School of Graduate Studies

School of Graduate Studies
School of Graduate Studies

Podcasting PhD's - Curiosity Driven brings graduate student research to CFRC and beyond

Podcasting PhD’s

"Curiosity Driven” brings graduate student research to CFRC and beyond

Article by Karl Hardy

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CFRC 101.9FM is Kingston’s only campus & community radio station

Graduate students regularly face questions about what they actually “do” in the course of research and study towards their degrees. For those outside the academy, and indeed even from differing faculties, there are often misconceptions about what graduate student research is, how is gets done, and what it's "for." “Curiosity Driven” is a short radio and podcast documentary series about Queen’s graduate students’ research that aims to present their work in an accessible, entertaining format for a wide audience.

The project is the result of collaboration between Vee Blackbourn, who did her PhD in English, and Matthew Scribner, who completed both his MA and PhD, also in English here at Queen’s. During Matthew’s time serving as President of the Society of Graduate and Professional Students (SGPS), he approached CFRC, our local campus and community radio station (101.9 FM), about expanding the Free Queen’s program, where graduate and professional students would give talks in the community on some of their more practical aspects of their expertise. Vee and another PhD student in Biology, Roslyn Dakin, were already in the early stages of developing a show on graduate student research. Development of the show wound up outlasting Matthew’s term as SGPS president and Rosyln’s time at Queen’s, but four 30 minute episodes have been produced. Two have already aired, and the remaining pieces will be broadcast during CFRC’s usual “Wild Card” timeslot on Wednesday September 16 from 4-5pm.

“Popularizing research is always a struggle that academics face. It can be difficult to communicate specialized and nuanced discoveries to the general public. And yet, the rise of media like TED Talks suggests that the public has an appetite for fresh research, delivered directly by the researchers,” said Matt, who studied medieval literature and was supervised by Margaret Pappano. “I believe that graduate students can help satiate this appetite, and that a podcast is a great, modern format to showcase their new and exciting research. Of course, it helps when that "podcast" is broadcast to thousands of Kingstonians over the radio.”

“Certainly when I was doing my English PhD, people I encountered had no idea of what research might mean in that context--there is no lab and there are no experiments in English, so what do we do? just read? work in archives?” says Vee. “At the same time, I noticed that when academics are consulted as experts and interviewed on TV or radio, their work is often reduced to the one aspect relevant to the topic at hand and their findings are portrayed as the result of a straightforward, I would say instrumentalist, working process.” In addition to her volunteer work with CFRC, Vee also produced documentaries about mental health at Queen’s and the Kingston Derby Girls while studying South African literature of the transition from apartheid to democracy under the supervision of Chris Bongie.

“We named the show Curiosity Driven because we wanted to emphasize that curiosity itself is valuable in a research context--it's what keeps researchers going, what makes them tick, and what leads to all kinds of research outcomes,” Vee continues. “In an increasingly instrumentalist and austerity-driven research funding climate, it's important to counter ideas that curiosity and curiosity-based research is merely self-indulgent.”

The first two episodes featured Rachel Wayne, PhD candidate in Psychology, and Alexandra Pederson, a PhD candidate in Geography and Planning, and are available on Curiosity Driven’s website. This week’s episode profiles Gentry Hanks, PhD candidate in Geography & Planning, with future shows in development for upcoming broadcast.