PhD-ish #1: Podcasts

It’s okay to listen/watch/read something just for the sheer pleasure of it – not everything has to have a purpose. Sometimes, though, you want something engaging and fun that also gives you a little something more. That’s what PhD-ish recommendations are all about – those things that have nothing to do with your specific topic area but might help open up your thinking in some way (but are also entertaining in their own right).

This week – podcasts! I’ve linked suggested episodes to the podcasts’ own websites, but they’re all available on the usual pod-catchers.

secret feminist agendaSecret Feminist Agenda

Hannah McGregor is a Canadian academic who is really smart, really funny, and enjoyable to listen to. This podcast is about “the insidious, nefarious, insurgent, and mundane ways we enact our feminism in our daily lives”, is often related to academia, and is just so damn enjoyable as well as thought-provoking and inspiring. It’s weekly, alternating between a longer interview episode and a shorter ‘mini-sode’ with Hannah.

Hannah is also looking at podcasts as a legit form of academic output, and even piloted having it peer reviewed. You can read the reviewers’ comments and her response here.

Suggested episode: It’s really hard to pick one but try Bringing Yourself To Work feat. Baharak Yousefi. It is centered around academia & universities, and is essentially about how bringing your whole self to work is a radical act.

cropped-WitchPlease_960pxWitch, Please

Speaking of Hannah McGregor, she also co-hosts Witch, Please with fellow literary academic Marcelle Kosman. This is an incredibly funny, smart, feminist, intersectional, and loving critique of Harry Potter. It’s best to start at the very first episode as they start from book 1 and move through books and films. As they find their podcasting feet they get better as they go, but, honestly, this is my favourite podcast ever. It’s hilarious but so smart and so thoughtful. I’m a better reader because of it.

Suggested episode: Just start at episode 1 and then go chronologically.


Every week, Alie Ward interviews a different ‘ologist’ about their ‘ology’, from broad subjects like phonology (linguistics) to the more specific like rhinology (noses). Everything is fascinating if you look at it in enough depth, and I often find the topics I thought I would be least interested in are my favourites. And it’s just great to hear people getting the chance to really enthuse about their specialist area.

Suggested episode: Dendrology (trees) feat. J. Casey Clapp. Seriously, this guy is the most enthusiastic in the most lovely way about trees. I love him. Also hear the tale of the guy who accidentally chopped down the oldest tree in the world (always check in with local knowledge….)


This is a science-based podcast, but is more narrative in tone (it’s NPR, so has a This American Life vibe). Invisibilia is about “the unseeable forces [that] control human behaviour and shape our ideas, beliefs, and assumptions”. Although I’ve yet to listen to the latest season, everything I have heard has been incredibly interesting, and, given the story-telling style, easy to listen to even when it gets more complex.

Suggested episode: Entanglement. There might be better episodes but this is the one that immediately sprung to mind because I still think about the woman with Mirror Touch Synesthesia.

story colliderStory Collider

I’ve only listened to a couple of episodes of this but I think it’s a keeper. It’s basically personal stories in some way related to science and the week’s theme, recorded at a live event. As well as just being interesting, the ‘live’ element also adds an element of performance that the other podcasts don’t have. Sometimes it’s not just the story, but the way it’s told that makes it great – which is important to bear in mind when thinking about dissemination of your own research stories. And that you don’t have to be a scientist to have a science story to tell.

Suggested episode: Identity: Stories about figuring out who we are. The first part with Jason Rodriguez is a great story about learning to bring together his different cultural and professional identities.

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