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Julia Migné and Sofia Castelló y Tickell (Zoology) write about their experience setting up a podcasting mentoring scheme to support public engagement with research skills and confidence, a project that was funded by the University's PER Culture Change Seed Fund.

This case study was written by Julia Migné (Zoology) based on their experience of running this Culture Change seed funded project.

Being avid podcast listeners and podcasters ourselves, Sofia Castelló y Tickell and I were primed to embark on a journey to increase the podcasting appetite within the Department of Zoology. It all started with us creating the Good Natured Podcast, a Conservation Optimism podcast, where listeners can join us for uplifting chats that shine a light on conservation challenges. In each episode, we interview an inspiring conservationist. Our guests have come from a variety of backgrounds – artists, scientists, business owners, and activists – and engage with conservation in a variety of ways.

Getting feedback on our episodes was a crucial part of our production process during our first season and we started enrolling our friends and colleagues as pilot listeners. And then something interesting started to transpire. People were saying that they found the process of being a pilot listener quite thought-provoking and that it was giving them new ideas of ways they could share their research with a wider audience!

An idea started sprouting in our minds after that. What if we could turn our second season into a way to foster public engagement through podcasting? Turns out there was a grant for that: the Public Engagement with Research Culture Change Seed Fund.

After being awarded the funding to go ahead with our project, we decided that the production process for this second season would involve Department members as both guests and pilot listeners. The project ended up including training sessions within the Department around the topic of storytelling and framing communications and a mentoring scheme which resulted in four students and staff members producing mini episodes titled Nature Notes as part of the Good Natured Podcast. Read their testimonials and listen to their mini episodes.

Good natured podcast artwork with DannyGood natured podcast artwork with JoeGood natured podcast artwork with LaraGood natured podcast artwork with Mike

In total, we involved 10 pilot listeners, four mentees, and two podcast guests in our production process this season with participants ranging across different research groups within the Department of Zoology and the Department of Plant Sciences.

We conducted pre and post surveys with our four mentees who went through a training session on storytelling and podcasting and then had regular mentoring from us throughout the production of their mini episodes. They were each asked to assess how they felt about their awareness of framing and storytelling techniques, their confidence when it comes to communicating research with the general public and their ability to frame your research to reach specific audiences, and finally their confidence when it comes to starting or being a guest on a podcast. We recorded an increase in awareness and confidence across all our categories with the average difference oscillating between 15% to 20%.

Mentees also reported that the scheme helped them understand how to make their own experiences or others “more like a story for other people to enjoy through science communication” and that they thought “the principle of painting a picture to immerse listeners in your story” was “super helpful”.

The mentoring programme was definitely the highlight of our project with participants really taking our PER advice on board. It was wonderful to help them go from having an idea for a potential story to producing their own mini episode. Our structure worked well in terms of first introducing them to the concepts from the Positive Communication Toolkit and then walking them through the podcasting process. We really enjoyed mentoring each of them individually as well and providing feedback on their stories and on how to make them as powerful as possible through the medium of audio.

The mentoring programme made a really big difference to the ‘Learning’ and ‘Recognition’ area of our Department’s EDGE analysis, and we would love to see similar PER mentoring schemes continue in the future.

Our pilot listeners also shared some testimonials about their experience reviewing the episodes with one of them saying: “I thoroughly enjoyed being one of the pilot listeners for the Conservation Optimism Good Natured Podcast. It was a completely new experience for me but at the same time, it was something on my bucket list. Besides getting helpful tips on how to prepare a podcast and how important it is, it helped me to become a good listener. Also, I learned that an effective podcast [does] not just require good speaker/s but also content that is easy to listen to, interesting, technically good yet not too technical, and informative at the same time.”

Click here to listen to the second season of the Good Natured Podcast.