How to Start a Podcast in Grad School: A Primer

International Podcast DaySeptember 30th marks International Podcast Day.

In honor of this day designed to increase awareness about podcasts and podcasting, I offer this overview about how a historian might start a podcast while in graduate school.

 

The Behind-the-Scenes Work

Podcasting is a lot of work.

Each episode of Ben Franklin’s World represents somewhere between 40 and 60 hours of work. That work includes researching a guest, scheduling an interview, preparing for the interview, conducting the interview, editing the episode, drafting and recording intros and outros, drafting and posting show notes, creating custom graphics, and promoting the episode on its release day.

This does not count the time my audio engineer spends working on each episode nor the time I spend working on the website, troubleshooting tech hiccups, interacting with listeners, creating supplements for some episodes, or developing presentations about the podcast and podcasting for different conferences and talks.

None of the above is meant as a complaint. I love what I do.

Instead, the above overview is meant to underscore the fact that podcasting is a TON of work. Truthfully, I can’t imagine trying to podcast and do it well while in graduate school.

With that said, some of you want to attempt to podcast while in grad school. So I’ve stretched my imagination to craft this primer to give you ideas about how you might produce a quality podcast and write a dissertation.

First, a note of caution.

Many graduate students wish to podcast because they believe it will set them apart on the job market. I do believe it could set you apart. I also believe producing a podcast could hurt your chances on the job market.

If you take too long to finish your dissertation, you will run into funding problems and some hiring committees might look unfavorably upon the extra time you took to finish your degree. Hiring committee members might also take the time to listen to your podcast. A low-quality podcast could reflect poorly upon you even if you have high-quality written work.

Time to degree and the quality of your digital scholarship matters.

 

6 Steps to Creating a Podcast While in Graduate School

Step 1: Careful Consideration

Before you produce a podcast you need to consider 4 components:

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Going Platinum with 1 Million Downloads

bfworld-platinum-blogBen Franklin’s World hit a big milestone this past weekend. On Saturday, September 17, 2016, it reached and surpassed 1 million downloads.

Or as I like to joke, Ben Franklin’s World went platinum.

In the world of podcasting, reaching and surpassing 1 million downloads is a remarkable achievement. What make’s Ben Franklin’s World achievement of this goal even more remarkable is that the show reached this milestone as an independently produced podcast before its 2-year anniversary (Oct 7). Also, it achieved these downloads without inflationary tactics such as “tweet bombing” and without paid advertising.

There are two main reasons the podcast has been as successful as it has over the last (almost) two years: First, it offers high-quality content that listeners enjoy enough to recommend to others. Second, I’ve had a lot of help from friends, colleagues, and listeners.

 

The People Behind-the-Scenes

Darrell Darnell of Pro Podcast Solutions has served as the audio engineer and assistant editor for the show for the last year. He works hard to ensure that each episode sounds great and as good as it possibly can. Given my sensitive ears this not always an easy feat to achieve.

The Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture has played a sizable role in the evolution of the show. Last year, they helped me troubleshoot a lot of quick-growth “hiccups” that developed in the back end of the podcast. This year, they’ve helped shape the content side. They’ve done this with our “Doing History: How Historians Work” series and in providing silent, gentle encouragement to do better. (They asked me to keep doing what I was doing, but there’s something about producing a podcast for the organization that publishes the leading journal in your field, and many of its leading books, to make you ask “what can I do to produce better episodes?”)

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Why I’m Running a Half-Marathon: Cancer Sucks!

BAA_Logo_400sOn Sunday, October 9, 2016, I’m running my first half marathon.

Why?

Cancer sucks and we need to support those who are working hard to find a cure.

 

How I Became a Runner

If we’ve met, it may surprise you that I run. Frankly, it surprises me.

I’ve never liked running. Yet, I started to run in March 2016 as between travel and schedule changes at my yoga studio, I needed an activity that would focus and quiet my ever chatty brain.

At first, running was tough. I wasn’t out of shape, but I wasn’t in running shape. I’d tire after a mile or mile and a half, but I kept at it and my endurance increased. By May, my short run had lengthened to 5 or 6 miles. Today it is 7-7.5 miles.

I’m not fast, but I don’t need to set a world record to enjoy the quieting effect running has on my brain.

In April, I told a good friend that I was running and how I had come to enjoy it. She responded that it would be only a matter of time before I signed up for a marathon. I told her she was crazy. Then in July, I saw the sign-up for the Boston Athletic Association Half Marathon and felt a strong urge to do it.

 

Dana Farber Cancer Institute

Dana Farber HalfThe desire to run this particular half marathon has to do with the fact that it’s a fundraiser for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.

The Dana Farber Cancer Institute is one of the oldest research centers for cancer. It began in 1947 as the Children’s Research Foundation Center. In 1969, it began seeing patients of all ages. Today, Dana Farber supports more than 300,00 patient visits per year and is involved with approximately 700 clinical trials.

Cancer has made some of my good friends and their family members sick. It has also taken a few of their lives. More immediately, cancer came for my partner Tim in 2013.

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Was My Dissertation Just a Dissertation?

Over the last couple of years, I’ve read many blog posts wherein authors discuss their successes and struggles with turning their dissertations into publishable book manuscripts.

I’ve enjoyed, sympathized with, and benefited from these posts because I too have been trying to turn my dissertation into a book manuscript. However, there’s one type of post on this subject that I haven’t yet seen: How to know if your dissertation is just a dissertation.

This thought has been churning in my mind for most of this year.

 

Is My Dissertation A Book?

By all accounts, I should be able to turn my dissertation into a book.

I was fortunate and privileged in my graduate education. I attended a good, funded doctoral program where I worked with one of the best historians and writers in the profession. Ever practical in his outlook, my advisor does not direct his students’ dissertations, he directs first drafts of their books.

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Talking Politics: Interview Tips for Historians

Election2016The 2016 election cycle has been difficult. Not only does it have me worried about the future, it’s presenting me with unexpected editorial headaches.

Since April, I’ve had to consider what to do about guest references to Donald Trump in Ben Franklin’s World interviews. Mentions of Trump occurred sporadically until the Republican National Convention. Since the RNC, I’ve been confronted with decisions about whether to leave these references in episodes or edit them out on a near weekly basis.

 

What To Do About Trump?

I don’t make editorial decisions lightly. When I edit each episode, I listen for the flow of the conversation and what I can do to improve it. Most of the time that involves removing verbal ticks, pauses, and breath sounds. Other times editing involves cutting tangents that don’t add to the larger point of the episode. Sometimes it means moving answers to follow-up questions into previous answers so listeners have the context they need to follow what’s being said and enjoy the episode.

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