘Serial.’ A surprise success, in December 2014 Serial brought national attention to podcasts. More than just a news story about a murder mystery, NPR producers took advantage of a unique aspect of the podcast medium. The murder mystery explored in Serial was too long and complicated for a single radio episode. With flexible episode lengths, embedded links to supplementary material in the show notes, and real time releasing of episodes as the journalism unfolded, the end result was a completely binge-able story, unlike anything that could be released on radio or audiobook, and even elicited an NPR spoof:
- Podcasts can provide in depth coverage: Unconstrained by schedules, podcasts can vary in length and often go on the longer side, some last as long as 3 or 4 hours. This allows for real in-depth interviews with thinkers and celebrities that you’ll never hear on a late-night talk show.
- Podcasts democratize audio as anyone can release one: If you’d be interested in starting an Emory Neuroscience podcast, please hit me up.
So without further ado, here are my…
TOP NEUROSCIENCE PODCASTS
In rough order of sciency-ness and relevance to grad students, these picks are apples and oranges (and in one case an apple-orange). These podcasts can be a great way to hear how scientists talk and think, to get exposed to a variety of topics, and to keep up-to-date with this quickly moving field.
- UTSA’s Neuroscientist’s Talk Shop: As the name implies, NTS is hardcore neuroscience. It’s off-the-record-like speculation, on-the-record. Each episode has an invited guest who takes part in an informal discussion and answers questions posed by other neuroscientists, including my P.I. Sam Sober,and other familiar faces like Lena Ting and (early adopter back in 2011) Dieter Jaeger. Generally, the topics covered focus on computational neuroscience and electrophysiology. Often speakers assume listeners are well versed in the field, but even if you aren’t, you get a lot out of it by hearing the way scientists think, talk, and speculate on the gray areas of neuroscience. Frequency: varies 1-3 weeks during the school year ~45 min. Target Audience: Grad Student +
- High Proof Podcast: A podcast with a sense of humor, their tagline reads: “We demand high proof for our science and our spirits.” Two Graduate students, Ryan and Joel, pick interesting topics and I especially like the philosophical slant, though I wish they spent more time explain the background of the philosophy they cover. They could plan and research their topics a little better, but I also don’t want them to sacrifice the conversational tone. Frequency: ~1/wk 12 episodes total as I write this. Target Audience: Undergraduates, Grad Students
- Neuropod: Nature’s official neuroscience podcast hosted by neuroscience journalist Elie Dolgin. Each episode is around a half hour and usually features 3-4 interviews on recent publications and reviews, this podcast is a great way to keep abreast of new research and show off during lab meeting. The website also has links to the papers if they peak your interest. The podcast has high production value on par with public radio. Frequency: Monthly episodes ~30 min. Target Audience: Undergraduates, Grad Students
- Brain Science Podcast: “The show for everyone who has a brain.” Hosted by an ER doctor with a background in research and engineering, Ginger Campbell, she does a huge service to the world by getting big name neuroscientists to talk in depth while keeping things accessible. It’s great for getting introduced to perspectives on neuropsychology. I also love that Dr. Campbell repeats and clarifies important points in the middle and end of episodes and always asks the guests to give advice to students. The website also features annotated transcripts of the episodes. Frequency: Monthly episodes ~1 hr. Target Audience: Undergraduates, Grad Students, Your Mom (Seriously. No, seriously tell your mom to listen to this and maybe she’ll stop asking you so many annoying questions about what you do.) (Mom if you ever read this, I’m joking around.)
- Naked Neuroscience Podcast: A podcast recorded out of Cambridge University, this podcast has been around since 2001, but it’s new to me! This podcast includes news from European conferences and interviews with scientists from around the world. It has high production values, good stories, rigorous science, but as you can see from the picture a sense of humor as well. Frequency: Monthly episodes ~30 mins. Target Audience: Anyone interested in neurosciene with a sense of humor.
- NPR’s Invisibilia: Think Radiolab focused on “the invisible forces that control human behavior – ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions.” Hosted by rising stars Lulu Miller and Alix Spiegel, in each episode they interview scientists and craft small narratives around themes. For example, this season featured episodes on interactions with technology, blindness, and fear. The first season is 6 episodes, ~1 hr, more to come and hopefully soon! Target Audience: People who need something to talk about at cocktail parties.
- Freakonomics: “The hidden side of everything.” Hosted by the authors of the best-selling book of the same name, Freakanomics Radio podcast has released over 200 episodes since 2010. The show uses a narrative style and interviews to explain studies of behavioral economics–a field that uses economic statistical techniques and theory to determine what factor-like incentives drive the behavior of people and systems. Incredibly interesting and accessible, it doesn’t touch strictly on neuroscience, yet I would recommend it to any human being interested in behavior and decision-making. Frequency: 1/wk 30-60 mins. Target Audience: People who like to show off at cocktail parties.
- The Laughter Research Podcast: The guests of this podcast include not only professors, but comedians and entrepreneurs. This broader perspective is in part due to the host Glen Duggan. He’s a non-traditional psychology PhD candidate in Trinity College, Dublin, with a lot of real world experience. We briefly chatted on twitter and he seems like a genuinely great guy. Positive emotions like happiness and behaviors like laughter can be understudied compared to negative emotions, so the work he’s doing is very important. Frequency: ~ 2 episodes / month Target Audience: Lay people.
- All about Autism Podcast: If you’re interested in psychiatric disease or autism, this niche podcast is a fascinating and easy listen. This podcast is co-hosted by Heather and Dave Eaton, the co-owners and co-founders of Eaton Alliance Inc., which supports individuals with disabilities, specializing in autism. You get to hear a less academic, but extremely well informed perspective on autism. In some ways these hosts are far more informed than most academics as to the everyday lives of patients. A powerful force for good in the world right now, this podcast educates and rebuffs the misconception that vaccines cause autism. (To repeat the obvious, there is no scientific evidence showing vaccines cause autism and many have looked. The one original study that did show this has been shown to be a fraud propagated by a scientist with a conflict of interest.) Frequency: Used to be once a week, but now closer to once a month. Target Audience: anyone interested in science communication and a patient’s perspective.
- Talking Machines: “Human Conversation about Machine Learning” – A machine-learning podcast, but I think that a lot of neuronal learning is going to resemble machine learning. Anyways, it’s probably good knowledge to have, seeing as we’re on the precipice of another industrial-revolution with machine learning that will put a lot of white-collar workers out of business, or living in a simulation created by ‘a hypothetical, but inevitable, singular ultimate superintelligence may punish those who fail to help it or help create it.’ See, I learn useless junk by listening to podcasts!
As I mentioned above, I’m a podcast addict, so I’d love to hear what you’re listening to and what you’d recommend, even podcasts that aren’t directly related to neuroscience and behavior. Also, if you liked this post and want to see more like it please share it. If you want updates on what I’m thinking and listening to please follow me on twitter, or like the Neuroamer page on facebook.
Non-neuroscience podcasts that I think are worth checking out: Radio Lab, This American Life, Planet Money, Fresh Air, 60 Minutes Pop Culture Happy Hour, DVDASA, Monday Morning Podcast with Bill Burr, Harmontown, Judge John Hodgman Podcast, Human Conversation, Nature Podcast, Science Podcast, New Yorker Fiction, Yoshi Didn’t, Science Friday, Song Exploder, Startup Podcast, 4 Hour Work Week Podcast, Joe Rogan Podcast, Duncan Trussel Family Hour Podcast, Smartest Man in the World w/ Greg Proops, The Nerdist, This Feels Terrible, Upvoted, WTF with Marc Maron, Yale Humanities, You Made it Weird.